Interview: Silvia Gómez on the Global Compact

The Global Compact on Migration was signed last week in Marrakech by 164 States, after 18 months of negotiation.  It is a non-binding document, but it aims to set the framework for how States will cooperate to manage migration in the years to come.  Detention is a major focus: Objective 13 commits States to prioritising alternatives to detention and ‘working to end the practice of child detention’.  In the aftermath of the sign-off in Marrakech, IDC’s Global Advocacy Coordinator Silvia Gómez, who was involved in the negotiations throughout, discusses her impressions of the Compact process and what happens next.


Jerome Phelps, IDC Director & Silvia Gómez, IDC Advocacy Coordinator


Why did you decide that IDC should prioritise working on the Compact?

It was clear from the beginning that the Compact was going to be a key process linking global migration policy discussions to what happens on the ground at the national level.  We needed to be there, influencing the process, because that process was going to shape the next decades of migration work at the global level.

But a year ago, no one knew what the process would be or what would come out of it.  There was no chance to understand what was going to happen! But I had a gut feeling that we needed to see what this was creating.  We didn’t know at first that there would be such a focus on detention, that it would have an objective of its own.

In the end though, it will only be important if it leads to change on the ground, and less detention.


What was your involvement in the negotiations?

I went to New York for five out of six rounds of the negotiations.  I’d never been to New York before, so I stayed in an AirBnb in a different part of the city every time, to get to know the city.  Until the last two times I stayed in Brooklyn and took the ferry every morning.

Our strategy was to have bilaterals with delegations, developing relationships with them.  They are the State representatives negotiating the Compact, so we needed to engage with them so we could get the best possible language. Civil society and UN agencies were there to support the process, but at the end of the day it was States negotiating.  

Our proposal was to give the text a solutions-based approach, consistent with the nature of the Compact.  So we focused it on alternatives and using alternatives to end child detention.

The idea was to map the different positions to understand how to influence the States to get the best language. It was clear early that the only language at risk in Objective 13 was the child detention language.  The language of the first draft was very strong, it was about ending the detention of children, which was immediately contested by many delegations, mostly European and Western. So the goal was to find a compromise that would be okay for all sides of the negotiations. Which meant having relationships with different groups of States, both the supportive ones and the ones who were opposing. We had to build relationships with them, have informal conversations, understand the way that these negotiations work at the global level, and get ourselves into those spaces. The conversations were never about disagreeing but about finding compromise – they are negotiating, they need to find a compromise too.

I had a conversation with one northern European delegation which strongly opposed the language on ending child detention.  We had an early evening meeting with them, they invited us for wine, it was a relaxed atmosphere. It took us a minute to agree to disagree on the basic principles of non-detention of children, we acknowledged that and talked negotiation. We had been working on language that we could offer to different States if the strong language in the first draft was not going to be accepted.  We discussed with them our proposed language, whether it addressed their concerns. They eventually moved out of a blocking position and did eventually sign the Compact.


What do you think of the language of the final text?

The final language was a diplomatic compromise – ‘working to end’ child immigration detention.  It was a struggle to get that one degree more of commitment than the New York Declaration, which the Compacts are building on.  Taking into account the political context, it was a big win. The language is strong enough to be consistent with the international human rights framework, while addressing States’ concerns.


What happens next? Will this be just another document on the shelves in Geneva?

Implementation of the Compact will be at the national level.  The Compact is a global process, but it’s about national work.  Otherwise it’s just one more document discussed in Geneva and New York.  It is encouraging to see that all actors, with different degrees of commitment, see it as about national plans and actions.  

The tricky thing is how to make that happen.  One of the big added values we as IDC can offer is that we are a network, we can mobilise our members on the ground and our regional offices on the implementation of Objective 13 around development of alternatives to detention.  What we are doing now is engaging with States at national and global level to support them to develop different actions to implement Objective 13.

