Alternative care models for Migrant Children Protection Protocol

On Mexico's southern border, IDC supports alternative care models and strategies for strengthening local implementation of Mexico's Migrant Children Protection Protocol

IDC Americas brought 2019 to a close with the third regional Forum for exchange and strengthening among local and federal authorities, as well as civil society organizations and international organisms working in support of migrant children. On this occasion the Forum was hosted in Chiapas, a state on Mexico’s southern border. The objective was to identify the obstacles and opportunities presented by the implementation of Mexico's Migrant Children Protection Protocol,  at all times preventing migrant detention in this population.

A video was screened at the beginning of the event, featuring the opinions and reflections of various young migrants currently living at a secondary reception facility. In this video, they talked about their experiences, for the most part traumatic, of having been locked up inside a detention centre for various lengths of time. This exercise served as a guide for the sessions and so that participants bore in mind the reasons why being deprived of liberty on migration grounds is incompatible with a child’s best interests.


In the first panel on best practices, Mexico’s Child Protection Authority [Procuraduría Federal de Protección] shared the work carried out in Tapachula, a city on the border with Guatemala, as a result of the mass movements of people entering through this city last year, featuring significant numbers of child migrants. For its part, the Comitán regional protection authority highlighted a success story in which a group of children were taken out of a migrant holding centre and placed in a secondary reception center. Finally, SOS Children’s Villages [Aldeas Infantiles] spoke about how the organization had to adapt their care model to new necessities, which in this case include operating as a support centre for migrant children in primary and secondary reception facilities.

The Executive Secretary for Mexicos’ National Child Protection System [Sistema Nacional de Protección Integral de Niñas, Niños y Adolesentes, or SIPINNA] went over the process for creating the System’s Commission for Child Protection [Comisión de Protección de niñas, niños y adolescentes] and the adoption within the aforementioned Commission of the Migrant Children Protection Protocol as part of efforts to prevent children from remaining in detention.

Finally, the American organization KIND presented a system for the protection of children in the United States such that the authorities and civil society are aware of the options available to those children with family in the country.

The second working day was dedicated to discussions in working sessions which dealt with the various phases of the protection protocol, such as identification and evaluation, determination of best interests, restoration of rights, implementation of initiatives and the monitoring of “plans for life”. The working sessions showed consensus on topics such as a lack of both resources for protection authorities and available space for receiving migrant children. Specialized attention for different types of migrants was posed as a challenge, as well as the need to generate synergies with those individuals or entities that give support in each phase of the protocol.

Noteworthy among best practices are the efforts made by the protection authorities to work jointly with civil society in legal representation and in implementing plans for the restoration of rights, as well as in coordinating among authorities. This area highlighted the efforts made to obtain statistics for child migrant protection and to place them in primary and secondary reception centres.

Without doubt, these spaces serve to create support networks among those responsible for protection, in order to understand the processes and opportunities for advocacy, as well as to adopt certain commitments resulting in the local-level implementation of the protection protocol in support of liberating children from migrant holding centres within the framework of an alternative care strategy.

Interview to the new Africa Programme Officer

In September 2019, we welcomed Florence Situmbeko to the African team, she is based in Windhoek, Namibia. Florence, will bring her long experience as a frontline Social Worker for government, as well as anti-trafficking and project management expertise to support the IDC’s work. We asked her some questions:


The IDC has found that the most successful “alternatives to immigration detention” use individualised case management across all stages of the migration process, to ensure a coordinated approach to each case. Florence - what is your case management/social work experience and what do you see as the value of case work for individuals?

All social workers are trained to be case managers - whether you’re working with individuals, families or groups. My role as a social worker has typically involved listening to my client’s story - why they came to see me or why they were referred to me, following a case through from the beginning until the end. One recent case was a boy whose mother was a Namibian national living in Namibia his father was a citizen of another country. When the father passed away, the boy moved to Namibia to live with his mother. When the boy came to see me, we figured out together what their immediate needs and priorities were. From assessing if he needed a place to stay, something to eat, to see a doctor? We realised he only needed help with acquiring documents so he could reside regularly in Namibia with his mother. I accompanied him to the Ministry of Home Affairs, explained his case, and followed up with the case until he received the documents. I also made sure he was administered an interim receipt that would ensure he was immune to arrest or questioning by the police while his case was being resolved.

Here, you can see that case management can range from more intensive for complex cases, and less-intensive such as administrative support for more self-sufficient migrants who already have their basic needs attended to, like the young boy.

