Concerns Immigration Detention Could Increase in US / Mexico Funding Agreement

The US Government announced it will provide $20 million in foreign assistance funds  to the Mexican government to pay plane and bus fares to deport as many as 17,000 people, preventing them from moving onwards to countries where they may be able to seek asylum. The decision was made despite strong opposition from members of Congress and civil society.

The Mexican government released this statement saying that the proposal is still under evaluation, and reiterating Mexico's commitment to promote orderly, legal, and secure migration with full respect for human rights and the international legal framework. Mexico is currently one of the Co-chairs of the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

If the assistance funds were to be provided by the US Government, they would  compromise an individual’s right to seek asylum in the country they deem safe and prevent governments from achieving their international obligations to offer an individual access to protection.

The IDC joined over 25 organizations expressing concerns over this development, and making practical suggestions for how these funds could be used to provide efficient and affordable solutions, rather than increasing the use of immigration detention.

This funding has been linked to conversations about an agreement to make Mexico a "Safe Third Country" for asylum seekers, which IDC and our Members have strongly opposed since last May.

The IDC position remains the same - emphasizing that cooperation between the United States and Mexico on migration management should prioritize respecting the rights of asylum seekers in both countries. Both States stand to benefit if they prioritize regional cooperation that focuses on upholding human rights and promoting durable solutions.

The letter states, "U.S. assistance to Mexico should not be directed towards increased detention and deportation and should not support migration and security agencies that have few mechanisms to hold their agents accountable for the abuses they commit against migrants. Moreover, the United States should not be outsourcing its immigration enforcement to Mexico. Instead the United States should support the efforts of the UNHCR and civil society organizations in strengthening regional protection mechanisms..."

Read the letter here.



Recast Return Directive Foresees More Immigration Detention

On 12 September 2018, in his state of union speech, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a Recast of the Return Directive to “accelerate the return of irregular migrants,” among a series of measures on migration.

The legislative proposal foresees more immigration detention to “support enforcement of return”, in particular it introduces:

  • a requirement for Member States to “allow for an initial detention period of not less than 3 months” of pre-removal detention;
  • a new ground for detention where people subject to a returndecision “pose a threat to public order or security”
  • 16 common criteria for determining risk of absconding, including broad grounds such as “illegal entry” and lack of financial resources.

Other changes include a new “obligation to cooperate”, a new border procedure and limiting possibilities for voluntary departure and appeals.

The proposals broadly reflect the Commission’s approach in its 2017 policy package which seeks to increase the rate of returns through enforcement-based measures.

These increased measures have been proposed despite well-established and wide-scale concerns that detention is harmful to health and wellbeing and causes unnecessary suffering. In addition, immigration detention is an extremely costly policy that is challenging to implement, and rarely fulfils its objectives.

Numerous alternatives to detention exist that are less costly, and do not risk an infringement on the human rights of migrants. Using engagement, rather than enforcement to build trust and support migrants and enable governments to achieve their compliance and case resolution goals without detention.


For more information:

Evidence That Alternatives to Detention Can Be Effective

The first independent evaluation report on three alternatives to detention pilot projects in the European ATD Network is now out.

Read the Report and Briefing Paper.

In the context of increased pressure across Europe to detain migrants, the interim evaluation provides evidence that community-based case management can be effective in helping migrants to work towards resolving their cases in the community.

The pilot projects in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Poland provide holistic case management, as part of an advocacy strategy for reducing immigration detention.

They aim to build evidence that detention is not the solution: with support and engagement, people can resolve their cases in the community without harmful and costly detention.

The interim evaluation finds that 97% of migrants on the pilots cooperated with case management and did not abscond, including in countries with high overall rates of secondary movement.

The evidence of the pilots shows that through quality case management, people can better engage with immigration procedures to work towards resolving their cases, providing better outcomes for individuals and governments. This is including in cases of great complexity and previous experience of detention.


This is one of the first qualitative evaluations of alternatives to detention, and can provide important learning on how to develop effective and sustainable alternatives, in a context where discussion often focuses on crude numbers of returns and absconding.

The findings are a step towards bridging the gap between the growing discussion of alternatives in Europe, and the need for practical development of effective engagement-based models.

