How the UK Turned Away from Immigration Detention

Written by Jerome Phelps

Strategy and advocacy consultant, and former Director of International Detention Coalition and Detention Action

The summer of 2013 was a very different world. President Obama was on course to sweep to a second term. ‘Brexit’ was a neologism likely to be forgotten. Mayor of London Boris Johnson was directing his attention to bendy buses and the garden bridge. The Mediterranean was a summer holiday destination, rather than a mass grave for migrants, and pandemics were just one more distant anxiety.

It was also the time that the UK’s use of immigration detention peaked, with over 4,000 migrants bedding down every night in the 12 detention centres, and countless prisons, around the country. The Home Office had opened five new detention centres since 2001, and was developing further plans to expand to 5,000 detention places.

The last seven years have been a time of catastrophic setbacks for progressive politics and human rights. Yet in the same period, under a series of Conservative governments consumed by reducing migration and propagating anti-migrant rhetoric, the UK has turned decisively away from its obsession with immigration detention.

A political problem

Even before the pandemic, the numbers of people in detention had dropped by around 60%, to 1,637 at the end of December 2019. Asylum-seekers are no longer routinely detained throughout the process on the notorious Detained Fast Track, suspended since June 2015 and dead in the water. While the UK has not followed Spain in emptying its detention centres during the pandemic, numbers have dropped further, to 313 in May 2020. The Government has announced that Morton Hall detention centre in Lincolnshire will cease operating next year and return to being a prison, the fifth detention centre to close since 2015. Since August 2020, the notorious Yarl’s Wood is no longer used as a detention centre; given its low rate of occupancy over the last two years, it is doubtful whether it will return to its former use.

Detention is now generally seen as a political problem. Ministers have stressed that the reduction in detention places ‘is a key aspect of the series of reforms the government is making across the detention system’, and emphasised that the Government is ‘committed to going further and faster in reforming immigration detention’. Instead of boasting of toughness in locking up ‘foreign criminals’, Ministers speak of piloting community-based alternatives to detention with civil society. Senior Conservative backbenchers, including Andrew Mitchell and David Davis, are leading calls for a 28-day time limit.

The battle is not won. 300 is still far too many people for the Home Office to seek to detain throughout the pandemic, while returns to most countries of origin are impossible. The Home Affairs Committee in July 2020 found it ‘troubling’ that 40% of people still in detention had indicators of significant vulnerability and risk from Covid-19. Despite sustained cross-party political pressure, the Government still refuses to introduce a time limit: the UK remains isolated in Europe in practising indefinite detention.

Nevertheless, a major reversal has taken place in the direction of travel of UK detention policy, which is antithetical both to regional trends in the EU, and to the Home Office’s overall approach to migration. It is important to understand how the tide of expanding detention was reversed, particularly at a time when the pandemic is posing unprecedented opportunities for a radically reduced detention system.

Civil society mobilisation

It is no coincidence that the period of this shift coincided with sustained civil society mobilisation and collaboration to delegitimise the use of detention. My analysis of the detention reform movement over last ten years, based on interviews with key stakeholders and published here, finds reason to believe that the collapse in government confidence in detention is to a large extent the result of civil society campaigners, including migrants themselves, simply winning the argument.

External factors helped this change, but are not enough to explain it. Home Office budget cuts were certainly a factor – detention is hugely expensive. But governments can always find money for political priorities, as the Covid-19 response is again demonstrating. The Panorama revelations of abuse by detention centre guards, along with the shock of the Windrush scandal, had a toxic effect on the legitimacy of detention – but only because that legitimacy was already under intense scrutiny. Previous scandals in the noughties had had little political impact.

What changed was sustained and effective pressure from civil society. Campaigners, charities, faith groups, lawyers, individuals, institutions and (crucially) migrants with experience of detention collaborated strategically over many years to transform the political debate. They succeeded in both making detention a political problem, and in setting the narrative for other actors to follow.

Effective tactics

Campaigners told a consistent and compelling story about the injustice of indefinite detention and the need for a time limit.  It was a story that could reach new and influential audiences beyond the migrants’ rights movement, without alienating core supporters by watering down messaging in pursuit of the political middle ground. The story was told in different ways by migrants protesting in Yarl’s Wood, by faith leaders making public statements, and by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in their monitoring of detention centres, but the central narrative and demands were the same. This narrative of individual liberty from arbitrary state power has traction across the political spectrum, even where there is hostility to migration and human rights. Yet it could still mobilise the passionate supporters of migrants’ rights, including migrants themselves, without whom the issue would have remained marginal.

