Pinar Aksu End Child Detention UN Joint General Comment

Joint General Comment Launch on Child Migrants

Pinar Aksu End Child Detention UN Joint General Comment

Pinar Aksu, Advocate for the End Child Detention Campaign, speaks at the launch of the Joint General Comments at the UN Palais Des Nations

Two complementary joint general comments on the human rights of children in the context of international migration were launched this week by the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Read the Joint General Comments here.

Effectively, these General Comments provide authoritative guidance that immigration detention is a child rights violation.

Every Member State in the UN, except for the United States of America, have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, so this General Comment applies broadly to the vast majority of Member States.

The comments emphasise that children should never be detained for reasons related to their or their parents’ migration status and States should expeditiously and completely cease or eradicate the immigration detention of children. The Committees also clarified the reason the principle of ‘last resort’ does not apply to children in the context of migration.

The launch took place on 16 April 2018 from 3:00 to 5:00 pm at Palais des Nations in Conference Room XII.

Ms. Pinar Aksu, a Youth Advocate from the Global Campaign to End Child Immigration Detention  featured as one of the speakers at the event. She shared her experience of being detained at 14 years old for over two months when her family sought asylum in the UK.

“We were treated as criminals. Governments may use different words to make these policies sound acceptable, however it is the same as if I was being deprived of my liberty without cause… As a child at the time, I saw many things that no child should see…” said Ms. Aksu.

Other panellists included:

  • Pablo Ceriani, Former Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
  • Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child
  • Laurent Chapuis, Regional Advisor Migration, UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia
  • Jill Helke, Director, Department of International Cooperation and Partnerships, IOM
  • Anne Dussart, Caritas Internationalis Belgium
  • Pinar Aksu, Global Campaign to End Child Immigration Detention Advocate

The joint general comments aim to contribute to improving the protection of the human rights of children which are, in the context of international migration, in a particular situation of vulnerability. Specific goals of these general comments include elaborating for State Parties and other key stakeholders guidelines for developing  migration, childhood and related policies aimed at protecting and realizing the rights of children in the context of international migration.

Read the program for the event here.

See the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Statement on the Launch here.

Alternatives to detention in Africa

There Are Alternatives: New Report on Africa

New report coming soon 

IDC members and partners in Africa have recognised the importance of information sharing to successfully manage migration without the use of detention. Alternatives to detention include practices, policies and laws that allow all kinds of migrants to live and support themselves in a community, with freedom of movement, while their immigration status is being resolved.

Danielle Botti, Coordinator at the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS), East and Horn of Africa has said that “research and analysis about alternatives to detention, as well as alternatives to unsafe migration,  is critical”. RMMS supports agencies with guidance from IOM, UNHCR, DRC, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Intersos, IGAD and the EU delegation to Kenya. 

In response to this need, the IDC has set up a research series presenting region-specific case studies of alternatives to detention. The research is intended to encourage civil society and government actors to pilot alternatives, including increasing safe migration pathways that manage and resolve cases in a fair, timely and humane manner.


Alternatives to detention in Africa
There are alternatives - the handbook for preventing unnecessary detention in Africa


The IDC’s latest report – to be published in April – contains new descriptions of alternatives to detention currently operating in an expanded selection of 32 African countries. The report highlights that unnecessary detention is prevalent in the region. It details the fact that detention is detrimental and costly for both governments and migrants themselves, with alternatives to detention being up to 80% less expensive than immigration detention.

Understanding more about what risks and circumstances people face at all stages of the journey is important” says Botti.

The countries surveyed in the report include those experiencing “transit” migration, those hosting large numbers of refugees, asylum seekers or irregular migrants, and those with limited resources available to manage such populations. The alternatives described include those implemented to prevent detention at all stages of a migration procedure, including upon arrival, during processing of migration-related claims, or when preparing for departure.

“In the growing study on mixed migration, the conversation is moving towards finding and applying tangible and durable solutions to ensure protection of human rights for people on the move” Botti shared

The IDC is glad to be contributing to this conversational shift, uncovering and promoting alternatives to immigration detention that allow migrants to remain healthy and act as contributing members of the communities in which they settle, pass through or originate from.  We applaud the efforts of governments offering registration amnesties to irregular migrants and temporary work permits to asylum seekers and refugees.

The report will be launched on 26th April 2018 at the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR)’s 62nd Ordinary Session in Nouakchott, Mauritania. The IDC will run 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 according to the IDC’s ten-year programme of research.

The first publication in the series “Mapping Alternatives to Detention in Africa” was “Alternatives to Immigration Detention in Africa, 2015-2016” which detailed legislation, policies and practices related to immigration detention, including child detention, and alternatives to detention, in six countries: Egypt, Kenya, Libya, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.


