3 Key Trends in Africa & What They Mean For You

In early November 2019, the Network for African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) will have their 12th Biennial conference on the theme: “The Global Compact on Migration (GCM): African NHRIs common vision, opportunities, and challenges in its implementation”.  

The NHRIs will meet in Cairo (Egypt is the current Chair of the AU) to:

  1. Emphasize at the African level, the unique role of NHRIs in promoting a human rights‐based approach for the implementation of the GCM, as well as their role to contribute in the Follow‐up and Review of the GCM through the International Migration Review Forum to be held in 2020); 
  2. Share and exchange best practices on human rights‐based migration governance among NHRIs and with CSOs.
  3. Sensitize African NHRIs on the African Union Migration Policy and Civil society organizations’ actions to defend migrants’ rights.

The IDC has been involved in the negotiation of the GCM  at the global level. Immigration detention is a major focus. Objective 13 commits States to prioritising alternatives to detention and “working to end the practice of child detention”.  The IDC has been invited to join the biennial conference and will be in attendance to offer technical support to the NHRIs participating.


Alternatives to detention provide a foundation for a solutions-based approach to immigration – with the aim of reducing, and ultimately ending the use of detention in migration governance, especially for children.

The International Detention Coalition (IDC) has identified 3 key trends across Africa that matter for migration governance.                                                                                   

  1. There are alternatives to immigration detention
  2. The political context is shifting towards their expansion 
  3. There are increasing practical developments in their implementation

These trends have emerged from ongoing research that maps Alternatives to immigration detention across the Africa region. The most recent report, There Are Alternatives: Africa (TAA: Africa), was launched in Mauritania, alongside the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)’s 62nd Session, April, 2018. 

Today, the trends continue to develop. This blog post will trace these trends, present updated examples, and explain what the trends mean for you – whether you’re affiliated with an NGO, an NHRI; or are a policy-maker or an international or regional diplomatic official.

Why We Wrote ‘TAA: Africa’

Since IDC became involved in Africa, from the time it was constituted in 2009, NGO members and policy makers requested descriptions of African alternatives to detention. They wanted to showcase their migration management efforts and use these examples to build an empirical evidence base to present to governments what is possible when creative approaches are applied to migration governance, rather than just defaulting to the use of detention.

IDC members gathered information about alternatives to immigration detention operating in their countries. The descriptions assembled in the report show that migration governance using alternatives, rather than detention, is clearly possible and works better both for the government and the individuals involved. Alternatives are more humane and more cost-effective

Key Trend #1: There Are Alternatives

There is an existing array of policies or everyday practices used to support and manage people in the community at all stages of the migration procedure while their claims for status or protection are being processed.

In fact, the majority of countries do not normally detain non-citizens.

We found clear trends in the types of Alternatives available across Africa. Many countries have a strong presumption against detention in law (at least for some groups of migrants). This can be seen in Djibouti’s new Refugee Law that protects refugees from detention. There is a clear trend towards developing and rolling out standardised identification, screening and referral mechanisms, in recognition that migrants are a highly diverse population with different needs and motivations. This includes various National Referral Mechanisms being rolled out in many Southern African countries and the “screening out” of migrants from detention in Tunisia and Libya by NGOs.

There is a movement toward use of case management systems.

Although some are limited, many are going beyond the legal aspect of the case and becoming more holistic. IDC members who engage in case management recognise that some individuals are in need of a high level of support whereas others require barely any support. Not only in each individual country, but there are an increasing number of cross border collaborations between governments in attempts to harmonise case management systems. One example of this is the West African Network – a case management system for migrant children and youth across 16 ECOWAS states, based on harmonised standards.

Placement options are already available in host communities.

Shelter models are especially common – particularly for vulnerable migrants, such as safe houses for people who have been trafficked. There is also a trend towards complete deinstitutionalisation of children into foster care and host family models. A recent example of this is a South African court ruling in 2018 expanding the application of adoption legislation to all children within South Africa’s borders. In Libya, Community Hosting care arrangement pilots are being run as pilot programmes by civil society groups, on behalf of UNHCR and by the IOM, with the knowledge of the government. 

