Tin Otoch Children’s Shelter: Sonora, Mexico

In recent years, International Detention Coalition in Mexico has been working with various local authorities towards implementing alternatives to detention for migrant children. The Sonora Attorney General for Child Protection is one such authority. When the “Tin Otoch” children’s shelter opened its door, it also paved the way for the state to implement alternatives to detention even before the law prohibiting child detention had been passed. With the approval of the law, the role of Tin Otoch gained momentum, not only as a shelter, but also for facilitating case management. In this article, the Sonora State Attorney for Child Protection, Lic. Wenceslao Cota Amador, shares the efforts that have been made to eliminate migrant detention for children in the state.


Written by Lic. Wenceslao Cota Amador

Sonora State Attorney General for Child Protection 

The State of Sonora, Mexico, is located in the north-east of the country and shares a more than 580-kilometer border with the United States. It is thus considered a transit and shelter area for migrants, among whom are national and foreign, accompanied, and unaccompanied children. Their motives and circumstances for crossing the border may vary, but all require protection of their human rights. 

The Sonora Government has designed and implemented solid public policies aimed at guaranteeing the protection of the human rights of migrant children. Since 2004, with the implementation of the “Camino a Casa” (Way home) program by Sonora’s System for the Integral Development of the Family (DIF), Mexican children deported from the United States have been offered protection and provided with residential foster care in a Center for Social Assistance. Here, their food and clothing needs are met, and psychological and legal support are provided. The program works towards family reunification, in collaboration with DIF offices in other states, mainly Guerrero, Chiapas, Tabasco, and Oaxaca, among others. This program has operated with public resources from the Sonora State Government and has secured alliances to professionalise work teams in matters of the protection of human rights in accordance with national and international laws that recognise and promote respect of the rights of migrant children.

The DIF Sonora’s “Camino a Casa” program currently attends to more than 70,000 national, unaccompanied children, and has become a consolidated policy within the context of the risks confronting children, young people, and families in the country. 

Claudia Pavlovich Arellano’s government is committed to reorienting public and human resources, as well as infrastructure to strengthen public policy regarding the protection of the rights of foreign, accompanied, or unaccompanied migrant children, in accordance with the General Law for the Rights of Children, passed in 2014, that recognises children as subjects of human rights. The state governor has created strategic alliances (with the Howard G. Buffet Foundation) to build a model of open door residential foster care; and worked with international organisations to establish its foundations, based on concepts and principles such as the superior interest of the child, no detention, a multidisciplinary approach to childhood, and family reunification, among others.

In August 2018, the Sonora DIF Center was opened. “Tin Otoch” (“My home” in Mayan) is based on a model that restores children’s right to health and recreation through occupational projects, such as: music, sport, handicrafts, environmental care, art therapy, and workshops on resilience. The model has become a reference at both a national and international level. 



Since its opening, the center has attended to more than 500 accompanied and unaccompanied children, predominantly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Its work is based on manuals and protocols that have been developed with a human rights focus, and guarantees specialised, multidisciplinary attention guided by the best interests of the child and aimed at family reunification or asylum applications. This is done through the work of the State Attorney General for Child Protection. 

Our vision and focus aim to provide alternatives to detention during the course of administrative processes. This has meant that interviews are no longer conducted in immigration offices, but rather, in “Tin o Toch” by multidisciplinary teams, guaranteeing that children’s opinions are heard and providing them with a framework in which to freely express emotions, fears and expectations. Children who have passed through the center have the following levels of schooling: 53% primary school studies; 29% secondary; 9% high school; 1% incomplete bachelor degrees; and 10% have no schooling.



The main destination points in the United States are California, Texas, New York, and Florida. Family reunification is the primary motivation for migration, followed by abuse or domestic violence. 

Teams from both the offices of the Attorney General on Child Protection as well as the Center have undergone extensive professionalisation on providing integrated, human rights focused attention, and have worked in a strategic alliance with International Detention Coalition in Mexico to strengthen work mechanisms and the accompaniment of children. 