The report also provides insight into how, practically, a case management pilot project can be set up, and the challenges faced, which can support further pilots for evidence-building. A further evaluation will be conducted in the future.

The pilots and the evaluation are funded by the European Programme for Integration and Migration.

More information on the alternative to detention pilot projects and the European ATD Network is available at



Reflections from the New Director of IDC

This periodic blog series creates a space for advocates to reflect on strategies that get results. If you would like to contribute, contact [email protected]

The first in this series is from the new IDC Director, Jerome Phelps


I am delighted to be taking over as Director of IDC.  Only a special opportunity could have prised me away from Detention Action, the UK organisation that I ran for fifteen years.  For much of that time, IDC was my key reference point for how radical detention reform can be achieved, beyond the confines of the UK.


IDC is unique in this field in being able to set the agenda and discourse at the global level on immigration detention, alternatives to detention and the pressing need to end the detention of children, whilst also having the direct connection to the national level, through our close working relationships with member organisations throughout the world.  The national level being, of course, where real change must ultimately happen – where governments respond to civil society pressure and reform their detention practices.


I worked at the national level for fifteen years, building Detention Action up from a point where I was the only staff member.  I’ve seen how that change can happen, and how long it can take.  For many years, large-scale and indefinite detention was seen as an inevitable part of the UK immigration system.  The evidence was always there of its ineffectiveness and the appalling human cost, but political traction was absent.

Network building

It took ten years of patient network, coalition-building and campaigning to change that.  Ten years of establishing effective working relationships within a few key organisations in the Detention Forum network, alongside strong trusting relationships within a much broader movement.  We sought to influence politicians of left and right, faith leaders, citizens organising groups and other social justice movements.  Crucially, migrants themselves with experience of detention, played increasing leadership roles – the point where real change started to happen was the point where my media

and public-speaking opportunities dried up, because they were going instead to the Freed Voices group of experts-by-experience who have lost years of their life to immigration detention.

It made me realise that change required many different voices and organisations playing different roles, because the problem is complex.  At Detention Action, we played multiple roles, from ending the systematic detention of asylum-seekers in the Detained Fast Track process, to spearheading public-facing campaigning to end indefinite detention, to building close working relationships with the Home Office in the UK around our alternative to detention pilot for young ex-offender migrants. And throughout that time, our focus remained the people who are locked up in detention centres, supporting them through their time in detention.


I’ve seen the political pressure reach tipping point, and change come.  The UK has reduced its detention estate by 40% and has recently promised to consider the introduction of a time limit.  The Home Office is working with civil society to develop and expand more alternative to detention pilots. It’s no longer a question of whether detention is to be reformed, but how far and how fast.


Sharing insights


It will be crucial for IDC to gather and disseminate the learning on how detention reform is possible, to remain open to new possibilities and work with others to strategise for change.  We are seeing unprecedented anti-immigration hysteria, fanned by populist movements that have swept to power around the world.  The threat of mass detention has never been greater in many countries.  Appeals to long-established norms increasingly fall on deaf ears, even in the States that were responsible for drafting and promoting the international legal framework.  At the same time, in response to the brutal treatment of refugees and other migrants in detention, more people are waking up to the need to protect their rights and dignity.


In this context, IDC has a crucial role to play.  The language of alternatives to detention has traction with governments, even where a sense of panic has swept away concern for observing human rights norms.  Indeed, alongside the ever-growing pressure to detain in many parts of the world, we are seeing the growth of an important counter-trend of commitments to alternatives, most recently in the Global Compact on Migration negotiated by the vast majority of governments.


There is always the risk that talk about alternatives can become a smokescreen behind which governments continue to expand abusive detention practices.  So it will be vital that the talk about alternatives becomes action.  This will need to involve civil society, which has the expertise and relationships with migrants to implement alternatives that are not alternative forms of coercion, but genuinely enable migrants to engage with immigration systems.  IDC will need to work closely to support our member organisations to take on this role, sharing the learning from the pilots and networks already taking shape in several regions.