Key Trend #2: The Political Context is Shifting

There are increasing state commitments in national, regional, international laws and regulations to develop and implement Alternatives.

It is clear, there is growing momentum around using Alternatives as a strategy for reducing immigration detention.

On a national level, we have seen states move forward to develop and implement Alternatives. This is manifest in the creation of Working Groups specifically on this issue, for example, in Libya, or in the form of government and civil society Roundtables, for example, in Malawi. Some technical working groups (TWG) and the Alternatives they have been able to establish have been visited by delegations from neighbouring countries. Most notably we are seeing this happen in Zambia where a sharing of good practice on Alternatives is evident through study visits across borders.

On a regional level, there are regional processes working towards Alternatives both directly and indirectly. Through the Migration Dialogue for Southern Africa (MIDSA) dialogue, Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states are directly pursuing Alternatives by committing to “develop and implement Alternatives”. They are required to implement Regional and National Action Plans and report back on progress annually as they expand alternatives to detention.

The trend towards Alternatives is reflected in working towards a stronger presumption of liberty by facilitating lawful migration within regional blocks.

These include the Southern African Development Community (SADC); Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), to name a few.

On an international level, the benefits of alternatives to detention, as opposed to the human and financial costs of detention, are well documented. Hence, they are emphasised in the two draft Global Compacts (the one on Refugees; and one on Safe and Orderly Migration) and in UNCHR’s Beyond Detention strategy – which has expanded its focus countries in this region to include: Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Key Trend #3: Practical Developments

Alternatives are being piloted and the results are good for both migrants and host communities through migrant’s economic and cultural contributions.

More and more, we are seeing that States are recognising the benefits of regularising non-nationals within their territories, thus reducing the population of people at risk of detention, by pursuing Alternatives.

There is a wealth of evidence that promoting refugees and migrant’s ability to reside safely in a country on a temporary basis and providing them with the right to work firstly, reduces refugee and migrant reliance on state or charitable resources – as migrants can earn money to provide for their own basic needs. And secondly, giving migrants the right to work in a host country boosts the local economy by providing customers to local businesses and even, sometimes, an increase in jobs for locals.

We are seeing this recognition manifest in various ways. Firstly, through the aforementioned expansion of regular migration pathways within sub-regions. There is a pilot currently underway on the Zimbabwe Zambia border on labour rights under the COMESA. Secondly, through the removal of reservations to International Human Rights Instruments. Zambia is removing reservations to the Refugee Convention to permit the rights to work and freedom of movement, therefore allowing access to employment. Finally, States have administered blanket “amnestiesfor undocumented workers. For example, plans were announced in Algeria in 2017 and 18,000 one-year residency permits were granted to irregular migrants in Morocco in 2013.

In addition, there is a trend to use migration funding to further advance host community infrastructure and systems, rather than developing wasteful parallel systems for migrants which also create isolation and xenophobia.

We have seen this mainly in health and education systems. For example, in 2019, the government of Uganda unveiled a five year health sector response plan for refugees and host communities, targeting at least eight million people in refugee hosting districts. Also, see our example of the health clinic at the Action Africa Help Zambia Transit centre in Lusaka in the report (p.13).  

This point also highlights the trend in migration governance to recognise this need for social cohesion and provide for the additional strain on host communities. In new settlements in Uganda, about 30% of the resources of humanitarian response will go towards improving local infrastructure. 

What These Trends Mean For You?

In light of the three trends from that emerged from research for the report, there are a number of key takeaways for stakeholders’ keen to build systems that do not use immigration detention.

If you are a policy maker, this means that there are a range of case studies to use to inspire implementation of Alternatives in your national context with shared benefits for migrants and citizens. Of course, there is no model or one size fits all Alternative, but you can take any elements that might work if adapted in your national context.