The Sonora DIF, under the coordination of Karina Zárate Felix, has developed mechanisms of collaboration based on alternative care models (residential foster care, foster families, family reunification) for migrant children, ensuring successful experiences where the right to family life has been guaranteed for accompanied and unaccompanied migrant children. 

We face great challenges, but are committed to working in collaboration with government, national and international organisations, families, and communities to ensure the rights of children are respected and that children feel protected in their transit through Sonora, regardless of nationality or origin.

US Advocates Shift the System in 2021

Written by Gisele Bonnici, IDC Americas Regional Coordinator

IDC recognises the critical political shift that our US members and partners are navigating as we move into second gear in 2021. We stand with you in solidarity as you take action and opportunity to ensure dignity and humanity for refugee and migrant communities. 

This January saw a daily average of 14,195 people held in immigration detention in the United States, the lowest in over 20 years, due to border closures, the asylum ban and expanded fast-track deportations. The significant drop has highlighted the arbitrary and unnecessary use of immigration detention that advocates have documented for decades. 

President Biden's opening executive actions in January, followed by initial steps to restore asylum processing on the US-Mexico border and the formal introduction of the US Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress, are an encouraging move towards preventing the expansion of immigration detention. The most recent action to open up two detention facilities for migrant children, however, is of grave concern. IDC fully agrees with our US members and partners that so much more is urgently needed to dismantle the system, including an immediate closure to the worst identified immigration detention centers especially those locking up families and children, immediately ending private detention contracts and the harmful collaboration between immigration authorities and local law enforcement. Guided by numerous recommendations made to the new US administration by organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom for Immigrants, Women's Refugee Commission and Detention Watch Network, among others, positive policy reform of the immigration enforcement system can swiftly reduce the number of people harmed by immigration detention even further. 

The dedicated and vocal work of US advocates at this time gives us collectively as a coalition and as a global movement, a huge opportunity to advocate for the end of immigration detention and a genuine shift to migration governance that prioritises engagement and well-being and invests in community-based alternatives.



Compelling new evidence of the high risk to the lives of migrants in the US detention system and the collective public health threat posed by immigration detention make the need for positive policy reform more urgent than ever. Both the Detention Watch Network's Hotbeds of infection: How ICE Detention contributed to the Spread of COVID-19 in the United States, and a recent study by a multi-institution team Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Centers Requires the Release of Detainees make an unequivocal call for the safe release of those in immigration detention in the United States into their communities. The impact of COVID-19 has heightened the severe harm of a migration governance system centered around locking people up rather than enabling engagement and integration of migrants and refugees through community programming. 


“Human rights abuses and medical neglect could be avoided if those navigating immigration cases were able to do so at home with their families and in their communities, not behind bars.” 

Detention Watch Network


IDC joined a broad campaign of over 200 organisations spearheaded by Freedom for Immigrants and Detention Watch Network, calling on the new US administration to immediately release people in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody amid the COVID-19 pandemic and cease all enforcement actions, deportations, and transfers between immigration detention facilities and from local, state, and federal jails and prisons into immigration detention. We invited you to read the letter here and to join the movement to #FreeThemAll.

In early February, US activists including the UndoduBlack Network, Black Immigrant Collective, African Communities Together among others, commemorated Black History Month by launching a Black Immigrant Advocacy Week of Action #Act4BlackImms to highlight the cruel and disproportionate impact that ICE immigration enforcement has on Black immigrants, and calling on the Biden administration to intentionally address systemic anti-Black racism within the asylum and migration systems. In particular, they call for an end to the increased deportations to Haiti and the designation of Temporary Protective Status or Deferred Enforced Departure with work authorisation for persons from Cameroon and Mauritania to prevent placing lives at great risk, and as protective measures against their detention and deportation. 



Advocates at national and local levels, including case managers and legal advisers, agree that existing government-sponsored alternatives to detention programming fall short of being effective in critical ways, such as their conception process and focus. A move away from enforcement priorities is urgently needed within the design of alternative programs, so that the use of immigration detention is truly reduced rather than expanded under a different name. 