At the core of this process was the Detention Forum, a diverse network set up in 2009 to challenge the legitimacy of detention. The Forum was by no means responsible for all the crucial interventions, and tactfully never sought to be a high-profile public actor in its own right. But its wide membership across the country to a large extent came to base their tactics on the shared strategy and theory of change of the Forum, and doubtless few actors working on detention reform were not in close contact with at least one Forum member.

There was no single campaign for detention reform, and no-one owned indefinite detention as an issue. NGOs ran different campaigns around particular groups in detention; protests highlighted particular issues; messaging was not centrally policed, and varied considerably. But hashtags were shared, open source materials developed, and many Forum members spent considerable time on the telephone or on trains to engage and support groups around the country to get involved. New groups were free to pick up the issue and campaign in their own way; some joined the Forum, others didn’t. In practice, most people most of the time were telling versions of the same, compelling, story.

All this was, to an extent, foreseen by the Forum. A protracted, painful and distinctly sobering strategy exercise throughout 2012 identified that Forum members had none of the necessary contacts to convince Ministers or the Home Office to change.  Detention NGOs and campaigners emphatically did not have the ear of government, and neither did their friends. So a strategy was developed to build a broad civil society coalition, involving allies with more authority – politicians, faith leaders, institutions.

Having a wide range of allies meant that a wide range of tactics could be used in different spaces and times. The Detained Fast Track was resistant to both campaigning and government advocacy (it was seen to ‘work’ in getting asylum-seekers removed, so there was no interest in finding out whether it was doing so fairly), but it proved vulnerable to a wide-ranging legal challenge by Detention Action. City of Sanctuary could bring to the issue communities around the country who cared about asylum, while These Walls Must Fall mobilised grassroots groups for radical activism at the local level. Visitors groups and legal and medical organisations gathered and analysed the evidence of the harm of the detention that was the basis of everything else.

Crucially, the movement was initiated and increasingly led by people with experience of detention. Indefinite detention had become normalised because it was applied to non-people: the ‘foreign criminal’, the ‘bogus asylum-seeker’. It became problematic because people stepped out from behind these dehumanising tags and told their stories, not as victims but as experts-by-experience able to offer policy solutions. The initial push for a campaign against indefinite detention came from migrants in detention. Early reports and campaigning foregrounded their powerful testimony about their experiences. By the time of the parliamentary inquiry in 2015, which brought unprecedented cross-party political pressure and media interest to the issue, experts-by-experience were the dominant voices, both at the evidence sessions of the inquiry and in the subsequent media coverage.

As pressure grew for change, it became possible to talk constructively to the Home Office about how they could move away from over-reliance on detention. The organisation I was leading at the time, Detention Action, was piloting a community-based alternative to detention for young men with previous convictions, demonstrating that they could be effectively supported in the community. UNHCR facilitated high-level conversations with the Swedish and Canadian governments about their own community-based approaches. The Home Office began to informally collaborate with our pilot, and gradually moved towards committing to develop alternatives.

As political pressure over indefinite detention grew, the Home Office repeatedly refused to introduce a time limit, or even to acknowledge that it practiced indefinite detention. But in 2015 it began closing detention centres, and it has continued closing them. In 2018, the Home Secretary promised in Parliament to work with civil society to develop alternatives, the beginning of a small but growing programme of pilots.

Long-term transformation

This points to the key challenge facing detention reform. Progress so far has been based on winning the argument on detention as a relatively niche sub-issue, while the toxic politics of xenophobic migration control continued elsewhere. But a sustainable long-term shift away from detention needs to be part of a wider shift in migration governance away from enforcement, towards engagement with migrants and communities. If detention is simply replaced by a hostile environment that excludes and abuses migrants in the community, it will be a pyrrhic victory.

However, the hostile environment has not been a success, from the Home Office’s own point of view: numbers of returns, including voluntary returns, have been dropping for several years. Alternatives to detention point the way to a potential long-term transformation of migration governance, towards a system based on the consent of communities and treating migrants with fairness and dignity. Such a system would have to look very different from the current one. The Government will not sign up to such a shift immediately. But the pandemic has made clear that society is as vulnerable as its most excluded members. Civil society will need to lead if we are to build back better; the detention reform movement provides some clues as to how.

