A window of opportunity to reduce unnecessary immigration detention in the EU

At the end of March, the IDC gathered over 50 civil society practitioners from 20 countries in Brussels, Belgium, for its secondEurope Regional workshop on ending unnecessary immigration detention in Europe.  Participants highlighted concerns around the detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Europe, often based on criminalisation and false assumptions around absconding and deterrence. The need to underscore the right to liberty and presumption against detention in the migration context was repeatedly expressed.

Recently developed EU law provides a window of opportunity for reducing unnecessary immigration detention in the region, as it obliges states to first pursue alternatives to detention (ATD), or “less coercive means”. Furthermore, there are a broadrange of alternatives available – not just traditional enforcement based measures but also  holistic case management, more effective screening and assessment, and other community-based alternatives  which have been shown to better protect rights, promote migrant welfare and maintain high rates of compliance with migration decisions, including voluntary return.

The meeting provided the forum for a constructive discussion around what alternatives mean, what they look like in practice and how groups can engage on these. Almost all EU states now have alternatives to detention in law, but there are concerns that these are often too restrictive and enforcement-focused.  Discussions highlighted the need to ensure alternatives respect rights and are applied on the basis of an assessment of individual and community-related factors.

Alternatives to detention provide a way to get people out of detention, so they can live in the community with their rights respected, while their migration status is being resolved. It was suggested that civil society groups need to be able to identify risks and concerns, and navigating these tactically to engage on alternatives. The overall aim is to move towards a situation in which people not being detained is the norm.

The meeting also looked at how groups can work on monitoring of places of immigration detention, ending child immigration detention and advocacy on immigration detention at the EU level. The following steps were agreed on as ways of strengthening work on immigration detention through collaboration in the region:

  • A network on monitoring places of immigration detention in Europe: to share methodologies, tools and coordinate on monitoring activities
  • A working group to further work on ATD in the region and act as a sounding board for other members in their engagement on ATD.
  • An email group on strategic litigation on immigration detention in the EU

For more information, please contact Jem Stevens, IDC Europe Regional Coordinator ([email protected]).