What are alternatives to detention?

Alternatives to detention (ATD) are any legislation, policy or practice, formal or informal, that ensures people are not detained for reasons relating to their migration status.

Under international law, immigration detention must only ever be used as a last resort.  As a result, states must first seek to implement ATD which allow individuals at risk of immigration detention to live in non-custodial, community-based settings while their immigration status is being resolved.

Furthermore, the many benefits of ATD have been recognized by academics, UN bodies, practitioners and states around the world, including:

Alternatives are effective. ATD have been shown to be incredibly effective at achieving migration management objectives without the need for potential human rights violations.  For example, community based ATD programs have been shown to maintain high compliance rates with a range of migrant populations, in particular when migrants are able to meet their basic needs, and are able to access the legal and social support necessary to make informed decisions about their migration journey. In contrast, prolonged or unnecessary detention has been found in some contexts to be counterproductive to government objectives of achieving compliance with immigration outcomes, including returns.

Alternatives are more cost-effective than custodial detention.  Alternatives to detention are also significantly more cost-effective than custodial detention. Significant cost benefits of on average 80% are associated with ATD. If cases can be managed in community settings without a reduction in immigration application processing times, cost savings will be inevitable. Avoiding unnecessary cases of detention, or reducing the length of time someone is detained, is a key strategy in reducing the costs associated with detention.

Alternatives respect human rights.  Finally, alternatives to detention better respect the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Appropriate non-custodial, community-based ATD necessarily reduce the reliance on detention, thus preventing unlawful or arbitrary detention practices. Effective management in the community is also more likely to respect other fundamental civil, political, economic, cultural and social rights, thereby contributing to refugee, asylum seeker and migrant well-being and self- sufficiency. The respect for fundamental human rights, therefore, allows individuals to contribute fully to society if residency is secured or to better face difficult futures, such as the possibility of return.