Studies continue to show the positive impact of alternatives, including benefits in terms of operating costs, case resolution, and particularly, the protection of rights, well-being and early community integration. These benefits will become even more apparent as we move towards a new emphasis on programs centered on empowerment through access to individual support, rights, and engagement-based immigration processes. Further recommended reading on US alternative to detention programs: 

Advocates identify key opportunities to move advocacy forward in this regard. Firstly, community organisations are already providing effective, humane alternatives. US advocates would like to see congressional leaders directing more investment to community programming, such as community-based case management services and the expansive network of non-profit organisations providing medical, legal, and other social services to immigrant communities. Secondly, the overwhelming and proven positive impact of access to legal counsel on case outcomes supports the need for government-funded legal representation. Finally, as we move away from the prevalence of enforcement-based alternatives to detention programs, we need to look beyond effectiveness indicators that focus solely on compliance, towards developing programs that incorporate metrics that evaluate well-being.

IDC joins our members and partners working towards the goal to see the establishment of a new comprehensive migration framework that does not depend on immigration detention, nor other enforcement-based procedures that amount to alternative forms of detention. IDC commits to this vision by supporting the development of widespread and inclusive alternatives to detention programs that are rights-based, engagement-based, community-based, and also incorporate effective and independent case management mechanisms to support case resolution and durable futures for migrant and refugee communities in the United States. 

Stakeholder Meeting in Bangkok: Thai ATD MOU & National Screening Mechanism

Written by Chawaratt Chawarangkul, IDC Southeast Asia Programme Manager

On 1st December 2020, the Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons (CRSP) and the Canadian Embassy of Thailand co-organised the CRSP Annual Meeting with Stakeholders at the InterContinental Bangkok hotel. Over 80 people from a diverse group of stakeholders in Thailand, including government agencies, INGOs, UN agencies, and diplomatic missions, came together to more cohesively and confidently map out and articulate their strategic priorities on the Alternatives to Immigration Detention of Children MOU (ATD MOU), as well as the National Screening Mechanism (NSM) for refugees in Thailand. 

IDC observed that all stakeholders are willing to advance refugee rights and protections in Thailand, work collaboratively to end immigration detention of children, and share good practices with the international community. IDC captured key statements from critical speakers at the meeting, which could be used to support the work of IDC’s members globally on alternatives to detention.


H.E. Dr. Sarah Taylor, Ambassador of Canada to Thailand

"Refugees contribute to the economy, political landscape and create diversity in their new country. Both Thailand and Canada welcomed asylum seekers and refugees. Canada also implements the alternative to detention where detention is considered as a last resort, while Thailand now implements the alternative to the detention of children. This, plus the new screening mechanism, shows signs of progress in Thailand. It is important to work collaboratively among all sectors to protect refugees, and also increase human resources that can contribute significantly to host countries."


Prof. Emeritus Vitit Muntarbhorn, Faculty of Law Chulalongkorn University; former UN Special Rapporteur, UN Independent Expert, and Member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights

"The ATD MOU should be extended to the whole family while the temporary protection should be offered to Rohingya. The NSM should cover all individual refugees. There are three issues for further consideration among stakeholders, including prevention, protection, remediation, coupled with sustainable solutions. Thailand should consider ratifying the Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 protocol with political and social will to work on refugee management."


Ms. Kornkanok Wathanabhoom, CRSP Secretariat, Asylum Access Thailand Policy and Communications Coordinator

"Our ultimate goal is for all refugees and stateless persons to receive protection and exercise their human rights under Thailand’s refugee management system, which is fair, transparent, effective, and in compliance with international standards. Through this, we are working closely with all stakeholders to support Thailand to prohibit the immigration detention of all children and their caregivers, in both practice and legislation, with community-based alternatives to detention available for them."


