Written by Carolina Gottardo IDC Executive Director


In September 2022, IDC was proud to officially launch two pieces of research and their accompanying country profiles: Our global mapping report Gaining Ground: Promising Practices to Reduce and End Immigration Detention, and our Asia Pacific report Immigration Detention and Alternatives to Detention in the Asia Pacific Region, which was developed in collaboration with the Regional UN Network on Migration for Asia and the Pacific under the umbrella of the UN Network on Migration.

Our launch event in September featured a Cross-Regional Roundtable Dialogue that brought together representatives from communities, organisations, and governments across the world to discuss promising practices that illustrate the potential for migration governance without immigration detention. We heard from these experts at local, national, regional, and global levels about how to use this new research to scale up rights-based alternatives to detention (ATD) and further advocacy to reduce and ultimately end immigration detention, including by supporting improved implementation of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM).

For almost 15 years now, IDC has worked alongside its members across the globe to strategically build movements and influence law, policy and practices to end immigration detention and implement rights-based ATD. IDC prioritises research and building an evidence-base to support in this effort, and since our founding, we have published over 35 international, regional and national research reports and briefing papers related to immigration detention and ATD

As set out in our flagship report, There Are Alternatives, ATD shifts the emphasis of migration management away from security and restrictions towards a pragmatic, proactive and solutions-based approach focused on case management, case resolution and human rights. As detailed in IDC’s 2022 position paper, Using ATD as a Systems Change Strategy Towards Ending Immigration Detention, IDC believes in alternative approaches that respect refugees, migrants, people seeking asylum and others on the move as people with rights and agency, who can be supported through immigration processes while living in the community, without being deprived of their liberty. 

New Research

IDC’s new research shows that progress in moving away from the use of detention has been slow, and too often there continues to be a lack of awareness among governments, local authorities and other actors of alternative approaches. However, in recent years IDC has seen a number of states begin to recognise that effective and feasible alternatives to detention do exist. This has led to shifts that include the adoption of laws and policies enshrining non-detention or setting out ATD, the introduction and scaling of community-based pilot projects, establishing screening, assessment and referral mechanisms that help to reduce the use of detention, as well as the development of alternative care arrangements for children which – in the best cases – integrate migrant children directly into national child protection systems. 

IDC’s new research aims to set out some promising practices, and provides an overview of practical examples and recent developments in the field of ATD, in order to encourage further progress in this area and to inspire and embolden governments, local authorities, international organisations, community actors, civil society and other stakeholders, with steps they can take to move away from the use of immigration detention which is ultimately what we want to see. 

Given the ample scope of the two reports, it is very difficult to provide a fitting summary. However, I would like to highlight a few key findings:

  • The use of immigration detention continues to be widespread in most regions of the world, probably with the exception of South America. A number of countries continue to detain people arbitrarily and, in some cases, without putting a time limit on the amount of time people can be detained. The Asia-Pacific mapping report, in particular, has highlighted the lack of regular and comprehensive screening for individual vulnerabilities, and limited recourse to challenge detention decisions before a court or independent administrative body. However, this is by no means unique to this region, and across the world we have found that the structures and processes necessary to ensure that people are not detained are missing or inadequate.
  • The sheer diversity of people at risk of immigration detention across the world continues to be staggering. This includes migrant workers, refugees, people seeking asylum, stateless persons, undocumented migrants and survivors of trafficking, amongst others. It is critical to view the impacts of immigration detention through an intersectional lens, and to understand that people’s diverse and intersecting identities impact them in very specific ways. This includes migrant women, girls, transgender, gender diverse, and LGBTI+ communities, who are all likely to have very specific experiences of immigration detention that will coincide with the layered harms of also facing discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, disabilities and culture, among other factors. 
  • Despite the challenges and gaps that persist across most regions of the world, there have nonetheless been a number of encouraging developments. These include the introduction of laws, policies and practice that prohibit immigration detention in law, either across the board or of certain groups, or that introduce ATD in law, or result in people being released from detention. There have been efforts in some countries towards regularisation and the provision of legal status and documentation, and in others, efforts to  implement better screening, referral  and assessment mechanisms. There is also an increased willingness on the part of some governments to work towards a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach to migration, often utilising peer learning initiatives at the regional and global levels. There has also been important progress and momentum built towards ending the immigration detention of children, with several countries either not detaining children in practice or introducing legislation to restrict the detention of children and other efforts to strengthen child protection systems and alternative care arrangements. 

The examples highlighted throughout the reports range from rights-based ATD initiatives and programmes to other developments in law, policy and practice that – while perhaps not always ATD per se – represent promising steps towards reducing and ending immigration detention. What all the examples have in common is that they contain some of the elements that IDC sees as necessary for states to move away from detention as a tool of migration governance

While these reports only represent a snapshot of what is currently going on around the world, we at IDC hope that by showcasing such examples we will contribute to the sharing of ideas, experiences, challenges and progress in this critical area of migration policy and that governments and other actors are encouraged to take steps to implement ATD and end immigration detention. 

Finally, when thinking about grounding and impact and building momentum towards reducing and ending immigration detention, we need to think first and foremost about the people affected by these policies who should be at the forefront of these efforts. This brings to my mind a quote from a person affected by immigration detention who said, “to end detention we will need the same perseverance and determination as those who have survived detention.” We must stand firmly in this struggle with perseverance and determination.