Jerome’s paper ‘Immigration Detention Reform in the UK 2009-19‘ is available here

This article was originally published on The Detention Forum website on September 2, 2020.

New Evaluation Report: Building a Culture of Cooperation Through ATD in Europe

Written by Barbara Pilz and Mia-lia Boua Kiernan

Finalised in June, this report marks the end of a 2-year evaluation period of engagement-based alternative to immigration detention (ATD) pilot projects in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Poland. What can new data tell us about the pilots’ impact on individuals and their migration processes?

Why Evaluate?

Thorough evaluations of case management pilots can measure success factors at both personal and strategic levels. When it comes to individuals who are going through a migration process, evaluations measure the pilot’s impact on a person’s capacity and agency to work towards and stay engaged in their own case resolution. With regards to strategy, evaluations generate learning and evidence that contributes to national and regional discussions on reducing and ending immigration detention through the use of engagement-based ATD in the community, which is also one of the central goals of the EATD Network.

This particular evaluation measures the impact of case management on peoples’’ behaviour, approach and outlook over time. The evaluation also identifies the barriers to case resolution and makes recommendations for how case management processes and procedures can overcome these challenges. Further, the evaluation analyses whether the pilots have achieved the full benefits of ATD in terms of cost, compliance and well-being.

“A sustained and collaborative process of reform, based on the learning of the pilots and involving structured collaboration among governments, migrants, civil society and other actors, could deliver systemic improvements that would benefit all stakeholders.” (p. 3)

As part of this ongoing evaluation, an interim evaluation report was also published in 2018.

A Unique Exercise

The framework developed for this evaluation is the result of vigorous assessment and learning, and has been shaped through ongoing conversations, testing, and adjustments. This novel framework is part of a new social policy area that aims to guide ATD in order to resolve cases in a fair, timely, and humane manner based on people’s active engagement in their own cases.

This second evaluation is based on data collected in 2019, two years after the launch of the ATD pilot projects. When compared to the interim report, this evaluation brings more robust qualitative analyses due to a larger sample of qualitative data.

“The evaluation, on the whole, seeks to find commonality of impact of case management across the pilots rather than differences between the pilots. […] The evaluation aims to go beyond the basic quantitative questions that are frequently asked of ATD programmes, to understand at a qualitative level why ATD is or is not effective in helping individuals” (p.6)

With this intent in mind, the evaluation highlights that the purpose of the pilots is not to produce perfect quantitative results, such as fully avoiding absconding at any cost. Instead, pilots are stronger when their programming embodies a deep understanding of the complexity of case management interventions, their diverse contexts, needs and desired outcomes. Even when case management does not reach the intended result, understanding why things do not go according to plan is just as important as recognising when they do.

Evidence for Advocacy

In general, it’s a new practice to use case management to implement and evaluate community-based ATD. Evaluations provide an opportunity for implementers to learn from each other, and to regularly reflect on the complexity of their work on the ground.

Qualitative evidence from pilot evaluations can feed directly into strategic advocacy. Governments, civil society organisations and other stakeholders need qualitative evidence to uncover the true benefits of case management and encourage continuing and new practice of ATD. This advocacy leads to much needed migration management systems change that prioritises and values engagement over enforcement.

The three pilots are part of the European Alternatives to Detention Network alongside similar projects in Belgium, Greece, Italy, and the UK. This evaluation was commissioned by the European Programme for Integration and Migration (EPIM) and executed by Eiri Ohtani. To learn more about the pilots, the methodology, and key findings read the full report here.

Originally posted on European ATD Network website.


Thai & Malaysian Networks Refine Strategies to End Child Immigration Detention

IDC has supported national coalitions in Thailand (the Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons - CRSP), and Malaysia (the End Child Detention Network - ECDN) to come together to revisit their respective Theories of Change (TOC) and national strategies to end child immigration detention developed in 2018.

These shared visions and cohesive strategies have guided civil society in Thailand and Malaysia to work on advocating for changes in immigration policies in the past two years; for example, the Thai Memorandum of Understanding on the Determination of Measures and Approaches Alternative to Detention of Children in Immigration Detention Centers and the National Screening Mechanism for refugees.

To support members in revisiting and updating their ToC and national strategies to reflect the significant changes that have taken place at the national, regional and global levels, IDC convened a national strategy workshop for the CRSP network on 24 and 25 September, and for ECDN on 1 October.