We keep comprehensive, confidential case files on everyone who we assist. Protecting our client’s privacy is paramount, and this also links to our credibility as an Agency. We are able to discuss cases during our monthly reports in which we anonymise cases and share our challenges and shed light on systemic issues and recurring problematic or productive trends.


You mention systemic issues - as a case-worker, have you been involved in policy or advocacy work based on evidence gained through social work practice? In turn, how can evidence-based practice be used to create systemic change?

Yes, as a caseworker, it is worth being engaged with stakeholders who are drafting policies and maintaining good relationships with them - as, afterall, their work directly informs what happens on the ground. Social workers have a unique vantage point as they can feed information from the ground level upwards, illuminating gaps, what is working or what is not to better influence systemic change. If not, such policies are not based on context specific evidence, and we end up assuming.

Social workers have a unique vantage point as they can feed information from the ground level upwards

As a social worker with the Ministry of Gender, the Ministry of Health in Namibia, and then working with IOM, I  provided input into legislations or policies. For example, with IOM, I gave inputs on what needs to be taken into consideration when dealing with victims of trafficking, including children,  for the development of the Combating of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Act, no. 1 of 2018 - to ensure the rights of people who might be more vulnerable than others. I was also part of a team that contributed towards the  formulation of the Regulations on Human Trafficking and the National Action Plan on Gender Based Violence in Namibia.

IDC's Africa Regional Team: Tiffany Shakespeare, Florence Situmbeko & Junita Calder

How have you worked with other stakeholders as a social worker to bring change and or support the people/”clients” you were working with?

Beyond the policy arena, we work with many other stakeholders to develop support systems for the people we work with. There is no way one institution can fully assist a person as the person has different needs. Therefore, networking is an important part of the social worker’s day to day tasks.

It is worth getting to know the services and organisations around you so you know exactly who to reach out to: “the Red Cross can help me with that”, “my contact at the Home Affairs head office will be able to help me with this”. As well as proving beneficial to the “client”, networking is also useful when it comes to advocating for specific policies/legislation. 

Case conferencing is one useful way to maintain your networks and delegate responsibilities to different stakeholders. One case involved several young women who had been trafficked, and who wanted to return to their home country in Zambia. We called a meeting with a shelter manager, IOM, the police, Home Affairs, the  social workers from the Ministry of Gender and Office of the Prosecutor General. Through individualised assessment of their cases, we assigned different responsibilities. We were also in contact with social workers in Zambia to ensure that it is safe for the girls to return back home and also ensured that their families were being prepared to receive them. The girls  were reintegrated into their communities, after a number of counsellings sessions in order to minimise their vulnerability, for example, one family, based on what they requested received livestock, basic training on how to take care of the livestock and also basic training on financial management. Since the girls were minors arrangements were made for them to return back to school. 

Thank you Florence, we are looking forward to working with you.

Turning the tide of detention: what role could European cities play?

Written by Barbara Pilz and Jem Stevens

European cities are increasingly involved in debates around migration governance. What role could they play in building systems based on engagement with people, not enforcement and immigration detention?

Not just for national governments

Migration management is often thought of as the domain of national governments. But a group of European cities is highlighting their role in working with irregular migrants, producing guidance and bringing their voices to European-level policy making through the C-MISE exchange.

Something stands out about their work: these local level authorities focus on support and services for people without documents. A stark contrast to the enforcement, deterrence and detention approach increasingly popular among national governments in Europe.

Closer to the realities of irregular migration

Perhaps this isn’t surprising, as cities have competence in ensuring the welfare of residents and are closer to the realities of irregular migration. They witness first-hand the experiences of people without documents who often can’t access basic services and the challenges this brings for individuals, local communities and authorities.

In Athens, Eleni Takou of Human Rights 360 shares “Most people without documents end up in Central Athens, either under the radar or seeking onwards routes. This has meant Athens city has to be proactive – it has a coordination centre for NGOs and other stakeholders, and has been active in providing services and supporting referrals to housing and healthcare.”


Addressing local concerns: approaches that work better

Impoverishment, homelessness, destitution and barriers to social cohesion are some of the challenges cities face, linked with irregularity. People are often detained repeatedly and sometimes for prolonged periods, in violation of EU legislation. And when they are released from detention, with all the problems this brings, cities have to pick up the pieces.

So could collaboration among cities and NGOs provide another way, addressing local concerns while better ensuring rights and resolving cases in the community, without immigration detention?

