IDC Strategic Plan 2020-2022

Rights-Based Migration Without Immigration Detention

Over the last decade, governments increased their use of immigration detention in response to growing rates of migration. Further, the 2020 impacts of Covid-19 brought worldwide systemic shock to governments, civil society, and the human experience. At the time of writing, IDC members shared concerns about duress on economic, healthcare, housing and judiciary bodies, leading to poverty, homelessness, illness, food shortages, lack of documentation and heightened risk of detention.

In the coming months and years, the actions of global entities, governments and civil society will set a course for the post-pandemic world to either return to expanding detention, or commit to protecting rights and dignity in the migration experience. Over the next two years, we will support members, partners and governments to recover, rebuild, and re-envision rights-based migration systems without immigration detention.


New Education Initiative By Refugee-Led Startup

JRS Indonesia, one of the most active IDC members in Asia Pacific, has launched a new initiative recently to support education and livelihood of refugees in Indonesia. Through a partnership with a refugee-led IT startup initiative, SMART(Skilled Migrants And Refugee Technicians), JRS Indonesia has supported SMART to host a free webinar for refugees on making a livelihood online. This project is particularly relevant and timely in the context of Covid-19, as livelihood options for refugees have become ever scarcer.


SMART and JRS are also exploring the possibility of developing a livelihood capacity building programme for refugees, providing Covid-19 related information online and creating an e-study platform in partnership with a community-based learning centre for refugee children. This platform will allow teachers to conduct their classes online and will help refugee children to continue their education despite the restrained movements due to Covid-19. 

For more information, please directly contact:

Mr Gading Gumilang Putra (Jesuit Refugee Service Indonesia) at [email protected]

Covid-19 Outbreaks in Malaysia's Detention Centres

In May 2020, Malaysia faced national and global criticism for conducting immigration raids in locked-down areas where Covid-19 clusters had emerged. During these raids, more than 2,000 undocumented migrants, including some refugees and asylum seekers were arrested, among them approximately 100 children.

Within weeks of these raids, Malaysia has now seen a surge of Covid-19 cases (776 cases as of 19 June 2020) in its overcrowded immigration detention facilities, with infections now having been reported in 5 separate detention centres. On 11 June, Malaysia saw its first Covid-19 fatality in immigration detention, a 67 year old man from India, reportedly a stranded tourist, who died in Bukit Jalil immigration detention centre. This detention centre has accounted for over 80% of all Covid-19 cases in immigration detention facilities in Malaysia. On 17 June, it was further reported that a 4 year old boy from Myanmar and his mother, who had also been detained at Bukit Jalil, had tested positive for Covid-19. 

The Malaysia government has announced that detainees who test negative for Covid-19 will be deported, while those who test positive will be sent to quarantine centres and treated before deportation. However, given the virus' incubation period, there remains a risk that testing could fail to pick up a positive diagnosis; as a result, further outbreaks of Covid-19 in detention centres are a distinct possibility, as is the risk of deported detainees exporting the virus to another country. Rights groups have also warned of the risk of refoulement, given that asylum seekers have been among those arrested; UNHCR has been denied access to Malaysia's detention centres since August 2019.

Despite these outbreaks in detention centres, the government has refused to impose a moratorium on immigration enforcement activities. 

These developments come at a time of a significant rise in xenophobia against refugees and migrants in Malaysia, coupled with increasingly harsh government policies against these groups. 

Opportunities Amidst the Pandemic

Preventing the detention of migrant children through local coordination of a national protection route

The government of Mexico ended 2019 with a huge debt due to depriving 51,999 migrant children of their liberty, a 77.7% increase compared to the previous year. In response to the prohibition contained in the Regulations of the General Law on the Rights of Children and Adolescents, which states no minor under the age of 18 shall be detained for migratory reasons, the Commission on the Protection of Migrant Children and Adolescents (Protection Commission) began 2020 with a plan to implement the recently created Protection Route for Children and Adolescents in a Mobility Situation, with the support of civil society members of this commission.

Although the health emergency interrupted the progress in coordination and implementing priorities, as in many countries, the use of technology has allowed the continued coordination of care and advocacy of civil society organisations to gain the right to personal freedom for migrant children and adolescents. The Protection Commission adjusted and reorganised its work to account for the health emergency, while also implementing the urgent Protection Route throughout the 32 states in the Mexican Republic. This was done with the central aim to not use immigration detention, and to provide referrals to several models of alternative care focused on case management.