Thai participants from Jesuit Refugee Services, Refugee Rights Litigation Project, Asia-Pacific Refugee Rights Network, Caritas Bangkok, Step Ahead, Fortify Rights, Asylum Access Thailand, Center for Asylum Protection, Host International and IDC.

Through these national strategy meetings, participants came together to take stock of their achievements from the past two years. In Thailand, CRSP updated their 2018 ToC and national strategy, and developed their annual workplan along with a monitoring mechanism to ensure the strategy's effective implementation. They also agreed upon how they will coordinate to achieve their goals together. CRSP aims that by 2023 Thailand will prohibit the immigration detention of all children and their caregivers in both practice and law, while at the same time ensuring that community-based alternatives to detention are available for them. Through this common vision, the Thai network will work with all national and international stakeholders to support the government to achieve the necessary changes in perceptions, practices, and legislation towards human-rights and child-rights based ATD. They will also strengthen a holistic case management system and pilot a community-based ATD system that the government allocates resources to the system.

In Malaysia, participants had the opportunity to onboard new network members, and discuss new goals for the network. Following the meeting, a working committee of ECDN members have continued to convene to develop a workplan along with a monitoring mechanism.

For several years now, the IDC has seen our members and partners in Malaysia and Thailand engaged in advocacy and service provision for children impacted by immigration detention. With support from IDC, network members in both countries have become increasingly confident in advocating for ATD. These new, updated strategies will support them in prioritising and coordinating efforts towards the ultimate goal of ending the immigration detention of children and their families in both countries.

COVID-19 Impacts on Immigration Detention: Global Responses

Over the past few months, immigration detention practices around the world have been changing rapidly as state and civil society actors respond to manage the multiple impacts of COVID-19. In some cases, these changes have been positive, leading to stronger protection of the rights of non-citizens. In others, they have led to the increased marginalisation of and discrimination against non-citizens.

In collaborating with the Humanitarian and Development Research Initiative to produce this joint edited collection, the International Detention Coalition sought to provide a platform for our members and partners to discuss their experiences, actions and perspectives as the pandemic unfolded across the globe. The contributions are rich and diverse, showing the impact that COVID-19 has had on refugee, undocumented migrant and stateless communities around the world.

The contributions also speak to rising levels of inequality. States with already weak healthcare systems before the pandemic struggle to manage rising caseloads. Civil society groups have had to cut back on their activities in the light of increased restrictions and health concerns; funding shortages have jeopardised the continuity and reach of their essential services. Migrants, stateless persons and refugees in overcrowded housing have been unable to practice physical distancing and, against rising xenophobia and racism, have been susceptible to scapegoating for the impact of COVID-19. In many contexts, the health and welfare of citizens has taken firm precedence over that of these groups.

COVID-19 does not discriminate, but laws, policies and practices concerning migration governance, immigration detention, and public healthcare shape the vulnerability of migrants, stateless persons and refugees to its spread and effects. The contributions in this joint edited collection highlight both positive and negative developments over the past year that need careful attention – and in some cases, urgent correction – for the health and wellbeing of all.. 

We extend our gratitude to the authors for their contributions, which have allowed the breadth of responses that are in this collection. We also thank HADRI, and in particular Dr. Melissa Phillips, who is also part of the IDC’s International Advisory Committee, for the opportunity to have collaborated on this important initiative.

Alice Nah Chairperson of the Committee, IDC  


COVID-19 Impacts on Immigration Detention: Global Responses - Available for DOWNLOAD TODAY

Law Reform Opens the Door to Effective Implementation of the National Protocol for the Protection of Migrant Children

  • From January to August 2020, the INM registered the detention of 7,442 migrant children.
  • On 29 September, the Mexican Congress approved reforms to the Migration Law and the Law on Refugees, Complementary Protection and Political Asylum in accordance with the provisions of the General Law on the Rights of Children and in order to guarantee that migrant children will not be held in detention.  

Mexico City, 12 October 2020.- The International Detention Coalition (IDC) and the Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI) recognize the legislative progress to guarantee the rights of migrant children by harmonizing the Migration Law (LM) and the Law on Refugees, Complementary Protection and Political Asylum (Law on Refugees) with the General Law on the Rights of Children. Within this context, we are launching an information campaign to highlight the progress and positive practices achieved on a federal and state level regarding alternatives to detention and alternative care models that guarantee the best interests of migrant children. 

The legislative reforms of 29 September prohibit the detention of children as a result of their migration status, and transfer responsibility for guaranteeing the wellbeing of this population from the National Migration Institute (INM) to the National System for the Protection of Children, thereby recognizing the rights of children above their migration status. 

