5 Recommendations for Alternatives to Immigration Detention during COVID-19

5 Recommendations for Alternatives to Immigration Detention during COVID-19

Any legislation, policy or practice aimed at preventing the unnecessary detention of persons for reasons related to their migration status, can be considered as an alternative to migrant detention, whether formal or informal, according to IOM.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration states as its 13th Objective that the detention of migrants should be used “only as a last resort, and to work towards alternatives", consistent with international human rights law. In this sense, the issue has always been a priority for the IOM, but now in the context of COVID-19, the need to avoid situations that facilitate the spread of the virus is particularly crucial.

To avoid the unnecessary detention of migrants during the pandemic, the United Nations Migration Network has called on States to:

  • ”Stop new detentions of migrants for migration - or health-related reasons and introduce a moratorium on the use of immigration detention.
  • Scale up and urgently implement non-custodial, community-based alternatives to immigration detention in accordance with international law.
  • Release all migrants detained into non-custodial, community-based alternatives, following proper safeguards.
  • Improve conditions in places of immigration detention while alternatives are being scaled up and implemented.­”

To achieve this, the Network suggests a series of practical recommendations in the fields of: prevention; release; placement and case management; regularization and access to services; and conditions in Immigration detention. Here are five of these recommendations (from each field) that can be considered as an alternative to detaining migrants or suspending their processes during the pandemic for immigration authorities.

1. Suspend the issuance of detention orders for newly arrived migrants and undocumented migrants in the community on the basis of immigration status: this includes the suspension of pre-deportation detention orders, and immigration raids.

2. Prioritize the immediate release of all children and adolescents from migrant detention centres: whether unaccompanied, separated or in families, children should never be detained for reasons related to their or their parents’ immigration status. Migration detention is never in a child's best interest.

3. Ensure the availability of spaces to host migrants in the community, rather than in detention centres: the spaces should allow for a dignified quality of life and comply with all recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus, such as physical separation, the possibility of quarantine and self-isolation, and limited needs to use public transportation.

4. Do not suspend or accelerate migration procedures without due process: On the contrary, it is necessary to adapt case management to the reality of COVID-19, which included remote communication options and the provision personal protective equipment for migrants and their counsellors, so that their cases can be followed up.

5. Ensure no post-pandemic deportation: There is a need to build trust among migrants and to be able to assure them that any lifting of restrictions or changes in policy after the COVID-19 crisis passes will not be considered grounds for detention and subsequent deportation. It is important for this population to be able to approach health centres and other services during the pandemic without fear.

The full list of recommendations is much more extensive; you can find it here.

While these measures are extensive and require careful consideration of various aspects, some governments are already working on their implementation. For example, a federal judge ordered the Mexican government to release detained migrants who were at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, including people over 60 years of age, pregnant women, and those with chronic diseases. He also ordered the immediate transfer of all unaccompanied and separated children to community-based shelters for children.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unexpected opportunity to demonstrate that alternatives to the detention of migrants are a viable option for mitigating public health concerns and ensuring access to human rights and essential services for this population. The United Nations Migration Network urges all actors involved in this process to document best practices and positive impact so that new alternatives to detention can be maintained and strengthened once the pandemic is over.

How will COVID-19 affect the achievement of the goals of the 2030 Agenda?

How will COVID-19 affect the achievement of the goals of the 2030 Agenda?
Categoria: Migration Governance
Autor: Laura Thompson


There is no doubt that the current pandemic has a broad humanitarian, social and economic impact in the short, medium and long term, which in turn may affect or delay the achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at different levels and in various ways.

The most evident impact, obviously, is on Goal 3, which seeks to guarantee a healthy life and promote well-being. The pandemic has put enormous pressures on health systems not only in relation to the treatment and management of the virus, but also affecting the ability to care for patients who have other diseases and increasing the risk of complications in populations with compromised health states. The pandemic has given greater visibility to the importance of universal access to health systems regardless of people's migratory status. However, the pandemic will also have implications for other aspects of the 2030 Agenda.


Impacts beyond health

COVID-19 is also having a negative impact on the employment, economic and social situation of many households around the world, and on their ability to meet their needs, even the most basic ones. The economic crisis that the countries of the region are facing and the growing unemployment will be decisive in this regard, since apart from the pandemic, Latin America and the Caribbean reached an unemployment rate of 8.1% at the end of 2019, according to the International Labor Organization. And according to ECLAC projections, labor unemployment will rise to 11.5% in the same region, as a result of the contraction of economic activity by COVID-19.

Unemployment and the loss of purchasing power affect more severely migrant populations, since they are very often employed in the informal sector of the economy and have more precarious contractual working conditions, particularly women migrant workers. In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, informal work engages around 50% of the total number of people employed. The increase in unemployment will impact the scope of Goal 8 (on full and productive employment and decent work for all), but also Goal 1 (the fight against poverty), Goal 2 (the eradication of hunger, food security and better nutrition), Goal 5 (gender equality and empowerment of women and girls), and targets 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2, on trafficking and exploitation of people. ECLAC also emphasizes that Latin America and the Caribbean is already suffering a fall of -5.3% in GDP, the worst in its history.

Likewise, this pandemic could accentuate existing inequalities in societies, as well as the vulnerabilities of certain population groups, and consequently delay the achievement of Goal 10, which seeks to reduce inequalities between and within countries. In this context, migrants are one of those vulnerable groups that have been particularly affected by the pandemic and that are often left behind or forgotten in social protection and economic relaunch plans, or have limited access to them, either because of language barriers or because of their immigration status. All of this despite the enormous contribution that migrant workers make to the operation of essential basic services in many countries, as has become evident during this crisis.

Additionally, a decrease in the amount of international remittances is projected, which, according to the World Bank, would be reduced between 10% and 19.3% by 2020. Remittances are a fundamental component in the economy of some countries in the region, where they can amount to between 5% and 20% of the national Gross Domestic Product. A significant reduction in remittances would jeopardize the ability of many households in those countries to meet their most basic needs and their ability to invest in improving nutrition, education, and reducing child labor, among others, further emphasizing existing inequalities.

Finally, at the state level, due to the economic slowdown we are experiencing and urgent health needs, it is very likely that there will be a decrease in social spending or a reorientation of available resources, potentially at the expense of the more comprehensive vision contained in the Sustainable Development Goals, again affecting the scope of the transversal objectives of the 2030 Agenda.


Recovery and SDGs: the same path

But this should not lead us to pessimism and to think that we have lost the fight to achieve the SDGs. On the contrary, it is essential at this time to work together and forcefully to identify the additional difficulties that the current pandemic presents in achieving the 2030 Agenda. We must redouble our commitment and our efforts to ensure that the impact of the pandemic is incorporated into national plans and international assistance, as well as that the different realities and vulnerabilities of some specific groups are incorporated.

For this we must work from now on to ensure the universal attention of the health and education systems; in reducing remittance transfer costs (a topic included in Goal 10), as El Salvador is already doing, creating more resilient and inclusive cities in line with Goal 11 or strengthening forms of regular migration for migrant workers and decent working conditions (Goal 8).

The time is now: all organizations, governments and individuals have an important role in ensuring that the efforts for our Latin American region and the world to recover from the serious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are aligned with the 2030 Agenda and that we make sure we do not leave anyone behind.