 Covid-19 caused sudden full migration stations in Mexico, including the presence of migrant children and adolescents. Unfortunately, they were not freed by immigration authorities into emerging programs on alternatives to detention; instead, many were transferred to their countries of origin, whenever border restrictions permitted. Faced with this worrying scenario, the Protection Commission launched a virtual conversations program aimed at listening to the needs of state authorities, and local civil society organisations to create a national response to the pandemic. Furthermore, the ultimate purpose was to make sure each state established a similar commission tasked with implementing the Protection Route, and the promoting alternative care models for migrant children and adolescents.

The first conversations session had nationwide reach with over 140 participants, mostly child protection, migration and asylum authorities who spoke about the recommendations issued by international bodies on effective protection of migrant children and adolescents in the context of Covid.  IDC shared the Recommendations of the Working Group on Alternatives to Immigration Detention of the United Nations Network on Migration, which seek to ensure the health of people in human mobility situations who are detained or at risk of being detained. These recommendations include: ending immigration detention, adopting moratoriums on the use of immigration detention, and increasing non-custodial alternatives to immigration detention.

This conversation session has been followed by more exchanges with local authorities in the states of Chiapas, Baja California and Coahuila, which emphasised the need for better coordination among child protection authorities and immigration and asylum authorities. Better coordination will ensure that children and adolescents in mobility situations are not deprived of their liberty at migration stations. Some alternative care models have been presented during these session, and civil society has shared the obstacles to adopting the Protection Route, with an emphasis on case management. This will be followed by conversation sessions with the states of Tlaxcala, Sonora and others.

Mexico continues to face significant challenges to protect children and adolescents in a mobility situations, such as the difficulty of coordinating authorities. There are over one thousand protection authorities in the country with powers to care for migrant children and adolescents. Additional difficulties include lack of resources, and the power conferred by law to immigration authorities to place children and adolescents in migration stations prior to being referred to protection officials.

The efforts made by the Protection Commission, supported by IDC and its member and allied organisations, has led to the possibility of developing effective models, establishing coordination mechanisms, and generating data and evidence on better care for children and adolescents. At its core, this is about ensuring the freedom of this population, and making referrals to alternative care models that allow them to live in the community, and with the support of various entities that enable the fulfilment of their human rights.

IDC Calls for Releases & Moratoriums Along With US & Mexico Members

The United States and Mexico have for decades been the primary detaining countries in the Americas region, with the largest detention centers and the most sophisticated immigration control and deportation systems. It is estimated that the United States has close to 40,000 people currently in immigration detention and Mexico around 2,000. Against a background of the increasing use of detention, and of particular concern, the continued detention of children, the threat of Covid-19 and a global movement of social distancing highlights the extreme vulnerability of people in immigration detention to the spread of infectious disease, as well as the lack of access to adequate medical care, over and above the rights violations implicit in a system of mandatory immigration detention.

Advocates in Mexico have rallied together around this issues, with a powerful collective of IDC Americas member and partner organizations initiating a multi-level advocacy strategy to demand that the Mexican government release migrants from detention centers due to the risk of contagion of Covid-19 due to the conditions in which people are deprived of liberty.

Together with Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración, Sin Fronteras, Fundación para la Justicia y el Estado de Derecho, Asylum Access, Otros Dreams en Acción, and other partners, we launched a campaign calling on the Mexican government to release all migrants and asylum seekers from detention centers and provide them with immigration documentation in the form of a temporary humanitarian visa, temporarily suspend migrant raids and enforcement measures throughout the country to avoid new detentions and to provide information regarding the national measures being taken to avoid the spread of Covid-19 and contact information for local health clinics, international and national organizations.


Collective litigation and advocacy work

Throughout these last weeks we have also highlighted the collective litigation and advocacy work that has been carried out by more than 40 organizations concerned with the freedom and health of migrants in the framework of the pandemic: These actions are reflected in various webinars, communications to federal and state authorities, law suits, a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos), reports and calls to action.

Advocates are perhaps most hopeful of the unprecedented success seen recently in the courts. Some of these organizations filed a constitutional legal action and the court issued a favorable historic resolution, an injunction ordering immigration authorities in Mexico to immediately release migrants belonging to vulnerable groups that are currently detained and to ensure that no child is detained in a detention center. These are two of 11 measures ordered to safeguard the life and health of the more than 2,000 migrants and asylum seekers that immigration authorities have reported in detention. Legal actions continue in various states in the country, in order to keep up the legal pressure for immigration authorities to comply with the order, of which to date there has been no notification.