Jan Braat of the City of Utrecht, who chairs the C-MISE exchange, thinks so: “In the Netherlands, 50% of people [in an irregular situation]  end up on the streets – the national government’s approach hasn’t worked. We’ve shown that it’s better to build trust and work with people”.

Building trust, solving cases in Utrecht

Utrecht City partners with NGOs to provide professional guidance and support to people without documents, to reduce irregularity in the city. The programme has achieved case resolution for most its clients: since 2002, 59% of participants received legal status, 19% returned to their countries of origin, 13% re-entered national asylum shelters, and only 8% disengaged.

Rana van den Burg at SNDVU, an implementing NGO, tells us about their approach:

“The key to our support is that it’s based on trust between the contact person and the client. People often believe that their case hasn’t been looked at properly by immigration authorities, increasing distrust in the system and facilitating disengagement from the procedures”.

At SNDVU, a contact person accompanies each individual throughout the migration procedure and ensures they have access to clear and accessible information in order to make difficult decisions. Along with this professional guidance, the programme provides accommodation, pocket money, legal aid and social support so that people can meet their basic needs and actively participate.

Rana explains that “working together with people and having a judgement free attitude, while facilitating their agency and decision-making is the key to resolving cases”. The programme does not impose a time limit for participation, in order to give participants time to explore all options for case resolution. An agreement with the police means clients can’t be detained.


Growing evidence

While this approach is still innovative in Europe, there’s growing evidence that it works. Last year, an in-depth Council of Europe analysis found that trust and support, including individualised case management, are key to effective alternatives to immigration detention (ATD). Evidence from three NGO-run case management pilot projects in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland, backs this up.

NGOs are often well placed to implement case management ATD programmes, with expertise in working with one to one migrants and building the rapport necessary foster engagement. And as civil society organisations consider how pilot projects can be scaled up towards systems change, cities stand out as potentially important stakeholders.

Influential stakeholders

Not only do cities have the ability to mobilise services and support networks available in their community, as first responders, they can act as entry points to regional and national governments. Their voices could be influential in changing narratives around migration and detention.

From this year, for example, Utrecht’s professional guidance programme is receiving funding from the Dutch national government. This is part of an agreement with five municipalities which will provide 59 million EUR funding for pilots over three years (in Utrecht, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Eindhoven and Groningen) - and has enabled Utrecht to expand its programme.

It’s significant that with this agreement, the Dutch national government has shifted away from an exclusive focus on returns which it doggedly maintained for years. Could this multi-level collaboration provide a step towards systemic change? For local NGOs, maintaining independent quality case management - which genuinely supports people to explore all options (rather than focusing on return) and make decisions in an informed and dignified way – will be key.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is engaging cities on irregular migration, rightly recognising that national governments can’t do this alone. The C-MISE cities have a refreshing message in this debate: they want to start a conversation acknowledging that EU policies should not disregard the social hardships lived by irregularly staying migrants and that more inclusive responses are needed.

Multi-level collaboration as a route to change

EU policy and national governments are increasingly relying on enforcement and detention to try to achieve migration management goals. But it’s well known that detention is not only harmful and costly, it does not promote case resolution.

In this challenging context, collaboration between cities and NGOs could develop approaches that treat people as human beings, supporting individuals to resolve cases in the community without detention.

For cities, this could provide a way to address local challenges, while informing and influencing national and European policy. For civil society, it could provide the building blocks for systems based on humanity and dignity that work better for everyone.

Shifting the narrative and practice on migration management - from enforcement to engagement - is a multi-level task that requires collective action.



Regional Roundtable on ATD held in Bangkok

International Detention Coalition (IDC) recently co-hosted a closed-door roundtable on alternative care arrangements for children in the context of international migration in the Asia Pacific with the Department of Children and Youth under the Thai Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration (ADFM). The roundtable took place on 22 November 2019 in Centra by Centara Government Complex Hotel and Convention Centre, Bangkok, Thailand.

The roundtable brought together representatives from implementing and policy agencies within government from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, as well as non-governmental agencies and international organizations in the region for constructive discussion on developing alternative care mechanisms for children and their families in the context of migration. Participants exchanged positive practices and latest developments in alternative care arrangements for children in their national contexts, while identifying common challenges and opportunities that can support the development of an ongoing regional program of engagement, learning and action towards ending child immigration detention in the region.

More information about the roundtable, including the agenda, participant list and background paper can be found here.

The ADFM Secretariat also recently posted about the event, including a brief summary of ideas that emerged from the roundtable. The post can be found here.