Highlighting immigration detention as a problem


Alongside providing solutions to governments, we also need to work on making sure that detention is a problem politically and socially.  The crudeness of much discussion of migration is a huge challenge – it appears that some governments no longer prioritise actually managing migration, but favour symbolic gestures of cruelty towards migrants, in the name of deterrence.  We need to work with members to ensure that migrants’ experiences of detention are heard and influence policy making, so that populists no longer see detention as an easy rhetorical win.  The detention of children can be a crucial entry point here, since voters and politicians across the political spectrum generally feel uncomfortable about locking up children.


Ultimately, immigration detention is one of the major human rights issues of our times because of the devastating impact it has on people.  It is increasingly becoming normalised in many societies, but until a few decades ago it was almost unheard of.


The raw sense of the injustice of immigration detention is what migrants speak of when they describe their experiences.  It is a powerful driver for migrants and civil society to work together to achieve change.  Our role as advocates is to harness this sense of injustice and turn it into strategies and policy solutions that respect the experiences of migrants themselves and, crucially, their human rights.  I am looking forward to spending my first few months visiting our regional offices and member organisations and learning about those experiences, in order to strategise for how we can make detention once again the exception.

Migrant Protection Council Opportunity in Guatemala 

A training session was held by the IDC team and its members for representatives of various ministries that are mandated to form a new council for migrant protection, as part of the new migration code in Guatemala.

Read more in Spanish

View photos from the event here

Seeking Suggestions for IDC MENA Study Visit

Between now and end of year, 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 ‘crisis’, without resorting to the widespread use of immigration detention.

The IDC will undertake a study visit in late 2018, with a focus on Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

The visit aims to document how alternatives to detention, especially case management, have been explored, developed and implemented en mass.

Case management is 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.

The visit will explore what is working, what fits the local context, what doesn’t and why?

Do you have suggestions of alternatives that we should profile? Please get in touch!

Email: Middle East and Africa Regional Coordinator [email protected]

Indonesia Theory of Change Workshop

On 26th and 27th of June, the IDC brought together 15 participants from civil society organizations and United Nations agencies in Indonesia to develop a theory of change for ending child immigration  detention. Theory of change is a methodology for planning, participation and evaluation that is used to promote social change.


The workshop held in Jakarta, was led by an experienced theory of change facilitator from DSIL Global.


Over a period of two days, participants came together to identify a common long-term goal as well as specific short-term, medium-term and long-term outcomes necessary to bring an end to immigration detention of children and their families, and to develop effective community-based alternatives.


Through facilitated discussion, participants also furthered their common understanding existing initiatives, policies and opportunities, strengthened their knowledge of each organizations work, and identified gaps and challenges in national advocacy.


“this workshop was the first time that a broad range of stakeholders have came together to develop a common vision and cohesive long-term strategy…”


In Indonesia, a Presidential Decree signed in January 2017 affirmed, amongst other things, the availability of alternatives to detention for refugees. However, the language of the Decree is broad and ambiguous, and implementation remains challenging.


Although groups have been engaged on advocacy and service provision for children impacted by immigration detention for several years now, this workshop was the first time that a broad range of stakeholders have came together to develop a common vision and cohesive long-term strategy that strengthen alternatives to detention for children, including through the implementation of the Presidential Decree.


Following this workshop, participants will further refine the theory of change, clarify assumptions, and begin identifying ways to implement interventions and activities to reach the common goal.


This workshop follows similar workshops organized by IDC in Malaysia and Thailand in February and May this year respectively.

Theory of change

NextGen Index Launched at Southern Africa Civil Society Forum



Alternatives to detention were highlighted at the 14th Southern Africa Civil Society Forum which took place in  Namibia on August 13 - 15, 2018.

Liesl Muller from IDC Member, Lawyers for Human Rights, launched the NextGen Index Scorecards for Southern African states.


The NextGen Index is a comparative tool that ranks States on their progress in ending child immigration detention. The Index uses a standard scoring framework to assess the key factors that ensure national migration management systems are sensitive to the needs of children and, importantly, avoid child detention.

The scoring framework analyses the strengths and weaknesses of current systems in protecting and respecting the rights and best interests of the child at all times, regardless of their migration status. Scorecards are accompanied by tailored recommendations on how each country can improve their scores in the future. National scores will be updated each year to track a country’s progress over time.