Ms. Thientong Prasanpanich, Director of Protection System Development Division, the Department of Children and Youth, Thailand

"At present, the success of the ATD MOU is on an individual level when it should be more systematic. We believe that working as a network is crucial, and it is also important to discuss human rights protection within the national security framework. The ATD MOU’s goal is never to place any child in detention, and we expected a clear systematic approach where all Ministries involved in the MOU come to work together in the near future."


Since 2013, IDC continues to support our members in Thailand to end immigration detention and promote the rights and dignity of all who migrate. In 2020, we facilitated our members in Thailand to develop their national strategy to end the immigration of children and establish the national screening mechanism in Thailand. This work was the impetus, and provided the foundation for the CRSP Annual Meeting with Stakeholders. We are proud to see CRSP, our strategic partner in Thailand, take ownership of this national strategy and present it to such a diverse group, in order to facilitate and encourage collaboration among key stakeholders.

Roundtable on Mainstreaming Child Protection in Thailand

Written by Min Jee Yamada Park, IDC Asia Pacific Programme Officer

IDC, together with the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration (ADFM), co-convened a virtual regional roundtable on mainstreaming child protection in the context of international migration. The roundtable was part of a series of ongoing peer learning initiatives under the Regional Platform and Program of Learning on Action on Alternative Care Arrangements for Children, launched in November 2019 at a 2-day meeting in Bangkok



The virtual roundtable was attended by 35 participants from government ministries, civil society organisations and international agencies from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and New Zealand. Participants provided regional and national level updates including responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants discussed the importance of mainstreaming child protection to ensure more effective and holistic responses to children in the context of international migration, noting the increased protection challenges faced by children during and as a result of the pandemic. Discussions then centered on further areas for peer learning, including case management practices; access to education for refugee and migrant children; and ways in which governments and civil society organisations have partnered in providing alternative care arrangements for children and their families.  

A summary of the virtual roundtable, along with agenda and participants list can be found here.

STATEMENT: Malaysia Defies Court Order, Putting Lives in Imminent Danger

International Detention Coalition, the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, Forum Asia and ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights released a joint statement condemning the deportation of 1086 people to Myanmar, and urged the government of Malaysia to guarantee those still in detention access to UNHCR, to release people in need of protection, and to comply with order of the High Court and open an independent investigation. 



Joint Statement: Malaysia Defies Court Order, Putting Lives in Imminent Danger 

BANGKOK, 26 February 2021 

The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), Asian Forum for Human Rights and  Development (FORUM-ASIA), ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and the  International Detention Coalition (IDC) strongly urge the Government of Malaysia to grant UNHCR  immediate and unfettered access to immigration detention facilities. We further urge the  government to investigate the deportation on 23 February 2021 of 1,086 individuals to Myanmar,  in defiance of the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s interim stay order granted earlier that day.  

On 22 February, Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia jointly filed an  action in the Kuala Lumpur High Court to prevent the deportation of 1,200 persons to Myanmar.  Several hours after the interim halt to deportation order was granted, the Malaysian government  handed 1,086 individuals to Myanmar naval ships in flagrant violation of the court order. The next  day, the High Court issued an extended stay order against the deportation of the remaining 114  individuals. 

The Malaysian government has yet to provide information on the 114 persons or their  whereabouts. Immigration officials asserted that the 1,086 deported did not include Rohingya  refugees or asylum seekers. However, there is a substantial risk that the group includes refugees  and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children. According to Asylum Access and  Amnesty International Malaysia, there were at least three UNHCR card holders and 17 children  among those scheduled for deportation. APRRN also received troubling confirmation that at least  two of those children was separated from their family and deported back to Myanmar alone.  

The risk is also particularly acute given that UNHCR has been denied access to verify and assess  individuals fleeing persecution since August 2019. Malaysia also lacks a domestic policy and legal  framework for the identification and recognition of refugees in the country. In November 2020, the  Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) estimated that there were approximately  1,000 refugees and people seeking asylum still in detention. The Ministry of Home Affairs  confirmed that as of 26 October 2020, more than 756 minors are in immigration detention, with  over 326 unaccompanied or separated children from Myanmar. 