New video: Community Placement and Case Management programme by SUKA Society

SUKA Society, IDC member organisation in Malaysia, is implementing a holistic Community Placement and Case Management (CPCM) programme that specifically looks into the protection concerns of unaccompanied and separated children in the country. This programme is a part of their initiative to advocate for alternatives to detention of children.

The video provides a brief introduction to who is an unaccompanied and separated child and the case management process undertaken by SUKA.


Watch here:

Regional Dialogue Looks to Translate Commitments to Results

In recent years, the governments of the American continent have made significant commitments to guarantee human rights for migrants, including the right to personal liberty.


The 5th Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) affirmed sharing “a holistic vision of international migration based on a human rights approach that rejects the criminalisation of irregular migration…” (*unofficial translation, Policy Declaration of Punta Cana, 5th Summit of CELAC - January 2017).


However, transforming commitments into concrete practice at the local level is a complex and urgent task. On the 20th and 21st of April 2017, the IDC, together with member organisation Asylum Access Latin America, facilitated a Regional Dialogue in Quito, Ecuador with the aim of evaluating current compliance of State commitments under the regional standards framework, and to take steps towards effective immigration policy.

The Regional Dialogue titled “A Latin American Response for the Guarantee of Human Rights for Migrants and Refugees: From Commitments to Results”, brought together diverse representatives from civil society, intergovernmental and international organisations, as well as those from regional human rights systems and academia. The in-depth debate highlighted immigration detention as the main obstacle in the protection of rights across the region. Participants reviewed the specific commitments relating to the guarantee of the right to personal liberty present in the Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action, and the San José and New York Declarations. These commitments include ending the use of immigration detention of children, and implementing alternatives to detention for people seeking asylum and others experiencing vulnerability.



The Inter-American Human Rights System was underscored as a strong example for human rights leadership at the global level, emphasising its important role in establishing and ensuring the highest human rights standards, particularly in the human mobility context, and for providing tools to guide States in developing policy and practice for migration management. Emphasis was also put on the importance of identification and screening processes for migrants and refugees in vulnerable situations. Dialogue participants considered how different practical tools could contribute to the implementation of State commitments. They discussed and reviewed international and regional guidelines and tools for identifying vulnerability, alongside positive practices in screening and case management currently be implemented by the civil society organization Pop N’oj in Guatemala. 



 Photo: María Mercedes Barahona


The Regional Dialogue was held in follow-up to the High-Level Roundtable that took place in Bogota, Colombia in October 2016. The Bogota conference clarified the need for regional dialogue as a space for diverse inter-governmental authorities, regional human rights organisations, and international and civil society agencies to develop concrete proposals for the guarantee of human rights for migrants and refugees in the region, and to unify their response to the global migration situation.



 Photo: María Mercedes Barahona


The participants of the Regional Dialogue established a series of preliminary actions such as the release of a report with key messages and recommendations including limiting the use of immigration detention, and promoting alternatives to detention, with special attention on screening opportunities in border zones. The Dialogue also served to pave the way for regional advocacy with the aim of influencing future political commitments, including the adoption of two new Global Compacts in 2018 -  one around refugees and another on safe, orderly and regular migration, as described in the New York Declaration.



 Photo: María Mercedes Barahona


Each year, the States within the Americas are countries of origin, destination, and transit for thousands of migrants, including people seeking asylum, refugees, and victims of human trafficking, among others. Such spaces for regional dialogue among multiple, diverse actors is key in transforming State commitments into concrete actions that guarantee human rights in the migration context.


See more photos of the Regional Dialogue here

Get to know some of the core documents that contributed to the Regional Dialogue


Regional Dialogue participants included representatives from the following organisations: Instituto de Justicia y Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Nacional de Lanús (UNLa); Diálogos y Estrategias; Asociación de Consultores y Asesores Internacionales (ACAI); Defensoría Pública de Ecuador; United Nations High Commission for Refugees Ecuador (UNHCR); the Latin American Social Sciences Institute (FLACSO);  Grupo de Monitoreo Independiente de El Salvador (GMIES); Fundación Cristosal; Asociación Pop No´j; Clínica Jurídica Alaíde Foppa, Universidad Iberoamericana; Sin Fronteras IAP; the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR); Gobierno Autónomo Descentralizado de la Provincia de Pichincha, Ecuador; the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); the International Organization for Migration (IOM); Instituto de Políticas Públicas de Derechos Humanos del Mercado Común del Sur (IPPDH MERCOSUR) the Central America and Mexico Migration Alliance (CAMMINA); Comunidad Andina (CAN); International Detention Coalition (IDC); Asylum Access América Latina (AALA).