We need to capitalise on the potential of the Compact as a global process which aims to bring change on the ground.  The Compact opens spaces for States to share and support each other in the process of developing national level solutions.  We are not only supporting national level actions plans and actions, helping States frame work on alternatives as implementing the Compact, but also facilitating the development of space at the global level, where States can come together to share what they are doing, to learn from each other, to discuss the challenges that they are facing.  Supported of course by civil society and UN agencies at the national and global level.


Is the Compact going to be important, if it’s not binding on States?

What the Compact is doing is creating a tool for States to be able to manage migration.  There was never going to be a binding document on migration, particularly in the current political context.  The potential of the Compact is in establishing a framework for cooperation and collaboration that states can use if they want to address migration challenges.  That framework, and the spaces where states can cooperate and talk to each other about migration governance, can be valuable. In terms of detention, it is repeating international human rights standards which are binding already, with or without the Compact.  The point is bringing together standards and encouraging States to implement them.

The negotiations went on for half a year.  During that period, once or twice a month, 192 states would come together in the same room to discuss migration. States were learning from each other and better understanding the processes, by taking a solutions-based and multilateral approach.  If we can repeat that during the implementation phase, the results could be important. Whereas the intergovernmental conference this week was not about that, it was back to a series of speeches. But now we are entering a new phase. The Compact is opening a long-term process.  With all its problems, it is a big success that now there is a text that addresses migration as a whole, which we can use to work with States to actually reduce detention. 

Adopting Alternatives: An Opportunity for Africa

A key forum in Africa highlights a significant opportunity in Africa.

The IDC, invited by the Africa Commission for Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa (CPTA) and the Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons and Migrants, joined a panel discussion on the Situation of Migrants at Risk of Torture and other Ill-treatment in Africa: Alternative Approaches during the 63rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission.


"State representatives and the Commission members expressed a real interest in solutions..." Dr. Mandlate at ACHPR 63


Dr. Aquinaldo Mandlate from IDC member organisation Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) represented the IDC. He spoke alongside Commissioner Hatem Essaiem (Chairperson of the CPTA); Commissioner Maya Sahli-Fadel (Special Rapporteur); Judge Malick Sow (Member of CPTA); and Mr Mamina Jallow (Member of the Gambian Returnees from Backway Association).

The Panel drew attention to the situation of migrants in Africa. Judge Sow, Commissioners Essaiem and Sahli-Fadel highlighted the risk of torture and other ill-treatment of migrants during their journeys, especially in detention; also pointing out the duties of States to prevent such abuse under the Guidelines and Measures for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Africa (the Robben Island Guidelines). Mr Jallow then humanised the discussions by poignantly sharing his own experience of abuse, extortion and ill treatment while travelling from The Gambia across Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Libya, in the hope of reaching Europe.

Dr. Mandlate outlined solutions to the problem. He presented “Alternatives to detention” as a strategy that Governments, along with civil society, can pursue in order to implement more humane, effective and affordable migration management systems.

He described some examples of alternatives currently in operation across the African region. Others can be explored in the IDC’s “There are Alternatives: Africa” report, launched earlier this year.

IDC member Aquinaldo Mandlate speaking on the Panel.  Photo Acknowledgement, ACHPR.

Questions and comments were raised by representatives from the Arab Republic of Egypt; the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania; the National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Rwanda; Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA); Advoc Aid Sierra Leone; Equality Now – Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) Coalition; and la ligue marocaine pour les droits de l’homme. The discussions touched on three pressing issues that African governments should address in order to increase the safety of migrants and ensure Alternatives:

  1. The lack of both socio-economic opportunities in their countries and legitimate migration pathways which is  pushing people to embark on dangerous journeys
  2. The military crises and conflicts fueling insecurity and forcing people to flee
  3. Corruption among relevant authorities  that leads to abuse and extortion of migrants

Commissioner Essaiem closed the panel by urging states to use Alternatives as a solution.