If you are an NHRI or an NGO, you can get alongside policy makers who might like to explore Alternatives to respect human rights, reduce cost and increase effectiveness of migration governance in your country, and maybe even support them to run a pilot.  Or, you could lead the way by establishing a pilot for vulnerable refugees and migrants in your own communities. The things you learn by doing so would also contribute examples of good practice for future policy.

If you are an international or regional diplomatic official, we hope that you can use the case studies to break policy deadlocks. In bilateral meetings, you can identify avenues to protect your own citizens from immigration detention in other states; in multilateral meetings, you can identify or expand opportunities for shared regional approaches; in international meetings, you can use examples of Alternatives to support arguments for particular commitments in inter-governmental agreements (such as the Global Compacts) as well as showcase good practice in your domestic and regional laws, policies and practices.

You may also have many case studies of these kinds of systems that avoid use of detention that are not in the report – if so, please be in contact with Tiffany Shakespeare ([email protected])  so we can include your great practice in the next round of research.

In sum, the research for the report has demonstrated the widespread use of Alternatives in the Africa region, the growing momentum around the development of Alternatives globally, and the increasing practical developments taking place that yield benefits for governments, migrants, and host communities. There are organisations such as ours, the International Detention Coalition (IDC), who can provide technical expertise in the development and/or expansion of Alternatives and advise on how to use alternatives to immigration detention as a strategy for reducing unnecessary, inhumane and costly immigration detention.

For more information, read the report which is available to download: There Are Alternatives: Africa

Please also read and download the Guide for Policy Makers, available in English and French.

Finding Solutions Together in Africa

IDC at the NANHRI & AU Policy Forum

As a result of the IDC’s collaboration with the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) over the past few years, we were invited to speak at the NANHRI and the African Union Commission Department of Political Affairs (AUC-DPA) Policy Forum in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia in September 2019. This years theme was: “National Human Rights Institutions’ (NHRI’s) contribution to Durable Solutions on Forced Displacements in Africa.

Junita Calder, IDC’s Regional Coordinator for Africa and the Middle East, gave a presentation on the role that alternatives to traditional, broken migration systems can play in enabling migrants to contribute to economic development across the continent.  

This links to IDC’s broader vision: a world without unnecessary immigration detention; and with Rights & Dignity for all who migrate. We are interested in “real world fixes” that acknowledge legitimate government aims and work to achieve these through a problem solving approach. Calder highlighted that:

Alternatives require that migrants’ basic needs be met, within host communities. Therefore, if migrants can contribute economically while in the country, it creates a win-win situation, ensuring their rights, as well as continued benefits to host communities, during – and after – their stays.


IDC's Florence Situmbeko, Africa Programme Officer & Junita Calder, Africa & Middle East Regional Coordinator at the NANHRI & AU Policy Forum

The Possibilities of Creative Approaches to Migration Governance

Calder shared examples of “Alternatives to immigration detention”, which can be found in “There Are Alternatives: Africa.” These examples have been collected by the IDC over the past 10 years from NGO members, with the aim to showcase their migration management efforts and use these examples to build an empirical evidence base to present to governments (in national, regional and international policy spheres) what's possible when creative approaches are applied to migration governance, rather than defaulting to the use of harmful, costly and inefficient detention.

 Importantly though, solutions must be tailored to the particular national circumstances. The IDC promotes a pilot approach – supporting the  implementation of alternative migration management that is adapted to the context, and subject to constant review and adjustment.

International, Regional & National Frameworks to Promote Alternatives

Calder also signposted a range of international, regional and national legal and policy frameworks that promote rights-respecting migration management. Readers, as well as those who were present at the Policy Forum, might find these a useful resource:


  1. MDGs: Millennium Development Goals & SDGs: Sustainable Development Goals.
  2. GCM (Migrant Workers at their families Convention, et al. and ongoing guidance by relevant bodies).
  3. GCR (Refugee Convention and ongoing guidance by relevant bodies).
  4. UDHR and Human Rights Framework more broadly.


