IDC members are privileged to travel widely across the regions in which our members operate. Discussions we have engaged in, about immigration detention in Africa over the last few months reveal two distinct viewpoints.

One point of view – reflected in current State securitisation of national borders across the continent – is that foreigners are a threat to national societies and therefore the use of immigration detention is justified. This view is upheld by some officials despite the well-known high costs of detention and acute overcrowding that leads to appalling conditions in many places.

In this view, detention is justified not only to prevent ‘undesirable influences’ from entering a country but also “for their own [vulnerable migrants] protection” where there is a lack of meaningful alternatives which can protect people’s rights. Sad to say, this view seems to be reinforced by current events such as xenophobic attacks on foreign business owners in South Africa and the fatal shootings of foreign tourists in Tunisia, just weeks after IDC members gathered there to exchange experience across the Middle East North Africa Region.

Another viewpoint, however, rejects immigration detention, in the belief that by creating meaningful alternatives to detention (ATDs) societies can be made stronger and develop more quickly. As described by one Zambian transport driver: “…when the migrants lived there [open villages in border regions], there was a lot of development, they [migrants] farmed the land, they sold vegetables to the local people, markets developed and villages around them too, more Zambians moved there and joined them. Since they were sent back and the refugee camps became closed, those areas are dead again, quiet, there are no jobs and people are moving away.”

In many countries where there is a need to develop local economies and encourage small to medium enterprise which can provide jobs for local people, improved health and education services for all, it seems that migrants, whether regular or traveling without papers, may have a vital role to play. In addition, as one local business developer from Cameroon explained, development of this kind helps to prevent the radicalisation and onward movement (across the Mediterranean) of both local and migrant youth.

As IDC members map successful ATDs against the use of immigration detention in many African countries, models of good practice are emerging.

As IDC members map successful ATDs against the use of immigration detention in many African countries, models of good practice are emerging. This is especially true for those most at risk in harmful held detention, such as children. As we celebrated on 16 June, the Day of the African Child – every child has the right to be free, living in the community, with their families.

Preliminary mapping results indicate that where alternative housing for migrants is possible, consistent with their rights, there is a higher chance for those individuals and the societies around them to thrive. We look forward to sharing more on this and other findings in the lead up to the 57th Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in November.