Seeking asylum is not an unlawful act, yet asylum seekers and refugees are increasingly detained and interned around the world, suffering not only deprivation of liberty but also other abuses of their human rights. UNHCR’s new detention guidelines challenge governments to rethink their detention policies and to consider alternatives to detention in every case.
Studies in countries around the world have consistently found high levels of psychiatric symptoms among imprisoned asylum seekers, both adults and children.
The majority of provisions in the international human rights law instruments that deal with deprivations of liberty contain the term ‘arbitrary’, yet there is no clear definition of what this entails; understanding it requires awareness of the different factors affecting how individual deprivations of liberty are examined and understood.
At the heart of the asylum debate in Australia there is little sense of the individual in question. People who had previously been asylum seekers in immigration detention (and are now Australian permanent residents) express in their own words the impact that detention had on them.
Since 2004 Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has provided medical and psychosocial support for asylum seekers and migrants held in different immigration detention facilities across Europe (in Greece, Malta, Italy and Belgium) where the life, health and human dignity of vulnerable people are being put at risk.
States often detain children without adequate attention to international law and in conditions that can be inhumane and damaging. Asylum-seeking and refugee children must be treated first and foremost as children, with their rights and protection needs given priority in all migration policies.
States should develop alternatives to immigration detention to ensure that children are free to live in a community-based setting throughout the resolution of their immigration status.
Draft regulations for the running of Spain’s Foreigner Internment Centres fall far short of the hopes and demands of those campaigning for better guarantees of the rights of detainees.
Recently established monitoring committees in Japan are opening new channels of communication and opportunities for improvements in detention facilities.
Can the promotion of liberal norms have an unintended – and damaging – impact on how states confront the challenges of irregular immigration?
Over the last 50 years, Australian governments have introduced a range of measures that seek to deter asylum seekers. Current practice sees asylum seekers once again detained in offshore detention in neighbouring countries.
When I fled civil war to come to the UK, I thought that I would be free but instead of helping me, the UK detained me for three years.
Despite relatively good conditions in the Czech Republic’s closed detention facilities, serious questions should be asked about the justification for detention.
Those seeking asylum in Germany face fast-track assessments, risk of immediate detention and deportation, and lengthy stays in ‘communal shelters’ scattered throughout Germany.
On 29 June 2013 the amended ‘Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast)’ became law. It is now up to the Member States to implement these new measures.
The South Africa example is instructive in demonstrating both the limits and the dangers of the increasing reliance on detention as a migration management tool.
International principles of equality and non-discrimination must be applied to the UK’s immigration detention system, which at present fails to meet even the minimum standards which apply in prisons.
Refugees and asylum seekers detained in Kenya risk multiple convictions and protracted detention due to poor coordination between immigration officials, police and prison officers, coupled with lack of interpreters and low levels of knowledge among government officers and law enforcement officers.
Research by the Women’s Refugee Commission into immigration detention of women in the US explores why and how differences in treatment between men and women in detention matter.
Where this is no viable forum to address human rights violations by African states, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights will consider such violations. Its recommendations can then provide a basis on which other actors can put pressure on an offending state to comply with human rights norms.
Endangering the health and well-being of people by detaining them is unnecessary; governments can instead use community-based alternatives that are more dignified for migrants and more cost-effective for states.
Sweden is generally considered to have high standards of immigrant detention. However, a recent study conducted in Swedish detention centres suggests that irrespective of the high standards life in detention still poses a huge threat to the health and wellbeing of detained irregular migrants.
The way in which we think about detention can shape our ability to consider the alternatives. What is needed is a shift in thinking away from place-based control and towards risk assessment, management and targeted enforcement.
Recent research in Toronto and Geneva indicates that asylum seekers and refugees are predisposed to be cooperative with the refugee status determination (RSD) system and other immigration procedures, and that the design of alternatives to detention can create, foster and support this cooperative predisposition – or can undermine or even demolish it.
While there is growing recognition of the value of community-based alternatives to detention in the US, shortfalls in funding and political will are hindering implementation of improved services and best practice.
The UK detains migrants on a large scale, and has had limited success in developing alternatives. The British experience highlights the need for a cultural shift towards engagement with migrants in place of reliance on enforcement.
Moved by the plight of vulnerable asylum-seeking minors being held in detention centres, a group of Australian advocates lobbied successfully for the implementation of community detention as a viable, humane alternative, giving asylum seekers an opportunity to engage in a more meaningful existence while awaiting the outcome of their asylum application.
Preliminary outcomes of an alternative to detention programme in Belgium, based on case management and individual ‘coaches’ for families, are positive and merit consideration by other countries.
Sweden is often held up as following ‘best practice’ in legislation with regard to detention and alternatives to detention but research by the Swedish Red Cross highlights a number of flaws.
Alternative to detention programmes may be less restrictive and less expensive than formal detention but they may still have drawbacks. The provision of competent legal advice appears to be key to low rates of absconding.
States continue to show a marked reluctance to implement alternatives to immigration detention. The reason for this may well be because such alternatives ignore the disciplinary function of detention by which states coerce people into cooperation.
Programmes to assist deported Afghan youth to reintegrate on their return are failing miserably. There needs to be much greater awareness of what it is like for them when they return, and of good practice in implementing such programmes.
Young Afghans forced to return to Kabul having spent formative years in the UK encounter particular risks and lack any tailored support on their return.
In recent years, ‘assisted voluntary return’ (AVR) schemes have spread across Europe and the Western industrialised world. While AVR is clearly preferable to deportation, NGOs and academics alike have criticised these schemes for being misleadingly labelled and lacking genuine voluntariness.
Israel’s aggressive campaign of arrest and deportation of South Sudanese asylum seekers contravenes the principle of non-refoulement and international standards for voluntary, dignified return.
The monitoring of refused asylum seekers post-deportation is critical to effective protection.
Mistrust and fear abound among Rwandan refugees in Uganda. The dearth of information available about cessation urgently needs to be addressed by UNHCR.
The integration of Central African refugees into existing Cameroonian communities has had far-reaching development impacts on the region and the state as a whole; this observation calls us to re-evaluate the significance of smaller-scale, less noticed refugee crises.
Although legally justifiable, increasing restrictions on movement and work for refugees in Iran have detrimental effects for the refugees.
When women are banished from their communities following sexual assault, this rejection should be considered an act of forced migration by the administrators of truth commission reparations programmes.
The international humanitarian community has moved from the more traditional approach of providing in-kind assistance to the use of cash and vouchers. In situations of displacement they can work as a dignified, easily accessible form of assistance.
Host economies benefit when refugees work. Nations seeking economic growth and political stability should allow refugees to access employment and to enjoy employment-related rights.
Many aid agencies in Lebanon and Jordan find themselves stuck in a wholly inappropriate paradigm of assistance from which they cannot extricate themselves.
Palestine refugees in Syria find themselves once more engulfed in a cycle of conflict and displacement that exacerbates their underlying vulnerability and highlights the ongoing need for durable solutions.
The massive and continuing flows of Syrian and Palestinian refugees to Syria’s neighbours have shown the limitations of humanitarian practice and present new challenges for medical and humanitarian interventions.
Assessments of the impact of the Syrian crisis indicate high levels of sexual and gender-based violence, with rape, assault, intimate partner violence and survival sex appearing increasingly common. Humanitarian agencies urgently need to work together to address this trend.