At the time of writing, it appears that this collective advocacy is having some impact and IDC Americas has received reports that apprehensions have slowed down and many detained migrants have been released in Mexico in recent weeks, albeit without a formal procedure. It is unclear what actions immigration authorities will take in the coming weeks. The advocacy challenge remains to establish release procedures with screening and safeguards, as well as referral to post-release support structures. IDC Americas joins our Mexican partners in working on a range of proposals to develop and implement alternatives to detention for those released or at risk of further detention. Of additional concern is that deportations continue, as Mexican immigration authorities have been concentrating detained migrants in the three largest detention centers of Mexico City, Acayucan and Tapachula, deporting some through negotiated agreements with Central American governments.

Furthermore, Amnesty International Mexico has called on the country's highest Covid-19 authority, the Undersecretary of Health Prevention and Promotion, to back these calls for release of detained migrants and asylum seekers to protect their health and to make a public plea to immigration authorities in this regard, as well as providing access to housing and health services to the migrant and refugee population in Mexico.

The next few days will be crucial for Mexican migration and health authorities whose duty is to put migrant's right to health above immigration control in order to reduce the risks of Covid-19 infection among this population.

Further north in the region, advocates in the United States have been amongst the most active, progressive and vocal on calling for release of the tens of thousands currently held in immigration detention centers and jails around the country. Two new reports, the first from the Detention Watch Network and the second from Amnesty International, clearly demonstrate the high risk to the lives of migrants in detention and the collective public health threat posed by unnecessary immigration detention.

Advocacy strategies range from litigation for release of immigrants from detention to important community organizing through broad national campaigns that also amplify state and local actions, such as Detention Watch Network's call to #FreeThemAll. Further, nearly 200 state, local and national organizations worked with Congress to support the Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together Act  (First Act) to work toward the release of people from detention. The Act provides urgent and critical restrictions on immigration detention and enforcement during this unprecedented national public health emergency to protect immigrant communities and collective health. You can read their letter of support.

Several of IDC's member and partner organizations have shared a range of useful collective research and advocacy tools and resources in response to Covid-19.

Detention Watch Network developed and shared on its website key messaging guidance on Covid-19 and immigration detention and a useful toolkit to support local demands for mass release from ICE custody.

The Vera Institute of Justice has shared Guidance for preventative and responsive measures to coronavirus in immigration detention

Freedom for Immigrants launched a section of their National Immigration Detention Hotline specifically to respond to Covid-19.  With social visitation indefinitely suspended, this court-protected hotline is one of the few free and confidential resources available to maintain communication with people in detention. They are also providing people across the United States with housing post release through a network of volunteers and a house they operate in Louisiana.

Freedom for Immigrants also released an interactive real-time map that tracks the number of cases in U.S. immigration detention and the government's failure to adequately respond to this pandemic. They have so far documented over 100 confirmed Covid-19 cases since the first person was diagnosed in late March. This tool tracks reports of isolation and quarantine measures in responses to Covid-19, noting their implementation in an ad hoc and dangerous way. Detention staff failure to observe proper health protocols and extreme inadequate medical responses during lockdown, resulting in substantial risk to both detained and non-detained populations, are also documented.

One initiative to watch in the coming weeks is Justice in Motion´s recently launched Child Detention Crisis Initiative, which will work through their Defender Network to bring together advocates from the United States, Central America and Mexico to free migrant children from U.S. immigration detention and reunite them with their families.

Finally, on April 26, the immigration authorities reported through a bulletin that they had emptied almost its entire population from detention centers. There are many criticisms of the lack of a program of alternatives that would have allowed the channeling of migrants to hostels or hotels, instead there were massive deportations, even of childhood and adolescence, to places that could be a risk for them, not only of getting Covid-19. There is still a need for coordination between actors to guarantee the right to health of people who are still in Mexico through a program of alternatives managed by authorities and civil society.

Thai, Jarai, Hmong, Somali & Urdu Resource on Covid-19

Thailand office of HOST International, one of IDC’s active members in Asia-Pacific, has produced a video “What is Covid-19? How to Prevent?” in five languages to target the urban displaced populations. They started with these languages that their primary clients in Thailand speak:

Thai: โควิด-19 คืออะไร? ป้องกันอย่างไร? | What is Covid-19 and How to Prevent? 

Jarai/Ede: Nơng do nu Covid-19? Si ngă ciăng răng mgang kman tưp ruă anan? | What is Covid-19? How to Prevent?

Hmong: Covid 19 yog daabtsi? Yuav tiv thaiv tau le caas? | What is Covid-19? How to Prevent?

Somali: Waa maxay Covid-19? Sidee looga hortagaa? | What is Covid-19? How to Prevent?  

Urdu: Covid-19 kia hai? Isko kaise roka ya bacha ja sakta hai? | What is Covid-19? How to Prevent?


