The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has released their baseline and progress report of the Beyond Detention Global Strategy.

The first of its kind, the Beyond Detention strategy reports on collaborative efforts for asylum seekers and refugees are made to end the detention of children, ensure that alternatives to detention are available in law and implemented in practice and ensure that condition of detention, where detention is unavoidable, meet international standards.

It focuses on 11 countries over the first three years, with a planned expansion into more countries after the initial reporting period.

From the Americas region Canada, Mexico and the United States were included in the report. A summary of key findings for these countries are detailed below.

The progress reflected in the report is a collaborative effort, with many of the member organisations of the IDC contributing significantly towards the outcomes achieved in this reporting period.



Mixed results were reported in Canada. Successes included:

  • The expansion of the Toronto Bail Program, an alternative to detention
  • The prioritisation of claims and reviews involving unaccompanied and separated children (UASC)
  • Mental health screening for those in detention, as well as risk assessment and reviews for long term detainees
  • Improvements to screening procedures and pushes for alternatives prompted by the publication of the influential paper on detention and conditions, “We have no rights” by the University of Toronto
  • Multiple court rulings in favour of improving detention conditions
  • A decrease in the number of children formally detained and the establishment of two detention facilities with care arrangements for UASC.

However, the report expressed concerns at the fact that Canada is not a signatory of the Optional Protocol on Torture and that commingling is still widespread within their immigration detention system. The report also calls for an expansion on alternatives to detention.


UNHCR stipulated that Mexico has made significant progress towards improving the detention procedure for children. Most notably during the period the new law  “Regulations for the Law on the Rights of Children” was introduced which:

  • Prohibits immigration detention of both accompanied and unaccompanied children
  • Places responsibility on the Family Welfare Agency (DIF) to identify detained children in need of international protection
  • Resulted in the creation of a child protection authority for migrant children

Other efforts to aid detained children included the development of a protocol to identify UASC and support them through their asylum claims.

Mexico also introduced a community-placement based pilot program as an alternative to detention (supported by the IDC), while other alternatives continue to be utilised including directed residence and bail or bond programs.

Despite these improvements, the number of children detained in Mexico increased dramatically from 2013 from 9,630 to 35,704. Asylum seekers were also usually detained the whole time their applications were processed,  and a persistent  lack of options and representation for detainees, especially children,  were reported.

United States of America

Findings in the U.S were also mixed. The report highlighted improvements, such as

  • The introduction of “Family Case Management”, a pilot program aiming to place 800 families in 5 cities across the country while their claim are being processed. The first 180 were placed into this program in January of this year.
  • The expansion of the Child Advocate program to aid both accompanied and unaccompanied minors through their asylum claims
  • The awarding of $9 million in governmental grants to programs providing legal representation to UASC (though the reach of this funding is limited to only approximately 2,600 children)
  • The creation of a UASC focused screening and identification group by the Centre for Border Protection

Despite these improvements, there is still no legal framework to prevent the detention of children in the U.S. The number of children detained for immigration purposes there has increased since the beginning of the strategy, from 38,759 in 2013 to 103,140 in 2016 (a 166% increase).

The US is not a signatory to the Optional Protocol on Torture.  UNHCR is also looking to improve the conditions for LGBTI detainees.

Click here to find out more about the beyond detention strategy.