Returning individuals in need of international protection to Myanmar, especially children rendered  unaccompanied through forcible separation from their parents or guardians, would amount to  serious violation of Malaysia's Child Act and Malaysia's international obligations, notably the  Convention on the Rights of the Child and the principle of non-refoulement

Since the forceful seizure of power by the Myanmar military on 1 February 2021, Myanmar has  seen the largest protest and uprising, calling for the restoration of democracy. Grave human rights  abuses and tension have also risen steadily with hundreds of arbitrary arrests and detentions,  deliberate internet disruption and disconnection from the outside world. With the escalating  concerns over the rapid deterioration amidst a health crisis, “the use of deadly violence” by the  military on innocent civilians, including the recent killing of a 14-year old was heavily condemned  by the United Nations Secretary General in the 46th UN Human Rights Council session. World  leaders, including G7 countries and neighbouring members of the Association of Southeast Asia  Nations (ASEAN) continue expressing deep concern about the ongoing repression, horrifying loss  of lives and the developments that would lead to serious regional instability. Malaysia was  amongst the ASEAN countries which echoed that the political turmoil in Myanmar may affect  security and stability in the region and is “one step backward in the process of democracy in that  country”. 

Ethnic minorities, many exiled in Malaysia, including amongst the 1,086 deported, have suffered  atrocities for decades under the rule of the military. There is great fear that life for these ethnic  minorities deported back to a military regime will likely worsen. Given the increasing instability  and drastic shift in the political landscape in Myanmar, individuals who were previously not  exposed to protection risks might now face severe security and safety threats. 

We therefore call upon the Malaysian government to: 

  • Urgently grant UNHCR immediate and unrestricted access to the 114 individuals and all immigration detention facilities to verify the status of all detainees;
  • Release individuals in need of international protection as identified by UNHCR who are still in detention, especially amongst the 114 who remained;
  • Comply with the extended stay order issued by the Kuala Lumpur High Court on 24  February against the deportation of the remaining 114 who were part of the original 1,200  to be deported; and 
  • Open an independent and thorough investigation into the breach by the immigration department of the court order on 23 February, ensuring that those acting in violation of the court order are held fully accountable. 

- END –

The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) is a network of 451 civil society organisations  and individuals from 28 countries committed to advancing the rights of refugees in the Asia Pacific  region. APRRN aims to advance the rights of refugees and other people in need of protection through  joint advocacy, capacity strengthening, resource sharing and outreach. While APRRN statements are  prepared in consultation with members, they do not necessarily reflect the views of all APRRN  members. www.aprrn.org 

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) is a regional network of current and former  parliamentarians who use their unique positions to advance human rights and democracy in Southeast  Asia. www.aseanmp.org 

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a Bangkok-based  regional network of 81 member organisations across 21 Asian countries, with consultative status with  the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and consultative relationship with the ASEAN  Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to  strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy,  capacity-development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. It has sub-regional offices in Geneva,  Jakarta, and Kathmandu. www.forum-asia.org 

The International Detention Coalition (IDC) is a powerful global network of 400+ organisations,  groups, individuals, as well as representatives of communities impacted by immigration detention,  based in over 100 countries. IDC members have a wide range of specialisations related to immigration  detention and alternatives to detention, including academia, law, research, policy, direct service,  advocacy, and community organising. IDC advocates to secure the human rights of people impacted  by and at-risk of immigration detention. In partnership with civil society, UN agencies, and multiple  levels of government, we strategically build movements, and influence law, policy and practices to  reduce immigration detention and implement rights-based alternatives to detention.  www.idcoalition.org 


Media Contacts 

Asia Pacific Refugee Right Network 

Themba Lewis, Secretary General 

Email: [email protected] 

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) 

Email: [email protected] 

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) 

East-Asia and ASEAN Advocacy Programme 

Email: [email protected] 

International Detention Coalition 

Carolina Gottardo, Executive Director 

Email: [email protected]

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