  1. Africa’s approach to Alternatives – and therefore the potential for migrants’ economic contributions – is unique and world leading. The African Common Position when negotiating the GCM was strong. Removing the criminal nature of sanctions; ending child detention.
  2. The Policy framework exists; and is good: OAU Convention on Refugees and the Kampala Convention.
  3. One practical example, economically motivated but rights-respecting is: Agenda 2063; and the practical steps towards it so far:


  1. National Constitutions
  2. Other Human Rights Frameworks
  3. Refugee and Anti-Trafficking Acts
  4. Migration Policies
  5. Labour Rights Protection Legislation
  6. NHRIs roles
  7. Monitoring all Alternatives and access to decent work
  8. Monitoring places of detention NPMs and other monitoring guides/frameworks

Moving Forward: What Now? 

The IDC is looking forward to working with NANHRI, specifically, to help with the implementation of their Plan of Action that outlines ways in which NHRIs may contribute to finding durable solutions to forced displacement.

Here are the ways the IDC suggested African NHRIs and the AU governments present can now be active:

What can African Human Rights Institutions do to ensure dignity for all who migrate?

  1. When undertaking investigations and submitting reports, HRIs can include solutions-focussed recommendations about regular pathways, right and access to decent work for migrants and refugees
  2. HRIs can point to initiatives, especially African examples that already exist; which may have solved the situation that the HRI had been asked to investigate or comment on, if implemented properly in the national context(s)!

 What can the AU governments do to ensure dignity for all who migrate?

  1. Be confident that there is a large body of evidence out there about alternative migration governance which harnesses the economic contributions of migrants so that being a host is not only burdensome.
  2. When representing their nations, they can feel a productive part of the African approach to the migration-development nexus which promotes more productive migration and migrant human rights compliance; not just unnecessary securitisation.
  3. African countries can carry out policy audits or Legal Environment Surveys (LEAs) that point to the rights for migrants.


If you, as a civil society organisation, have ideas of how NANHRI or African HRIs can work with you, please be in touch.


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

Using Film to Change Hearts & Minds

Interview Compiled by Madeleine MacMillan-Perich

Communication Intern, International Detention Coalition (IDC)


As part of my internship, I wanted to contribute to our blog series ‘Change Can Happen,' which aims to highlight individuals in the community that are driving positive change and drawing attention to issues surrounding immigration and immigration detention. In my research, I came across a couple of Australia-based filmmakers who have put their skillset to use by making socially conscious, activist and documentary films - Bill Irving and James L Brown.

In particular, Bill and James are co-directors of Watan (2018) - a documentary that aims to subvert rhetoric by conducting interviews with people affected by the Syrian refugee crisis - creating a platform for the voiceless and revealing the often-overlooked human cost of the issue.


Intimate portraits of refugees in the camps and cities of Jordan reveal a very human struggle for normalcy and dignity in a situation that is everything but.”


I was grateful for the opportunity to interview them, and learn more about their craft and passion for social justice:


Tell us a bit about yourselves.

James and I are filmmakers who have known each other since film school in 2004. We work under the moniker Bill and Brown.

Tell us about the projects you have undertaken.

Last year we finished a feature documentary called Watan about Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan. Next month our short ‘The Year is 2020’ will be released.

What compelled you to pursue this project?

James flew to Jordan solo to shoot the interviews and footage that became Watan. He was motivated by a general disgust with the rhetoric in the Australian ‘debate’ about the global refugee crisis. He wanted to see it for himself.

Why have you chosen to draw attention to the issues of migration and the refugee experience as a focus for your work?

I think it’s a recognition of our good fortune and to have the opportunity to elevate the stories of people who do not. I feel a responsibility to do that.

It’s also an anger and frustration that we feel at the state of the refugee ‘debate’ in Australia. To me it’s horrific that there is even debate. It’s an obligation to settle refugees and asylum seekers. It’s a responsibility, demanded by international law.

I want to be proud of my country. Off-shore detention is so shameful. Not to mention illegal. Future generations will look to this period of Australian history and be disgusted. I want to know that we tried to do something about it.

How did this experience alter or shape your perception of the on-going global refugee crisis and the lives of those affected?