How Change Happened in Thailand

Interview compiled by Vivienne Chew 

Asia Pacific Regional Coordinator, International Detention Coalition


On 21 January 2019, following years of sustained and strategic advocacy by the IDC, its members and other stakeholders, the Thai government announced it had established new internal government procedures to release children and their mothers from immigration detention to community-based alternatives. This remarkable development now positions Thailand as a leader in the region on this issue. In the aftermath of the  MOU signing, Puttanee Kangkun, Senior Human Rights Specialist at IDC member organisation Fortify Rights reflects on what the change means and how it happened.

How important a development is the MOU for refugee and migrant children in Thailand?

It’s really significant because it’s concrete and solid. There was very little protection for refugees or asylum seekers before. But the Prime Minister made a speech at the New York Summit in 2016 and publicly affirmed the need to end child detention. We saw that as a big step then, and this as an even bigger step now.

What are some of the key factors and events that you believe led to the government making the decision to draft and sign the MOU?

This is very significant for Thai people, and those of us who work on refugee issues here. It happened through a combination of efforts over years of advocacy work. The global campaign work on child detention helped to build a global trend and global norm that influenced the Thai government. Especially in the past couple of years, there has been a change of perspective within the government on these issues, as well as a change of policies towards refugees. More awareness was developed in the government of the UN treaties, issues of detention, and the need to report on global standards and regulations. This was an international pressure, because Thailand wants to be a good member of the international community and global economy.


Photo from latest civil society coalition meeting in Thailand.


At the same time, within the country, there has been a movement of local civil society organisations, people and activists. They are echoing the voices of refugees and refugee communities. Sometimes they criticised the government for their policies, which put pressure on officials. The Rohingya crisis also brought more attention to the issue, and an urgent need to address these issues publicly. There became an understanding in Thai society and the government that we cannot push people under the rug anymore. It’s up to our society to do better.

Do you think civil society played an important role? How? What were some of the key things that civil society did?

Children are always a key concern for Thai society. People support work to help children, it’s a very sensitive issue for Thai people and culture. Civil society organisations in Thailand worked to develop the understanding that this issue is about protection for all children, not just Thai children. It was useful to highlight this strong underlying value, because it overrides issues of immigration status. Thai society welcomes policies that protect children, and this support is good for the government. Eventually officials said that their child protection laws should cover all children, not just Thai children. And then from mid 2017, they have been removing children from detention and placing them in foster care.

The scorecard* also helped us to engage with government agencies as part of a process. We formed a group of organisations to work on this issue together in Thailand - including Coalition for the Rights of Stateless Persons and Refugees (CRSP), Asylum Access Thailand (AAT), Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), Save the Children Thailand, Fortify Rights and others. The scorecard has become an educational tool as well. It helps civil society organisations uncover the elements we need to look at more closely. We used it not to criticise, but to strategise together. Even with the value and principles of child rights, the government still needed education and capacity building to support children outside of detention and develop alternatives. There was no child care management for migrant and refugee children in urban settings before.


Photo from latest civil society coalition meeting in Thailand.


This intersection of child rights and refugee rights is very new in Thailand. We have now engaged organisations that work on child rights issues more broadly, and influenced their inclusion of refugee children in their work. They have also taught us to include the rights of children more clearly in our overall refugee rights work. The exchange of expertise within our networks was very important for developing knowledge to address this specific issue of child immigration detention. Our coalition has been meeting almost every month to strategise on this, and we are lucky to have a very engaged and collaborative group of organisations involved.

There are both Thai-based organisations involved, and external global and regional organisations. I believe you need both. External organisations can push and provide global frameworks that can influence our governments, but you need local groups to actualise and contextualise the policies, and also monitor the implementation of policies. You need local actors to make change happen, and continue long-term engagement with their own government. It’s very important for people and their own governments to be able to work together, with the support of the international community.

What’s next?

Moving forward we need more models for alternatives to detention. We are developing more community placement models now. This knowledge is new, and we need to continue to build it and sustain it. We also need to carefully monitor the implementation of this MOU, and be sure that family unity and reunification are part of it.


Group photo of organisations working to advance refugee and child rights in Thailand.


*The scorecard is part of the NextGen Index, a project of the International Detention Coalition. The scorecard is a comparative tool used to assess States on their progress towards ending child immigration detention. The Index uses a standard scoring framework to identify the key factors that ensure national migration management systems are sensitive to the needs of children, and avoid detention. More on the 2018 version of the NextGen Index here.