Growing Implementation of Alternatives

International Implementers of Alternatives to Detention Meeting. Mexico City, Mexico. August 2017.

There is growing momentum around the implementation of alternatives to detention pilots by civil society, in cooperation with States.  For alternatives to lead to change in detention policy, they must be tested and implemented.  In many countries, alternatives represent a radical departure from enforcement-based approaches to immigration governance.  In other countries, many good and relevant community-based practices exist, but have not been used to avoid and prevent detention.  Governments often need evidence and models before they can commit to a large-scale roll-out, so there is a need for pilots that can test and evaluate new approaches and share learning. 

Importantly, pilots provide an opportunity for governments and civil society to work together and build trust for the long-term.

Over the past few years, IDC has been supporting government and civil society stakeholders to explore and test alternatives to detention through pilot programs. IDC initiated the model of testing alternatives through a pilot for children in Mexico City, which was implemented in 2015 and 2016 by immigration authorities and two partner organisations.

This model was further developed by the European Alternatives To Detention Network, which IDC has facilitated since 2017, enabling peer learning between pilots in a series of European countries. The Network connects civil society organisations that are developing case management-based pilot projects in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and the United Kingdom. The network has made substantial progress in mainstreaming ATD as a plausible strategy for governments throughout the region, through engaging the European Commission to promote civil society implementation. This has led to the European Commission supporting the strategy to develop case management-based ATD pilots involving civil society, and creating an opportunity to access funding through the new ERRIN mechanism.  The first independent evaluation of the Network’s pilots was published by the funder network the European Programme for Integration and Migration in 2018, capturing evidence that case management has a positive impact.

IDC is supporting the formation of a similar network in Asia Pacific, working with partner organisations in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to develop shared theories of change and implementation strategies.

It is vital that learning from these pilots and networks is shared widely. IDC held the first Global Workshop on Implementation of Alternatives to Detention, which provided an opportunity to explore how alternatives operate in a variety of local contexts, and share learnings on how to translate international human rights standards to concrete implementation. The global workshop brought together over 20 civil society actors implementing 18 different ATD strategies in 9 countries. All workshop participants completed two online learning modules from IDC’s newly developed capacity building toolkit.

In July, 2017, IDC also coordinated a National Exchange on ATD Implementing Experiences in Mexico, in which representatives from more than 20 civil society and international organizations that are currently developing and implementing ATD across the country participated. Together, participants identified the primary challenges in their ATD implementation and discussed possible solutions, such as sharing ATD models, protocols, and manuals in order to better learn from one another and strengthen their own implementation.

This strategy is being taken up by States, most dramatically in the UK, where IDC’s member organisation Detention Action has been piloting an alternative since 2014.  IDC contributed to the second independent review into immigration detention by Stephen Shaw, commissioned by the UK Government, meeting Mr Shaw to present the international evidence on alternatives.  The second Shaw Review, published in July 2018, focused strongly on the need for investment in alternatives.

In response, the UK Government in 2018 committed ‘to do more to explore alternatives to detention with faith groups, NGOs and within communities’, including funding an NGO pilot for women.  The UK Government subsequently announced a further detention centre closure, reducing the numbers of migrants in detention by over 40% since 2013.

Increasingly, alternatives are moving from normative standards to on-the-ground realities, benefiting migrant communities and improving migration governance systems.

There is a long way to go to mainstream alternatives in many countries, but the growing evidence base and momentum give grounds for optimism.