Dr. Mandlate noted:  “State representatives and the Commission members expressed a real interest in solutions which will prevent torture of African migrants in the future. This proves there is much space for engaging stakeholders in the development and implementation of effective Alternatives to immigration detention in Africa.”  

The IDC looks forward to finding ways to support African states in their implementation.

For further information please see the ACHPR press release on the same matter or contact the IDC Africa Regional Coordinator, Junita Calder via email: [email protected]


Our Work in MENA: A Year in Review

North African alternatives to detention collected in new report: “There Are Alternatives: Africa”

There Are Alternatives: Africa describes examples of “alternatives” in operation across North Africa and was launched alongside the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) 62nd Session in Mauritania. The IDC ran a side event on alternatives to detention identified across the African continent that are more humane, less expensive and more efficient at achieving case resolution.

Commissioner Maya Sahli-Fadel, Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants, IDPs, and Stateless Persons, was one of three speakers on the Panel discussion who highlighted the importance of identifying opportunities for shared regional approaches that assist in reducing the need for unnecessary immigration detention.  Read her guide for policy makers, an introduction piece for handbook. The French translation is available, here.

See the Launch Agenda here and more information about the launch here.  

The research for the report has highlighted three key themes. Firstly, there is widespread use of Alternatives in the MENA region, the IDC looks forward to publishing further findings on this as a result of our current research project (see more about ongoing field visits below). Secondly, there is growing momentum around the development of Alternatives globally. Thirdly, there are increasing practical developments in the implementation of Alternatives that yield benefits for governments, migrants, and host communities. For example, registration and provision of work permits to migrants who find themselves in an irregular situation in Morocco and Algeria.                                      


African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) 62nd Session, Mauritania

Junita Calder, IDC's Africa Regional Coordinator was invited by Honourable Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Asylum Seekers, Refugees, Migrants, Stateless Persons and IDPs Maya Sahli-Fadel to talk on the Panel “Understanding and Management of Mixed Migration in North and Sub-Saharan Africa” during the ACHPR Ordinary Session.


Meeting with Mauritanian NGO members

While in Nouakchott, IDC Middle East and Africa team met Mauritanian NGO members and partners to discuss how the IDC might be able to support them through combined advocacy and explored areas for future collaboration.  We were particularly impressed by the women’s vocational training centre we visited which makes freedom of movement a reality, by supporting women from west African countries to access non-exploitative employment and support their children; eventually allowing them the economic freedom to return home, if they wish to or to begin the process of integration.


Middle East and North Africa Research Visits

The IDC is hoping to capture some of the learning about how Middle East and North Africa (MENA) governments have managed to host large numbers of refugees and migrants since the onset of the Syrian conflict, without resorting to the widespread use of immigration detention.

The IDC undertook study visits to Egypt and Lebanon in August and September. The visits aimed to document how alternatives to detention, especially case management systems, have been explored, developed and implemented en mass.

Case management, as we understand it, goes beyond following up on an individual’s migration status determination process.  It is instead, a comprehensive and systematic service delivery approach designed to ensure support for and a coordinated approach to, the health and well being of people with complex needs and abilities.

The IDC MENA team explored what is working, what fits the local context, what doesn’t and why? The research is ongoing so if you have suggestions of alternatives that we should profile please get in touch: [email protected]


Next Gen Index scorecard launch in Lebanon

IDC, the Global Campaign to End Child Immigration Detention together with Insan Association launched the Lebanese “Next Gen Index” in Beirut, 4th September 2018.

The Next Gen Index is an important advocacy tool that ranks States on their progress in ending child immigration detention, and Lebanon came second last, behind the USA, with 18 points. The launch event created space for a conversation about child immigration detention, using the standard scoring framework to reflect honestly on the situation in Lebanon. Read more about the launch here and download the Lebanon report here.