During 2019, more than 50,000 migrant children were detained, mainly from Honduras and Guatemala. These figures are unprecedented in the 17 years that the Ministry of the Interior has published statistics on immigration detention. Detentions increased by 82% in comparison with 2018. Between January and August 2020, 7,442 detentions of migrant children were registered, 37% of whom were girls and 63% boys, despite the health emergency, and the social distancing and hygiene measures implemented by the Mexican government to combat the pandemic, and in violation of a federal judge’s order to halt the detention of migrant children in detention centers. 

The state has the obligation to protect migrant children. The detention of migrant children has repercussions on their psychosocial development in the short, medium, and long term. Non-custodial, community-based alternatives to detention provide migrant children with different options that guarantee their best interests according to their specific needs. 

In recent years, Mexico has instituted public policies to protect and guarantee the rights of children from before their entry into the country and during their stay in Mexico. The Commission for the Protection of Migrant Children and Asylum Seekers was created within the framework of the National System for the Protection of Children. This entity is responsible for dictating national policy for the protection of migrant children and asylum seekers in the country, including the National Protocol for the Protection of Migrant Children, which mandates protocols, procedures and instruments to attend to the specific needs of each migrant child. 

Today, federal, state and municipal authorities need to commit to the implementation of the National Protocol for the Protection of Migrant Children that guarantees the best interests of the child; the publication of the reforms to the LM and the Law on Refugees in the Official Federal Gazette; as well as to the allocation of  sufficient federal and state budget to strengthen the Attorney Generals for Child Protection and the public and private Centers for Social Assistance. 

Migration, regardless of the forms of movement or reasons, is rooted in the need for structural change and not acts of deterrence. Regardless of the risks involved or restrictive immigration policies, people will continue to flee from gangs, cartels, gender violence, poverty, and threats against their lives and those of their families. In the current context of the pandemic and given that the recent reforms have not yet come into effect, a continued policy of criminalization of migration increases the threat of detention for children and their risk of contracting coronavirus in detention centers.

Media Contacts:

Diana Martínez Medrano 

International Detention Coalition

Cell. 55 7111.4786

Miriam González Sánchez 

Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración, AC 

Cell. 55 3733.5819

Mexican Congress Affirms the Rights of the Child

Last Thursday 29 September, all 389 members of the Mexican Congress unanimously declared that immigration detention is no place for children. This historic political moment came to fruition following more than a decade of multi-level advocacy, and collaboration between civil society organisations, international partners, government authorities, and communities.

Mexico has long struggled with the moral contradiction of detaining tens of thousands of migrant and refugee children - mostly from Central America - while simultaneously taking a leading role in regional and international negotiations to end immigration of children and mandate non custodial community-based alternatives. In 2018, the Mexican government led the drafting and lobbying of these breakthrough commitments under the Global Compact for Migration and subsequently established the Working Group on Alternatives to Detention for Children under the Migration Policy Unit of its Interior Ministry. 

Representative Nayeli Arlen Fernández Cruz: “Harmonization of the Migration and Refugee Laws pertaining to migrant children with the provisions of the General Law on the Rights of Children, is fundamental to guarantee that no minor child is detained arbitrarily in any of our country's immigration detention centers...In this way, we respond to the international recommendations on the deprivation of liberty of children for migration reasons, on the understanding that determinations on the best interests of the child will be entrusted to an authority other than the migration authority.”

The first important shift came in 2014, on the heels of a pioneering collaboration in joint advocacy by migrant and child rights groups in Mexico. This collaborative work involved key partnerships with UNICEF and UNHCR, IDC´s Global Campaign to End the Immigration Detention of Children, hearings before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as well as clear recommendations to Mexico from the IACHR and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. New legislation in 2014 established a national protection system for all children, regardless of their immigration situation, along with regulations that specifically prohibited their confinement in immigration detention centers. 

The 2014 legislation opened up opportunities for collaboration with immigration authorities in the successful first alternative to detention pilot, and follow-up programs that demonstrated how children and families can be supported to live in the community as they participate in their ongoing migration or asylum process. 

