Refugee Council of Australia
Two adjacent photos, one of man with bars to the left and another of a woman with symbolic bars

Beyond detention: Progress report by UNHCR

Two years ago, UNHCR launched its Global Strategy: Beyond Detention 2014-2019. In August 2016, UNHCR reported on its progress. The five-year strategy  involves 12 countries: Canada, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Zambia.

The three main goals of the strategy are to:

  • end the detention of children
  • ensure that alternatives to detention are available in law and implemented in practice, and
  • ensure that, where detention is necessary and unavoidable, its conditions meet international standards.

There have been some significant achievemences since the Strategy began, but there are still challenges for those countries to address.

End the detention of children

Compared to 2014, … a 14 per cent decrease in the number of children detained was observed … across the twelve focus countries.

Positive steps

In Israel and Lithuania, children are no longer detained. Mexico and Malta have adopted laws to prevent the detention of children. There have been legal decisions in the USA, Lithuania and Israel that are likely to lead to policies banning the detention of children.

All of the countries involved in the Strategy have engaged positively with community-based alternatives to the detention of children. Indonesia, Mexico and the United States are piloting projects to arrange care for children and families instead of detention.

Future directions

All of the countries need to make sure that children are not in detention. This must be enshrined in policy and implemented in practice. The countries involved must provide suitable care arrangements for all children.

Ensure alternatives to detention are available in law and implemented in practice

Overall, a need for greater transparency in quantitative reporting related to alternatives to detention was observed.

Positive steps

All of the countries moved towards implementing alternatives to detention in 2016. All have legal frameworks so that unaccompanied children and separated children, children in families and adults can be referred to alternatives to detention.

Canada, Indonesia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the United States and Zambia have tested case management processes for alternatives to detention during a pilot project. Canada has set up a national alternative to detention program.

Future directions

All of the countries must implement consistent decision-making processes to ensure that individuals are appropriately referred to alternatives to detention and care arrangements befoe being considered for detention. There must be greater transparency in reporting the implementation of alternatives to detention.

Ensure that conditions of detention meet international standards

Similar to the situation at end of 2013, access to detention reviews (being the initial review of the detention decision, the regular periodic reviews of the necessity for the continuation of detention and habeas corpus) are not enshrined in national legislation in all focus countries.

Positive developments

Eight of the countries have placed a limit on the time a person can be detained. However, there has been limited progress in ensuring the conditions of detention meet international standards.

Future directions

People who are detained in Canada, Malaysia, Thailand and the UK face indefinite detention. Legal frameworks are needed to apply time limits to detention.

To meet international standards, most of the countries must stop detaining people who are seeking asylum alongside persons suspected or convicted of a crime. To comply with the 1951 Refugee Convention, these countries must ensure that people who are seeking asylum are not discriminated against or punished for entering or staying irregularly.

These countries need to provide people who are in detention with information about and access to legal advice and asylum procedures.

Read the reports

Read the progress report
Read the baseline report

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