States from Southern Africa in the NextGen Index included:


The latest IDC research, The African edition of There are Alternatives was also shared at this event, providing an overview of alternatives to immigration detention in Africa. Drawing from examples in 32 African countries, the report highlights some of the measures in place that contribute to the effective and humane governance of migration, while avoiding the use of unnecessary immigration detention. It includes a Guide for Policy Makers, which outlines how this research can be of use for States.

It complements There are alternatives – a handbook to prevent unnecessary immigration detention and builds on IDC’s 2016 report Alternatives to Immigration Detention in Africa.

Zambia Highlighted as Positive Practice in the NextGen Index Global Launch

The new Global NextGen Index ranks how 20 countries treat their migrant children, holding governments accountable to their obligations and supporting them to fulfil their commitments.

A video of the launch webinar is available for viewing here, highlighting positive practice in Zambia:


Featuring panelists from country committees around the globe, and moderated by Leeanne Torpey, Coordinator of the Global Campaign, the webinar shared how countries were scored, important findings, and national advocacy strategies moving forward, featuring:

  • Mariane Quintao, Brazil NextGen Committee
  • Chando Mapoma and Caphas Njobvu, Zambia NextGen Committee
  • Laetitia Van der Vennet, Belgium NextGen Committee

The results of the Index show that it is possible to protect the liberty of the next generation, but it requires action today. Four States from Africa were included in the Index:

The Global NextGen Index uses a comprehensive framework to assess the use of child immigration detention, assign a score and determine a global ranking.

The index found dramatic variations in how States treat migrant children, with some avoiding detention and others causing irreparable harm.

The two panelists from IOM Zambia, Chando Mapoma and Caphas Njobvu, were able to provide insight into alternatives to detention that have been shown to be effective in a country that has eight land borders.

The two panelists from IOM Zambia, Chando Mapoma and Caphas Njobvu, were able to provide insight into alternatives to detention that have been shown to be effective in a country that has eight land borders. Currently, Zambia does not detain unaccompanied migrant children who are seeking asylum. However, other children, including those migrating with their families, are detained on the basis of migration status.


The Zambian NextGen Committee (right) present at the Global Launch of the NextGen Index


"The Zambian Government has shown a real willingness to work to end child immigration detention, and this is reflected in the results of the scorecard" said Chando Mapoma. He reflected that Zambia had performed well on signing relevant treaties to protect children, and processing, but that the score could be improved by expanding alternatives to include all children, rather than just asylum seekers.

"Whole of society training and capacity building has really been important to ensure change"

Caphas Njobvu has developed the training for the National Referral Mechanism, which provides guidelines to identify vulnerable groups like refugees, victims of human trafficking and children, to ensure that they are not detained unnecessarily or for prolonged periods. "Whole of society training and capacity building has really been important to ensure change" said Njobvu, who highlighted significant processes that support the referral mechanism, such as Best Interest Determinations, which have been developed in partnership with agencies.

It is shown that even short periods of detention seriously harm children’s psychological and physical well-being – the impacts can last a lifetime.

“It doesn’t have to be this way – sustainable and meaningful change must be led by our governments, and this index provides informed examples of how change is possible.”

Global Campaign Coordinator, Leeanne Torpey, says “It doesn’t have to be this way – sustainable and meaningful change must be led by our governments, and this index provides informed examples of how change is possible.”

In Appreciation of Barbara Harrell-Bond

The IDC expresses deep gratitude for the work of Barbara Harrell-Bond, who died at age 85 in July.

Barbara was an active member of the IDC since it began in 2008. She consistently shared resources and her deep knowledge about immigration detention and alternatives to detention.

Barbara's legacy will continue to improve the lives of refugees worldwide. She is remembered for founding the Refugees Studies Center (RSC) at the University of Oxford  and founding the African and Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA Egypt), an organisation dedicated to providing quality legal services to refugees and asylum seekers. She established the Refugee Law Project at Makerere University in Uganda, the Forced Migration and Refugee Studies Program at the American University in Cairo, and Africa Middle East Refugee Assistance (now AMERA International) to provide legal aid to refugees and ensure young people were able to study refugee law. She was a founding member of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network.