I think the most tragic thing is that James was there in 2016. We made the film and finished it in 2017. We were promoting it in 2018. We have lived life. Done things. Travelled. Worked.

Nearly all of the participants in the film are still right where James shot them.

I think that’s the biggest thing. The crushing actual physical reality of long-term internment. People make the best of a situation, of course they do – life finds a way, and that is kinda nice from a story telling perspective, but this is the only life they have. And it is being taken away from them, while the news cycle forgets about them. While we in the West can turn away. Watch something else. Think about something else.

“The public has refugee fatigue” is a phrase we heard a lot while trying to find a platform for Watan.

That is so unfair it makes your heart break.

What do you hope your audience takes away from your work?

We just hoped that people might be able to picture themselves in the shoes of one or more of the people in the film. Empathy changes everything. It breeds compassion. Refugees are not other people. They are people. Like us. Our policies and sense of responsibility should reflect that understanding.


JUST RELEASED: Key Articles By Leading Thinkers

Key Articles By Leading Thinkers

Written by Dr. Robyn Sampson

Senior Advisor, International Detention Coalition (IDC)


There were major milestones in 2018 towards the protection of the rights of refugees and migrants, with the adoption of both the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Migrants in December. We are now facing the challenges of negotiating implementation mechanisms, and ensuring the momentum and political will for a more holistic and integrated international approach to human movement is sustained.

To mark the moment, the International Journal of Refugee Law published a special issue on The 2018 Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration in December.

All articles are now free since late May.

The special issue is an important compendium of commentary on these significant developments from some of the key actors and leading thinkers on these issues.

Some highlights include:

For the full Table of Contents and access to all articles, see Volume 30, Issue 4, December 2018 of the International Journal of Refugee Law available here.



How Generosity Could Change Amina’s Life

Written by Seza Kirishdjian

Middle East & North Africa Programme Officer, International Detention Coalition (IDC)


He held baby Amina in his arms, in a firm grip.  Fully aware of the uncertainty of his own future but with the hope that a local family would come forward to care for her, love her and protect her, the way he had cared for her during the past few months. Even though she was not his own child, he had provided her with shelter and protection. In fact, he was just hoping that Amina be treated the way every child in the world should be treated.  All this man was asking for, was that someone would extend a ray of hope to her, one that he no longer had.

Amina’s story was a familiar one to me. Her father had disappeared in his home country, in the Horn of Africa, before her mother took Amina and embarked on their journey to the Middle East.  They risked trafficking and exploitation on their way towards an unknown destination and an insecure future. Amina’s mother had then passed away, leaving little Amina behind with her neighbour in the country that she had been trying to make a new life in.  Although this neighbour was an asylum seeker in an insecure situation himself, he had promised to take care of the young girl. This kind neighbour was the man I was interviewing.

It is in their customs and traditions. Hospitality is a cultural trait they take pride in, they can’t turn this child away. I am sure someone will take care of her.

He uttered these words, with a strong belief in the kindness and generosity of the people in the Middle Eastern country from which he was to be deported for having his asylum claim rejected. Unfortunately, he could not offer little Amina the permanent care and protection that she deserved.

For the past six years, I was interviewing asylum seekers in different countries across the Middle East and North Africa region as part of my work. Each day, a new person or family.  New faces and stories, similar to those of Amina’s. The stories always had a common denominator; separation from loved ones and families left behind in their country of origin. For adults, this proved to be difficult enough, as they struggled to make ends meet in a new country and a challenging environment. Sometimes the symptoms of prolonged exposure to toxic stress were evident. For children in particular, though this high level of insecurity proved to have very detrimental consequences and left them at heightened risk of exploitation and abuse.


Growing up in the Middle East, I have always taken pride in the hospitality and generosity of the people who took my great grandparents in when they were children and forcibly displaced from their homes in Eastern Anatolia at the dawn of the 20th century. It comes to me with no surprise that the same people would continue to open their doors and host vulnerable migrants even though times are difficult for them too.

We are taught from a young age that the real heroes in life are those who take a chance, who dare to be different and produce a change in a system that seems ever so rigid.