Next Gen Index Israel

The Israel Scorecard Committee, comprised primarily of IDC member Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, completed the Next Gen Index for Israel. Their country report is available to download here.


Ongoing engagement in Libya: Increased capacity to offer Alternatives to Detention

Since 2015, IDC have been engaging and working with IOM and the Danish Refugee Council programmes in Libya. Working alongside these organisations, IDC has been running capacity building workshops for and providing technical advice to a range of Libyan NGO and Government staff, as well as embassy representatives based there. The workshops, training and research have inspired the design of local alternative to detention programming options.  IOM Libya has since increased staff to capacity to exclusively support alternatives to detention in Libya and IDC will continue supporting the development and piloting of host family and shelter alternative models.


UNHCR Global Detention Strategy

IDC attended a Global UNHCR Global Detention Strategy (GDS) internal meeting in April 2018 and met with both the Detention focal points from UNHCR Iraq and UNHCR Israel to hear insights into alternatives to detention in their national contexts. IDC MENA was then able to introduce UNHCR Iraq to the IDC Asia Pacific team and IDC Director when attending the UNHCR's Roundtable on Reception and Care Arrangements for Asylum-Seeking Children in Bangkok, Thailand 10-11 October 2018.


Engagement with MENA members and partners:

The IDC has engaged with around 200 MENA members and partners, with whom the IDC has shared their advocacy tools, including: IDC Online Training Toolkit; The Roadmap for States to Develop Alternatives to Detention; The Roadmap for States to End the Immigration Detention of Children; The Alternatives to Detention Database; The Global Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children’s the Next Gen Index resources such as the Key Global Trends Report and the Global Launch WebinarAround 10 new MENA members have joined the IDC in 2018, most of whom are from Lebanon, Mauritania, and Egypt. In addition, the IDC was able to connect organisations working on similar issues, both regionally and nationally.

Seven Rohingya Children Ordered Released In Malaysia

A Malaysian court ordered for the release of seven Rohingya children detained in an immigration detention centre in Malaysia into a NGO shelter, following an application for habeas corpus to challenge their detention brought by their lawyers.

In this landmark judgment, the court recognised the viability of alternatives for children in Malaysia, and for the first time, explicitly referred to the rights of the CRC being applicable to children in immigration detention.

While the High Court judge ruled that the detention order on the children was valid as they were non-citizens who did not have the approval to enter and remain in Malaysia, the judge also noted the requirement for “appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance” as set out in Article 22 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC).

“Without need for further elaboration, this court is of the view that, continued detention of the applicants at the Belantik detention camp, has violated the children’s rights under CRC and also the Child Act 2001 that also recognises the right to protection and assistance in all situation to children regardless of race, colour, gender, language, religion and so on,” the judge said in the written decision.

The court ordered that the children be placed in a shelter that can provide for the children’s welfare, and was of the view that Chow Kit Foundation, a local shelter based in Kuala Lumpur, would be able to ensure that these benefits would be available to the children.

Each child was released with a bail of RM500 ($120). The court went on to hold that the safety and welfare of the children at the shelter should also be assured during the 'detention on them' and they should be made ‘available’ at all times needed by the authorities for any further 'action on them,' including to be present in court to answer any charges if there are such charges. Subsequently, the court made an additional order that the children would be released immediately to the care of UNHCR, as part of immigration's further action.


Further News Coverage: Judge Sends Seven Rohingya Children from Kedah Immigration Detention to KL Shelter

Celebrating 29 Years of the CRC

On Tuesday November 20th, the Initiative for Child Rights in the Global Compacts held an event at the Palais des Nations, “Child Rights and the Global Compacts: A Call For Action,” to commemorate 29 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Keynote Speakers were:

  • H.E. Ambassador Socorro Flores Liera of the Permanent Mission of Mexico
  • H.E. Ambassador Eunice Kigenyi of the Permanent Mission of Uganda
  • Video Message from several Syrian and Afghani girls experiencing forced migration