To find out more, contact the lead author of the report Tiffany Shakespeare –[email protected]

Report Launch Alongside ACHPR

The International Detention Coalition (IDC) invites you to the launch of our new report and panel discussion on "Alternatives to the use of Immigration Detention in Africa".

The launch will be held on Thursday, 26 April 2018 as a side-event at the 62nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) in Nouakchott, Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

Time: 12:30 – 14:00

Venue: TBC (within the Palais des Congrès)

Please see the Agenda for more information: Agenda ACHPR 62nd Session Side Event on Alternatives to Immigration Detention

Unfortunately the IDC does not have funding to cover participant's costs but please RSVP here if you are scheduled to attend anyway.

If you would like more details please email: [email protected]


3 Years of Brazil Plan of Action: Evaluating State Commitments

IDC members and partners have contributed to national and regional advocacy that has resulted in important government commitments relating to the guarantee of the right to personal liberty in the Americas Region, including the Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action (2014).

The Brazil Plan of Action includes specific commitments to end the use of immigration detention of children, and implement alternatives to detention for people seeking asylum and others experiencing vulnerability. Last year, 2017 marked the third year of implementation of the Brazil Plan of Action and these important commitments.

In commemoration of this important anniversary, IDC collaborated with partners to develop both a Regional Report and national level report on Mexico to evaluate implementation of the Brazil Plan of Action in its first three years.

The reports include specific evaluation of commitments to eliminate immigration detention of children, develop ATD for asylum seekers and identification procedures in border zone and for vulnerable groups to improve access to alternatives.

The Mexico report was presented at a press conference in Mexico City and received significant media coverage, especially highlighting Mexico's inefficient protection of asylum seekers, despite the country's public commitments in international forums.

Press conference on Brazil Plan of Action

Press conference to present the National report on implementation of the Brazil Plan of Action in Mexico (February 19, 2018, Mexico City).


IDC's Program Officer for Mexico and Central America attended the presentation of the Regional Report at the Latina America and Caribbean Regional Consultation on the Global Compact for Refugees, held on February 19 and 20, 2018 in Brasilia.

Both reports contributed to dialogue for development of the main output of the consultation: a list of 100 points highlighting positive practices and experiences from the region to contribute to develop of the Global Compact for Refugees. Notably, these points include avoiding use of detention for asylum seekers and children, and expanding alternatives to detention that respond to individual needs and uphold the best interests of the child:

  • Point 10: Refraining from administrative detention of asylum-seekers for irregular entry, and/or stay
  • Point 11: The progressive implementation of alternatives to administrative detention of [migrants], asylum seekers, and refugees, through shelters, reception centers or other measures with due consideration of the specific needs of individuals, family unit and respect for human rights

  • Point 23: The development of unified registration systems between asylum and migration authorities in order to ensure interoperability of data, better management of asylum claims, protection of persons against detention and refoulement, as well as a faster documentation issuance

  • Point 77:  The establishment of a regional network of government officials to liaise on the protection of migrant and refugee children and adolescents in order to promote the implementation of standards and guarantees of access to the asylum procedure and the determination of their best interest, including the right not to be detained and the right to family unity

  • Point 80: The establishment of national protocols for the protection of unaccompanied asylum seeking children to promote family tracing and reunification, and foster care as alternatives to detention, in accordance with the best interest of the child

Civil society meeting for the Brazil Plan of Action

Civil society participants at the Regional Consultation in Brazil (19-20 February 2018, Brasilia)

Arbitrary immigration detention pic: davidruech-photography

Detention in Malaysia Criticised by CEDAW Committee

Concluding Observations for the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for Malaysia’s third to fifth combined periodic reports raise concerns about the use of immigration detention.


The observations were released on 12th March 2018, following the Malaysian government’s review in February 2018 with respect to its compliance with the CEDAW in the 69th session of the CEDAW Committee.


The Committee commended the Malaysian Government’s involvement in the dialogue after a 12 year lapse. However the Committee expressed disappointment with the lack of meaningful progress on gender equality in its report.


Arbitrary detention was raised as a point of concern, as well as sexual and gender based violence and the lack of access to justice and healthcare for migrant, refugee, asylum-seeker and stateless women and girls in detention. Notably, the Committee highlighted their concern that “the lack of legal and administrative framework to protect and regularize the status of asylum-seekers and refugees in the State party exposes asylum-seeking and refugee women and girls to a range of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention, exploitation, sexual and gender-based violence, including in detention centres.”


CEDAW is one of only three UN human rights treaties ratified by Malaysia. Gender inequality continues to exist despite the constitutional guarantee of equality in Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution - disproportionately impacting refugee, asylum-seeking, stateless and migrant populations. Through CEDAW Committee’s General recommendation No. 32 on the gender-related dimensions of refugee status, asylum, nationality and statelessness of women (‘General Recommendation 32’), asylum-seeking, stateless and refugee women fall within the scope of CEDAW.


Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, or its 1967 Protocol, and has no framework in place to identify and protect asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia. Under the Immigration Act 1959/63, asylum seekers and refugees are not distinguished from undocumented migrants (of which there are some estimated 2- 4 million currently in Malaysia).


At the end of December 2017, there were 152,320 asylum seekers and refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia, of which approximately 34% are women. According to the Government’s Annex to Reply to the List of Issues, as of September 2017,  there were a total of 1,814 women in immigration detention centers across Malaysia, including 128 girls.


Although the government confirmed that refugee, asylum-seeking and stateless women who are in detention are released after UNHCR verifies that they qualify for international protection, the Committee expressed their grave concern at recent reports of refoulement of individuals, including women, who were registered with the UNHCR. The Committee also raised its concern about a Government directive which requires public hospitals to refer undocumented asylum-seekers and migrants who seek medical attention to the Immigration Department - effectively deterring them from accessing essential health care services due to fear of arrest and detention.


In the recommendations in its Concluding Observations, the Committee highlighted the need to “establish alternatives to detention for asylum-seeking and refugee women and girls, and in the meantime take concrete measures to ensure that detained women and girls have access to adequate hygiene facilities and goods and are protected from all forms of gender-based violence, including by ensuring that all complaints are effectively investigated, perpetrators are prosecuted and adequately punished, and victims are provided effective remedies”.


In addition, the recommendations the Committee made in relation to women and girls impacted by immigration detention include:

  • Identify and address the specific obstacles faced by undocumented women, women held in immigration detention centres, and asylum-seeking and refugee women to ensure that they have access to justice and recourse to effective remedies;
  • Immediately repeal the directive requiring public hospitals to refer undocumented asylum-seekers and migrants to the Immigration Department;
  • Adopt national asylum and refugee legislation and procedures which ensures that the specific needs of women and girls are addressed;
  • Codify and fully respect the principle of non-refoulement and ensure that no individual who is registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is deported;
  • Ensure full access to asylum procedures for persons seeking asylum, including women and girls; and
  • Ensure that a formal victim identification procedure to promptly identify and refer victims of trafficking to appropriate services and protection includes an assessment of their needs for international protection


As a follow up measure, the CEDAW Committee has requested that the Malaysian government provide, within the next two years, written information on the steps taken to implement recommendations related to refugee and asylum-seeking women.


Other relevant documents on the session, including State Party reports, and shadow reports by the National Human Rights Institution and civil society organisations can be found here.

Malaysia Strategy Workshop

At the end of February, IDC members and partners in Malaysia came together for a two-day national workshop aiming to develop a collective theory of change.


Theory of change is a methodology for planning, participation and evaluation that is used to promote social change.


Various groups have been advocating for alternatives to immigration detention for children in Malaysia since 2012. However, advocacy initiatives have tended to focus on relatively short-term goals and emerging opportunities.


The workshop provided a space for discussion about longer-term goals and strategies, as well as ways in which to respond to challenges, gaps and risks related to advocacy for, and implementation of alternatives.


The IDC brought together members and partners from civil society, the national human rights commission, and UN agencies to begin the process of building a theory of change on how to end the immigration detention of children and their families in Malaysia.
Through this process, participants were able to build a common understanding on some of the interventions required to strengthen advocacy initiatives in Malaysia. The next step will be to further flesh out and examine ways of implementing these interventions, as well as refining other aspects of the theory of change.
Similar workshops are planned in Thailand and Indonesia in early 2018.

Detention Side Event HRC

HRC Event: Protecting the Human Rights of Migrants


During the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, the IDC was one of several organisations involved in convening a side event on how to enhance the rights of migrants and of those defending their rights.


The event was a join initiative of the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), the International Detention Coalition (IDC) and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations.


Panellists included Mr Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Mr Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms Laurel Townhead, Representative, Human Rights and Refugees, Quaker United Nations Office; and Ms Pia Oberoi, Advisor on Migration and Human Rights, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, OHCHR.


The discussion is very timely as, while the negotiation for the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration continues, the two UN Special Rapporteurs on the Panel have presented to the UN Human Rights Council their thematic reports dedicated to the protection of the human rights of migrants. These reports respectively focus on torture and other ill-treatment in the context of migration and the experience of human rights defenders working in the context of people on the move.


Specifically addressing immigration detention, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture reiterated with concern the findings of his most recent thematic report: that detention has become a standard response to irregular migration and causes a chain of human rights violations and abuses which can amount to torture and ill-treatment.