As reform to the immigration law lagged in keeping up with these important policy changes, critical obstacles remained to guaranteeing the right to freedom for migrant and refugee children in Mexico. In 2018, IDC members outlined opportunities for Mexico's new administration to strengthen alternatives that would limit the use of immigration detention. This included investing in joint programs between authorities and civil society that would uphold migrants’ rights while also meeting state requirements. Meanwhile, instances of immigration detention of children soared exponentially over the past three years, and even under 2020 pandemic conditions, over 90% continue to be deported to their countries of origin, without proper screening or adequate assessment of their best interests. 

Throughout this time, IDC and our members Asylum Access Mexico, Instituto de las Mujeres en la Migración, and many others, actively engaged in the Migration Policy Working Group (Grupo de Trabajo sobre Política Migratoria), to lobby and train legislators on the urgent and important nature of the law reform proposals before the Mexican Congress. Last week´s unanimous decision is a testament to the strength of those who believe that Mexico can indeed close the gap between discourse and reality, and safeguard the lives of thousands of migrant and refugee children fleeing Central America in search of peace and security. 

Gisele Bonnici, Americas Regional Coordinator, IDC: “Working side by side with our dedicated partners in Mexico, IDC will continue to promote and support practical implementation of effective and appropriate alternatives for migrant and refugee children. Our goal is that no child, whether travelling accompanied or unaccompanied, be detained for any period of time for immigration reasons.”

Mexico's new legislative commitment to end the immigration detention of children will demand effective, resourced, and just implementation across the country. It will mean that national immigration authorities no longer are charged with responsibility for decisions regarding migrant children; this will now rest exclusively with national child protection authorities, who are best placed to ensure their welfare in accordance with their best interests. 

In this respect, IDC commends the positive progress embodied in the adoption of the National Protocol for the Protection of Migrant Children and the important efforts to strengthen coordination and implementation at state and local levels. These actions constitute solid policy foundations upon which to build a national referral system for migrant and refugee children in Mexico that includes screening, assessment, and placement in alternative care models with appropriate case management processes. IDC currently holds a seat on the national Commission for the Protection of Migrant Children and provides technical guidance for state level implementation of the Protocol to the states of Baja California, Coahuila, Sonora, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Jalisco, Tlaxcala, Chiapas, and others. With little resources, IDC and partners have been able to support the development of ground-level structures to protect migrant children, such as alternative care models, and create processes for authorities to share methodology, strategy and learnings. 

IDC is a global organisation with a localised worldview, and we look forward to continuing our work with local partners, including Mexican authorities, UNICEF, UNHCR, IOM and other agencies, to ensure the budget and structures are in place to fulfil this new and critical legislative mandate.  

IDC's New Executive Director!

Carolina Gottardo


Carolina is a well-regarded global migration expert with powerful strategic vision, and comes to IDC with a breadth of experience in multi-level advocacy. She has held senior and executive management positions for the last 15 years, including Executive Director roles at Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) Australia, and Latin American Women’s Rights Service in the United Kingdom. Most recently at JRS Australia, Carolina led the organisation through an extraordinarily challenging time for refugees, people seeking asylum, and migrants in vulnerable situations. She founded new and innovative programs for migrant women experiencing gender-based violence, employment assistance for asylum seekers, community organising initiatives, and well-developed advocacy strategies operating at national, regional and global levels. 

Carolina is a grounded, feminist, migrant leader with a strong commitment to the inclusion and representation of directly impacted communities in advocacy. Additionally, as Global Compact for Migration (GCM) focal point of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APPRN) Carolina co-leads Working Group 3 of the UN Network on Migration, and she is a member of the UN Women’s Expert Working Group for Addressing Women’s Human Rights in the GCM. Carolina is also well known to IDC as a former member of the International Advisory Committee and Board, where she supported IDC’s strategic direction from 2018 until earlier this year. 

This is a critical appointment for IDC. Over the last 10 years our work has grown exponentially in scale and complexity, and our strategies and structures are adapting and changing in response. To meet the importance of this moment for IDC, the Selection Committee developed a rigorous and competitive recruitment process with independent expert support. IDC is now thrilled to have the opportunity to enlist Carolina as our new Executive Director. Carolina’s principled and empathetic leadership will bring us closer to IDC's vision of a world where immigration detention no longer exists and people who migrate live with rights and dignity.

Carolina will join us on Tuesday, 17 November 2020, and aim to establish an IDC Europe headquarters in 2021. Until then, Lucy Bowring and Vivienne Chew will continue as Acting Co-Directors. Please join IDC in congratulating and welcoming Carolina to this new and important role!