A panel of experts discussed and defined concrete actions and initiatives, with a multi-stakeholder approach, that will contribute to putting children’s rights at the heart of the implementation of the Global Compacts. Panelists included:

  • Philip Jaffe, Member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
  • Ellen Hansen, Senior Policy Advisor to the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection
  • Michele Klein Solomon, Director, Global Compact for Migration, IOM
  • Peggy Hicks, Director of Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures & Treaty Bodies Division
  • Laurent Chapuis, Regional Advisor, Migration, UNICEF
  • Constanza Martinez, UN Representative, World Vision
  • Moderated by - Delphine Moralis, Secretary-General, Terre Des Hommes

The Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration were adopted the very next day.

JRS Report on the Detention of Trafficked Men

IDC partner, JRS UK, has released a report based on the experience of 13 trafficked men. The report finds that a fundamental conflict between supporting trafficking victims and immigration control meant that victims continued to be detained. The UK government often ruled people in detention were not victims despite strong evidence to the contrary, and even those acknowledged to be likely victims were sometimes still detained due to immigration factors. Convictions and instances of non-reporting that were a direct result of being trafficked and held in modern slavery were routinely used to justify continued detention.

Download Below

TOPICAL BRIEFING: Survivors of Trafficking in Immigration Detention, October 2018


Global NextGen Index: Key Trends

Key Trends

The Global NextGen Index

México puede evitar la detención ante el desplazamiento forzado masivo

México puede evitar la detención ante el desplazamiento forzado masivo

Ante el desplazamiento forzado de miles de personas centroamericanas que ingresaron a México en octubre 2018 y otras que siguen a la espera de ingresar en la frontera sur, el gobierno mexicano tiene la obligación de garantizar el derecho a la libertad personal como todos los derechos humanos de las personas que se encuentren en su territorio. Además, cuenta con las herramientas para hacerlo ya, de acuerdo con el marco normativo actual.

IDC, junto con sus miembros y aliados proponemos al gobierno mexicano 3 acciones concretas que puede implementar ya para asegurar que la detención migratoria no sea utilizada para este grupo en situación de vulnerabilidad:

  1. Instalar un grupo de trabajo para coordinar la respuesta y acciones a corto, mediano y largo plazo, sin que las personas sean detenidas en estaciones migratorias u otros lugares donde vean coartados sus derechos a la libertad personal y libre movimiento.

  2. Asegurar el acceso a un documento de estancia regular que proteja a las personas contra la detención y deportación

  3. Desarrollar, actualizar y fortalecer los mecanismos para una efectiva identificación de vulnerabilidad de cada persona

Reconocemos que este desplazamiento forzado masivo presenta retos significativos para la implementación eficaz de procesos de identificación, evaluación y toma de decisiones individuales en México. Sin embargo, existen experiencias recientes a nivel nacional y regional donde, pese a los retos, el gobierno ha adoptado soluciones ante movimientos masivos de personas forzadas de salir de sus países, sin recurrir a la detención.


En México, en 2016 y 2017 ante el ingreso de miles de personas haitianas, el Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) implementó una respuesta que evitó la detención en estaciones migratorias. Fueron expedidos oficios para regularizar la situación migratoria de las personas haitianas en un plazo de 30 días o de no hacerlo tendrían que abandonar el país. Muchas de las personas haitianas viajaron al norte del país, pero no lograban ingresar a Estados Unidos. Además, algunas comenzaron a encontrar oportunidades de estancia en México que les hicieron modificar sus intenciones migratorias originales. Dentro de las prácticas positivas, el gobierno emitió tarjetas de visitante por razones humanitarias a personas haitianas. La estancia de visitante por razones humanitarias es una figura legal dentro de la Ley de Migración (Art. 52) que establece el derecho de personas en situación de vulnerabilidad a regularizar su situación migratoria. Tal regularización les protege contra la detención, garantiza su libertad de movimiento y les autoriza para el trabajo independiente en tanto se resuelven en definitiva los procesos legales pendientes (judiciales o administrativos), o se adoptan decisiones finales acordes con el interés superior de la niñez.