For more information, please directly contact:

Ms. Katchada Prommachan (Acting country manager) at [email protected]

IDC Asia-Pacific: Covid-19 Impact on Detention

In light of the far-reaching and serious consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic to populations impacted by immigration detention, we recognise that this is an important moment for collective sharing and synergy. As such, the International Detention Coalition and the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network co-hosted a webinar on the impact of Covid-19 on immigration detention in the region on Monday 6th April 2020. More than 20 IDC and APRRN members attended the webinar and shared valuable knowledge and insight. We also received written responses from members and partners who could not attend the webinar.

In this webinar, we had an opportunity to

  • discuss key issues that are emerging in the context of immigration detention in respective countries of participants;
  • share and reflect on actions taken by organisations, networks and partners since governments started to put in place Covid-19 responses;
  • identify positive practices from various countries; and,
  • identify gaps, priority needs, and next steps.

Read the Summary document of this webinar.


IDC’s Next Step

Since the webinar, the IDC has developed global Covid-19 Policy Position grounded in our members voices that were expressed through regional webinars. We have also created a dedicated space on our website where we document key developments impacting immigration detention in response to Covid-19 worldwide. We will soon be updating promising ATD practices in the context of Covid-19.

Successful GFMD Event, Quito: Alternatives to Child Detention

During the last Global Forum on Migration and Development in Quito (GFMD) Summit, which took place in Quito from the 20th to the 24th of January 2020, a side event organized by IDC and UNICEF under the umbrella of the Cross-Regional Peer Learning Platform on Alternatives to Child Immigration Detention brought together over 60 representatives from States, local governments, civil society organizations, trade unions, youth organizations and UN agencies to discuss challenges and share progress in developing alternatives to child immigration detention.

Ranging from State representatives and local authorities to civil society organizations and UN agencies, interventions from participants to this roundtable exchange showcased how peer learning, whole-of-government collaboration and engagement from all relevant actors can effectively support States in moving forward progress and overcoming challenges when implementing alternatives to child immigration detention.


Side event organized by IDC and UNICEF under the umbrella of the Cross-Regional Peer Learning Platform


Speakers shared current practices and ongoing efforts, discussed challenges and setbacks and identified opportunities for cooperation at local, national, regional and cross-regional level.

Ending child immigration detention is possible. There are alternatives and this side event showed that there is a strong appetite to make the global consensus on the need to work to end the use of migration-related detention for children and families a reality in practice.

Following the roundtable discussion attendees engaged in a fruitful exchange on opportunities for peer learning, targeted support, international cooperation and collaborative work under the umbrella of the Cross-Regional Platform, a pioneering multi-stakeholder global initiative facilitated by the IDC in collaboration with UNICEF. 2020 will see the first Global Peer Learning Meeting on Alternatives to Child Immigration Detention which will be convened by the facilitators of the Cross-Regional Platform in cooperation with the UN Migration Network.

If you are interested in knowing more about the development of the Cross-Regional Platform see here and/or contact IDC's Global Advocacy Coordinator, Silvia Gómez [email protected].

Thailand Screening Paves Way for Better Refugee Protection

On 24 December 2019, the long-awaited National Screening Mechanism (NSM) for refugees was finalised and approved by the Thai Cabinet. The NSM follows the signing of the intergovernmental Memorandum of Understanding on the Determination of Measures and Approaches Alternative to Detention of Children in Immigration Detention Centers in January 2019, which represented a first step towards ending the immigration detention of children in Thailand.


The NSM builds upon Thailand’s continued commitment to improve protection for refugees in Thailand in line with the pledge made by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the September 2016 UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants. Together with the MOU, it provides an opportunity to strengthen the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers In Thailand, particularly freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention.


Thailand has provided refuge to people fleeing war and conflicts from neighbouring countries, particularly those from Myanmar, since 1984. According to UNHCR, the countries currently hosts 93,333 refugees in nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar borders[1]. There are also approximately 5,000 urban refugees and asylum seekers from 40 different countries residing in Thailand[2].


Despite a large number of asylum seekers and refugees in its territory, Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The Thai Immigration Act, the only law overseeing the entry of non-citizens into its territory, makes no distinction between asylum seekers and undocumented migrants but defines all foreigners without valid documentation as illegal aliens– leaving asylum seekers and refugees vulnerable to arrest and indefinite detention.


Several UN Human Rights mechanisms have demonstrated their concerns over Thailand’s ad hoc approach to refugee policy, and encouraged the country to develop and implement a national legal and institutional framework for the protection of the concerned population. For example, the concluding observations on Thailand’s second periodic report to the Human Rights Committee on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights noted the need for the “speedy establishment of a screening mechanism for asylum seekers”[3] applying for international protection. The approval of NSM is therefore a step forward and should be applauded.