On the Frontline in Europe

Greece & Italy Pilot Alternatives to Detention

How can we move away from the increasing reliance on immigration detention in EU border countries, which receive a high proportion of arrivals and are under pressure from the EU to prevent onward movement? In the current political environment, it’s not easy.

But convinced that there is another way, civil society organisations in Greece and Italy are starting alternative to detention (ATD) pilot projects aiming for systemic change on immigration detention. They are joining a group of NGOs at the front line of solutions-based advocacy, working to build migration management systems that respect rights and dignity and don’t rely on detention in Europe.

 Greece - Shifting Mindsets Away From Detention

 This is the first time a case management based ATD pilot is being implemented in Greece, as increasing recognition of the harmful potential of immigration detention has been drawing attention to alternatives to detention nationwide. Through the pilot, Human Rights 360 aims to constructively engage with both municipal and national authorities to shift mentalities away from detention as the default option and ensure current legal frameworks are being implemented.

Eleni Takou, Deputy Director and Head of Advocacy at Human Rights 360 said:

"The criminalisation of migration has increased homelessness and social tension in Greece. Through the piloting of alternatives to detention we can show that, for example, placing and supporting a family in the community during their migration process increases social cohesion and compliance with the system. In that context, Human Rights 360 wants to be a central unit that leads people to the best outcome possible for their case."

Human Rights 360 will focus their holistic case management efforts on migrants with irregular migration status and those at risk of becoming irregular in Greece. Based in Athens, the pilot will work with at least forty migrants over the next two years providing comprehensive case management, linking to legal, psychosocial, and educational support, as well as facilitating of access to basic services/needs.

Italy – Tackling An Approach That Needs to Change

In Italy, CILD and Progetto Diritti’s pilot will provide holistic case management to migrants at risk of detention, including beneficiaries of humanitarian protection (a type of protection recently abolished), vulnerable individuals, and persons under labour exploitation.

Linking practical implementation with advocacy, the pilot will take advantage of the reach and diversity of expertise within CILD’s civil society coalition and of Progetto Diritti’s case work experience. It aims to support migrants to work resolve their cases while strengthening national evidence and increasing ATD practice among CSOs in Italy.

Flaminia Delle Cese, ATD Pilot Project Manager at CILD said:

“Since 1998 the maximum detention period in Italy has increased from 30 days to 18 months and is currently of 180 days, but such change has not improved efficiency as return rates continue the same. Detention centres cause concern, but most of the work on the topic focuses on conditions of detention rather than alternatives, so the approach needs to change.”

Learning & Evidence on Alternatives to Detention

Operating in challenging contexts on Europe’s borders, the expertise from these pilots can bolster the work of NGOs collectively seeking to reduce immigration detention in Europe. The European Alternatives to Detention Network now has seven members in six EU countries (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Poland, UK) each running case management-based pilots designed to meet the needs of their own national context, as an advocacy strategy towards change.

From its start in 2017, the Network has acted as a hub of learning on alternatives based on trust, engagement, dignity and rights. Last year, an interim evaluation of three pilots in the Network showed the positive impact of case management in increasing migrant wellbeing, engagement and case resolution – pointing to new approaches that have transformative potential because they work better for individuals and governments. 


For more information about alternatives to detention in Europe or the Europe ATD Network, please contact IDC’s Europe Regional Coordinator Jem Stevens, [email protected] or IDC’s Europe Programme Officer Barbara Pilz, [email protected]

A New Alternative to Detention Pilot for Women in the UK

There’s something different about the newest member of the European Alternatives to Detention (ATD) Network: Action Foundation is the first NGO running a government-initiated and funded alternative to detention pilot project to join the Network, which is working to reduce immigration detention across the region.

Called “Action Access” and based in Newcastle in the UK, the 2-year pilot will provide individualised case management and housing support to vulnerable women who are currently detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, or who would otherwise be detained there, to resolve their immigration cases in a more humane and cost-effective way.


Action Access partners, members, clients & staff in the UK.


Up to 21 clients at a time will be provided with complex and personalised assistance including stable housing as well as impartial information to be able to explore all their options and make informed decisions regarding their life. Case managers will help to improve clients’ access to welfare services and independent legal advice.

The Home Office launched the pilot in December 2018 as part of its detention reform process, which has already seen the detention capacity reduced by 40% since 2015. It’s one of a series of alternative to detention pilots the UK government is planning, to test whether collaboration with faith and community groups can provide better outcomes for individuals through faster case resolution, without the use of detention.