The real heroes are those host families and individuals who, despite their own challenges and the increasingly impossible life in recessive economies in the region, are willing to provide alternative care for refugee and migrant children and vulnerable adults.

Community hosting is in no way a new concept to the region. There is enough precedent that it is proving to be a practical and productive alternative to detention, that gives us hope for the future. Just like Amina, most of the children and vulnerable adults on the move whom I interviewed, would sadly never return to their homes.  Very few of them, if any, will ever be lucky enough to be reunited with their families.

It is for this reason that the IDC gives paramount importance to supporting and reporting on alternatives to detention.

The increased phenomenon of community hosting in the MENA region is a ray of hope extended to some of the most vulnerable migrants in the world today.

Stay tuned for more in this series on community hosting in the MENA region, as we begin to collect and share more stories from those in the know, the real heroes, the families who are currently hosting refugee and migrant children and vulnerable adults.

Children Dying in Detention in US & Mexico

Children Dying in Detention in US & Mexico

The deaths of children held in immigration detention were unnecessary and are unjustifiable

On May 17, 2019, IDC members and partners in Mexico gathered outside of the National Palace to demand that the Mexican government immediately end immigration detention of children. The demonstration was in response to the death of a 10-year-old girl from Guatemala who was held in immigration detention in Chihuahua and later transferred with her mother to another detention center in Mexico City.


While this is the first public death of a child in immigration detention in Mexico, in the United States, at least five children and youth have died in immigration detention in just six months: from December 2018 to the most recent death occurring on May 20, 2019.

There is no acceptable reason or justification for these deaths

For years, child development experts have confirmed time and again that detention is extremely harmful to children, regardless of the conditions or length of time of the detention. It is because of these long-term effects that regional and international standards clearly state that immigration detention constitutes a child rights violation and is never in the child’s best interest
Furthermore, both countries have regulations or legal decisions that limit use of immigration detention in the case of children, regardless of whether they are accompanied or traveling alone. In Mexico, immigration detention of children is completely prohibited, while in the United States, children must be released without delay, or detained only in exceptional cases, always in the least restrictive environment. Currently, governments in both countries are violating these national standards.


Hundreds of civil society organizations and human rights experts from the United States, Mexico, Guatemala and other countries across the region are demanding an end to the harmful practice of immigration detention of children, highlighting that:

‘These are not isolated cases; rather they are ongoing occurrences that reflect patterns of human rights violations’

(Joint Statement)

Both in the United States and Mexico, governments are able to access alternatives to detention that allow children to be free and live with their families or in residential care, where they can receive appropriate support to ensure their physical and emotional wellbeing. These alternatives could be implemented immediately in order to avoid future tragedies.


IDC grieves over these recent events and reiterate our commitment to collaborate with government and civil society in order to develop alternatives to detention that are effective and humane.

It’s time to end immigration detention of children

Some of the children and youth who died after being detained by immigration authorities in the U.S. and Mexico are:*

  • Jackeline Caal, a 7-year-old girl from the Maya Q’eqchi’ community, originally from Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, died on December 8, 2018 while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in New Mexico
  • Felipe Gómez Alonzo, an 8-year-old boy from the Maya Chuj community, originally from Yalambojoch, Nentón, Huehuetenango, Guatemala died on December 25, 2018 while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in El Paso, Texas
  • Juan de León Gutiérrez, a 16-year-old boy from the Maya Chorti community, originally from Chiquimula, Guatemala died on April, 30 2019 while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Texas
  • A 2-and-a-half-year-old boy from the Maya Chortí community, originally from Chiquimula, Guatemala died on May 14, 2019 while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Texas
  • A 10-year-old girl, originally from Guatemala, died on May 15, 2019 in the immigration detention center (or ‘immigration station’) in Iztapalapa, México.
  • Carlos Hernández, a 16-year-old boy, originally from Guatemala, died on May 20, 2019 while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Texas


*Names and information primarily from the Mesa de Coordinación Transfronteriza Migraciones y Género México-Guatemala