A nivel regional, experiencias importantes incluye el Permiso Temporal de Permanencia (PTP) para personas venezolanas en Perú. En 2017, el gobierno peruano creó el PTP ante el ingreso masivo de personas venezolanas para que pudieran regularizar su situación migratoria por un año, protegidas contra la detención y deportación. El documento migratorio también autoriza el trabajo en el país y garantiza el acceso a los servicios de salud, educación y justicia, entre otros. Al cierre del año 2017, se estimó en más de 25 mil personas venezolanas obtuvieron un PTP. El PTP se ha extendido hasta el 2019.


Pese a los retos que presentaron estas experiencias, demuestran que los Estados sí pueden adoptar una solución que no es detener y deportar a las personas, sino gestionar su estancia regular por un periodo temporal, que garantice su acceso a derechos y seguridad, de forma consistente con las obligaciones regionales e internacionales de derechos humanos.


Además, la nueva administración en México cuenta con oportunidades concretas para reimaginar la gestión migratoria en el país. Desde IDC, hemos desarrollado una Propuesta de prioridades y acciones para limitar el uso de la detención migratoria y fortalecer las alternativas, especialmente tratándose de grupos en situación de vulnerabilidad.

An Opportunity for the New Administration in Mexico

More than 90,000 people were held in immigration detention in Mexico in 2017, a policy that has been shown to be expensive and harmful. Of these 90,000, more than 18,000 children and adolescents were detained because of their migration status, despite the fact that current legal framework prohibits it.

Image: Numbers of adults (dark blue), children and adolescents (teal) held in immigration detention in Mexico, by year, January 2012 – August 2018 (Source: Official government statistics)


Mexico has a new administration, and the IDC has outlined how alternatives to immigration detention present an opportunity for reform that respects the right to liberty.

Mexico has already made significant progress to develop alternatives to immigration detention for those who are in vulnerable situations, such as children and asylum seekers. In 2014, new legislation established a national protection system for all children, regardless of their immigration situation; and since then, successful pilot projects have demonstrated how children and families can be supported to live in the community as they participate in their ongoing migration or asylum process.

Image: Progress made in Mexico to limit immigration detention and develop alternatives


The IDC has identified current opportunities available to the Mexican government to limit the use of immigration detention and strengthen the use of alternatives. It urges the State to develop, promote and invest in joint programs, between authorities and civil society, which uphold migrants’ rights and meet the requirements of the State.

Read the opportunities here.


ACHPR Panel Discussion: Preventing Torture in Africa

In October, 2018, the IDC will be attending the 63rd Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) in Banjul, Gambia.


The IDC will be speaking alongside ACHPR Commissioner Essaiem Hatem, the Chairperson of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa, and his Co-Commissioner Maya Salih-Fadel, who is the Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons on a Panel Discussion on the ‘Situation of Migrants at Risk of Torture, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment in Africa : ways to Prevent Torture and Reduce the Risk’.


Across Africa, wherever there is a lack of access to regular migration pathways, migrants are undertaking dangerous journeys to try and ensure their own physical safety and the opportunities required to support their families and meaningfully contribute to society. Many migrants, especially those traveling irregularly, are subject to torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, both during their journeys and if they are apprehended and detained.


It is understood that state agents can become overwhelmed by the need to control their borders, whilst still upholding human rights standards with respect to all persons, including migrants, at their borders and within their territories. New thinking and alternative approaches are necessary.


The IDC will share insights from African civil society and non-government organisations in order to draw attention to this important issue and to encourage States to take concrete steps towards the prevention of migrant torture and exploitation.


If anyone is interested in contributing to shaping the content of the panel, please be in touch – [email protected]