Watch the side event here.


A Warning for States: SR Torture Expert

Is detention torture? The UN Expert on Torture says it certainly could be in his thematic report to the Human Rights Council


During the presentation of his thematic report to the UN Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Nils Melzer, warned States that the systematic and open-ended detention of people based only on their migratory status can amount to torture, especially when it is intentionally used to deter, intimidate or punish migrants or their families, or to coerce people into withdrawing asylum requests, accepting voluntary repatriation, giving information or providing fingerprints.


“The longer a situation of arbitrary detention lasts, the more intense the mental and emotional suffering will become, and the higher the likelihood that the ban on torture or ill-treatment has been breached,” the Special Rapporteur clarified.


Through his report, the UN Special Rapporteur recommends that States urgently address the migration governance when it has been based on the criminalisation of irregular migration.  The report found that the majority of States are criminalising irregular migration, and subsequently using immigration detention as a routine - or even mandatory - response.


Along these lines, the Special Reporter urges States to refrain from policies of mandatory, prolonged or indefinite detention and strongly highlights that migrants, especially children, should never be detained solely because of their irregular migration status or the impossibility of their expulsion.


According to Mr Melzer's report, criminal or administrative detention based solely on migration status exceeds the legitimate interest that States have to protect their territory and should be regarded as arbitrary, sometimes even amounting to ill-treatment or torture.


Read the advance unedited version of the report here

Coming Soon: New Research on Alternatives in Africa

The IDC is excited to announce that we will soon have new research focusing on the Africa region.

“Alternatives to Immigration Detention in Africa” will be launched alongside the 62nd session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in late April 2018.

It shows that alternatives to detention are already being used across Africa to great effect, with a lot of potential to be up-scaled for more cost savings.

It builds on the 2017 publication Alternatives to Immigration Detention in Africa  which mapped legislation, policies and practices related to immigration detention, including child detention, and alternativesin Egypt, Kenya, Libya, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.

To find out more, contact Tiffany Shakespeare – [email protected]

Work Rights Boost African Economies

There is a wealth of evidence that suggests granting the right to work to asylum seekers and refugees boosts the local economy and reduces refugee reliance on state resources and charitable supports for basic welfare.

A number of African countries provide refugees with employment rights while their migration status is being determined – harnessing the potential of  refugees as drivers of development.


Refugees Boosting African EconomiesAbdul Karim Ali, Uganda. Photo: BBC


"Business is booming in the refugee camp" - Abdul Karim Ali, Ugandan citizen


Abdul Karim Ali, a 25-year-old Ugandan entrepreneur, visits the refugee settlement in Northern Uganda from his local town, Arua, to buy charcoal “cured” by South Sudanese refugees. Abdul transports it back to Arua to sell at a profit. This is one of many examples of trading between South Sudanese refugees and Ugandan locals that is boosting the Ugandan economy.


Adul Karim Ali’s trading activities with South Sudanese refugees demonstrate how granting the right to work to asylum seekers has benefited both refugees and host communities. Research on the Ugandan government’s settlement approach for refugees in border areas has shown that 1) Refugee households have some independent income-generating source; 2) Dependency on the government is low; 3) Twenty per cent of refugees in Kampala run a business that employs at least one Ugandan; 4) Refugees are buying goods from local supplies and are paying taxes and rents.


Research in Zambia also suggests that refugees who are able to work are providing a positive contribution to the Zambian economy. Refugees are engaging in farming, running small businesses such as trading shops, animal husbandry, working as artisans and providing services through formal and informal employment. The refugees and former refugees are also employing local Zambian nationals. Forty percent of urban-based refugees employ people from outside their households. Refugees are also transferring skills to locals, as evidenced by the new farming and consumption patterns of growing cassava and rice in the settlement areas as well as the handcrafting of clay roofing tiles, commonly practiced by the Rwandans and Burundians in Zambia.


In addition, IDC partners in Zambia have flagged that the repatriation of Angolan refugees from Zambia back to Angola has left the formerly thriving border towns now seem like ghost towns. The repatriation has had a negative impact on the economic development of the local area as refugee and host communities used to engage in trade.


A review of Zambia’s Refugee Control Act 1970 is currently underway. The government also plans to dissolve Zambia’s reservations on the right to work in the 1951 Refugee Convention.


There is a growing body of evidence that suggests providing migrants and refugees with the right to work boots the local economy. From the administration of work permits for Syrian refugees in Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and reduction of barriers to employment in Jordan, to the 10,000 Syrian owned-businesses creating jobs for locals in Turkey and refugee’s $330 million contribution to the Turkish economy since 2011, providing asylum seekers, refugees and migrants with the right to work while their immigration status is being determined benefits both new comers and host communities.