However, there also have been concerns over the contents of this document. While it maps out a plan to establish a screening committee and screening procedures to grant a Protected Person Status to an eligible “alien”, it provides no clear criteria for conditions of application and approval for such Status nor a precise selection procedure for independent expert members for the Screening Committee. Questions around the ambiguity of “relevant agencies” who would provide necessary assistance and support to the people with Protected Person Status also remain.


For now, 180 days were given to develop a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) under the NSM before its implementation following the date of its official publication in the Government Gazette on 25th December 2019. IDC members and partners in Thailand are working collaboratively with the relevant government agencies to ensure that the SOP addresses the identified concerns and guarantees the necessary protections for refugees.




[1]Total verified refugee population as of 31st Dec 2019. (Accessed on 3rd Feb 2020)
[2] (Accessed on 3rd Feb 2020)
[3] Human Rights Committee (2017) Para. 28 of Concluding observations. CCPR/C/THA/CO/2. (Accessed on 3rd Feb 2020)

Mexican Advocates Defend Rights of Detained Migrants

IDC stood together with over 200 organizations calling for a reversal of the Mexican government's decision to deny civil society organizations access to immigration detention centers across the country. The new policy decision, shared in a government public notification in late January, came on the heels of publicized reports by migrant advocates of repeated difficulties in entering the most populated detention centers on the country's southern border and in Mexico City, and an open letter from Amnesty International urging that the National Migration Institute (INM) guarantee access of civil society organizations to detained migrants and refugees.


This issue has become more pressing in recent weeks within the context of militarized use of force by the Mexican National Guard at entry points on the southern border and rising concern about the expansion in the use of immigration detention in Mexico's strengthened containment and migration control policy towards Central Americans hoping to enter and transit Mexican territory in mass caravans. For the people moving in the caravan this January, all roads led to being deprived of their liberty – whether they expressed their intention to apply for asylum or a humanitarian visa, or whether they took up the government's offer to stay and work in Mexico's southern states, they were taken into detention.


Release from detention amidst fast-track deportation policies and procedures, depends almost always and primarily on access to legal advice, knowing your rights and having someone on the outside advocating for you. There is currently no information publicly available as to how many of those detained have been released or able to continue their immigration procedures for asylum, or humanitarian or visitors´ visas in freedom.


On January 30th, advocates held a press conference urging the Mexican government to restart programmed visits and eliminate the new obstacles facing NGOs who have requested permission to enter the detention centers. The message they sent is that it is not acceptable to violate the rights to access of information, access to justice and due process of migrants and refugees subject to international protection for even one day. They also urged the government to accept the request made by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights to visit the immigration detention centers currently holding thousands of people on Mexico's southern border.


CIvil society organizations held a press conference urging the Mexican government to restart programmed visits and eliminate the new obstacles facing NGOs who have requested permission to enter the detention centers.


Media statements made by IDC members Alejandra Macías Delgadillo, director of Asylum Access Mexico and Elba Coria Márquez, director of the Ibero University´s Refugee Law Clinic, highlight the risks associated with prohibiting detained persons from accessing legal defense, whether in asylum claims or to monitor due process in detention and deportation procedures. These risks are even greater in the absence of adequate registration, screening and individualized interviews, and effective procedures to identify protection needs in today´s detain and deport mechanisms.


Interview to Elba Coria Márquez, Director of the Ibero University's Refugee Law Clinic, about the situation (Spanish).

Finally, several agreements were reached in an unprecedented meeting held with INM commissioner and the National Discrimination Commission (CONAPRED), including revocation of the policy made only days earlier to suspend civil society monitoring of immigration detention.


Immigration detention in Mexico in many ways is similar to the penitentiary model and represents significant expenditure of public funds, as outlined in a 2019 analysis of the immigration detention system carried out by AsiLegal, Fundar and Sin Fronteras. The systematic violation of rights of detained persons has been documented in over 15 years of immigration detention center monitoring reporting by Mexican civil society. In this light, IDC supports efforts to guarantee systematic civil society monitoring of conditions of detention and the exercise of right to information and legal defense of detained migrants and refugees.


In this respect, IDC has made available a Monitoring Manual, produced jointly with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT). It is a step-by-step guide for anyone or any institution carrying out immigration detention visits. It can also be used as a checklist for authorities, detention center staff and journalists on the standards that need to be applied when asylum-seekers and migrants are detained.