Julian Prior, CEO of Action Foundation, said:

For many years we have successfully supported some of the most vulnerable people at the end of their asylum claim to avoid destitution and provide the stability and help they need to make some informed choices about their future. We are very pleased to use this opportunity to increase our work in this area by supporting women who would otherwise be detained through this new pilot. Early indications of the improvement of the health and wellbeing of clients have been very positive. One participant said that since joining the pilot it had been the first time that she had slept a full night for months.

The European ATD Network links NGO-run ATD pilot projects based on case management in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and the UK. Through practical implementation, solution based advocacy, and qualitative and quantitative evaluation, the Network seeks to build evidence and momentum around engagement-based alternatives to detention, to reduce the use of immigration detention in Europe and build fairer, more humane and transparent migration systems.

As Europe Regional Coordinator for the International Detention Coalition, we’re delighted to welcome Action Foundation to the European ATD Network. We’re seeing growing momentum on engagement-based alternatives to detention in Europe – Action Foundation is leading the way, helping us build learning on how NGO-government collaboration can contribute to change and reduce reliance on immigration detention.

For more information about the pilot project please visit:


For more information about alternatives to detention in Europe or the Europe ATD Network, please contact IDC's Europe Regional Coordinator Jem Stevens, [email protected] or IDC's Europe Programme Officer Barbara Pilz, [email protected]

First MENA Regional Exchange on Alternatives


First MENA Regional Meeting of Peer Exchange and Learning Among States on Alternatives to Detention

Tunis 2-3 October 2019

Based on the Objective 13(h) of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the First MENA Regional Meeting of Peer Exchange and Learning among States on Alternatives to Detention especially for children and families was convened in Tunis on 2 and 3 October 2019. The meeting was co-organised and facilitated by the International Detention Coalition (IDC), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and UNICEF. Representatives of Ministries of Interior and Ministries of Social Affairs and their equivalents from Tunisia, Libya and Egypt participated in the meeting that resulted in fruitful discussions among the government counterparts, in the presence of representatives from the organisations that co-sponsored the meeting. 

The meeting shed light on the growing momentum and latest developments of Alternatives to Detention in the MENA region, and discussed the relevance of the Global Compact on Migration with its focus on alternatives to detention, especially in its Objective 13, which clearly stipulates that the use of detention  to be the last resort and to protect the rights and best interests of children. 

The key findings of the research conducted by the IDC were presented to the participants, which confirms that alternatives can be applied in most cases, they are more affordable, more humane, highly effective and less costly. 

The government representatives had the opportunity to present their national contexts of immigration detention and the existing alternatives that are being implemented in a roundtable discussion, followed by a presentation of the challenges facing each of their respective countries to advance and strengthen the implementation of alternatives for adults and to eventually phase out child immigration detention. The consensus among all the government representatives and the participants was that Alternatives to Detention exist in all countries in the MENA region, some codified in the national legislation, and some being implemented in practice.

During the final session of the meeting, the government representatives formulated an agreement of intent and initial steps to be pursued internally in their national contexts and at the regional level. 

Draft Statement by Participants

  • Migrants and refugees have human dignity and rights; they should be respected, and minimum standards of care provided in host countries.
  • Migrants and refugees are not only vulnerable individuals but also contribute to the local economy and community life in the countries which host them. 
  • Alternatives to Immigration detention in the MENA region do exist, and good practices are found in every country in the region. 
  • There is a need to evaluate progress to date and improve data collection systems to build evidence which will facilitate improved migration policy. 
  • Cross border cooperation at the regional and global levels is necessary for effective responsibility sharing in migrant hosting practice. Locally developed responses should be expanded and promoted. 
  • The international community should support locally developed responses to migrant hosting. 
  • Where the legal framework allows, effective implementation should be prioritised.  National laws could be updated in order to reflect and allow for the sustainability of successful local initiatives that are emerging in migrant and refugee hosting. 
  • Coordination between all stakeholders at the national level (governmental and non-governmental) is necessary for the development and implementation of Alternatives to Detention which contribute to the life of host communities.
  • Early screening and referral can avoid unnecessary immigration detention and facilitate access to national systems.  
  • Migrants and refugees should be mainstreamed in the national systems in order to avoid creating costly parallel systems. 
  • Children should never be detained for reasons related to their migration status. Instead, meaningful alternative care systems should be developed. 

Download a PDF of Press Release here.

For more information, please contact IDC's Africa & Middle East Regional Coordinator, Junita Calder: [email protected]