No need to detain refugees and undocumented migrants, says Jesuit report

By Jonathan Bartley
January 4, 2012

Detaining migrants is unnecessary because more humane and less costly non-custodial alternatives exist, according to the latest report from the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

Entitled From Deprivation to Liberty: Alternatives to detention in Belgium, Germany and the UK , the report, which was launched in the European Parliament, is based on in-depth interviews with 25 migrants participating in alternatives-to-detention programmes in the three countries.

The report says that although community-based measures are clearly a step in the right direction, unless they are accompanied by appropriate legal, social and other support, migrants can be forced into destitution.

In light of these findings, JRS is urging EU member states to replicate existing alternatives-to-detention that ensure:

· The provision of suitable housing, basic social support and quality legal assistance;

· Individualised and holistic psychosocial support, including the provision of regular, up-to-date information;

· Definitive resolution of asylum and immigration cases in a timely and fair manner.

Community-based alternatives are five times cheaper than migration detention, which cost states like Belgium and the UK as much as 200 euros per day. In times of economic crisis, EU states should implement cost-effective alternatives to detention, rather than waste precious resources on a harmful and ineffective system, it suggests.

Fears that migrants would abscond if not detained are also exaggerated. In Belgium, up to 80 per cent of migrants who have taken part in the community case management programme have fully complied with all procedures. This finding is shared by other studies published this year by the UN Refugee Agency and the International Detention Coalition, which show migrant compliance rates to be over 90 per cent.

In each of the three projects that JRS researched, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants live freely in the community with few restrictions. The individuals and families who were interviewed expressed a strong desire to fully cooperate with the national authorities, based on their interest in resolving their cases as effectively as possible.

The principal difficulties migrants face are related to inadequacies in the wider asylum and immigration system. Families interviewed in Belgium face difficulties obtaining competent legal representation; unaccompanied minors interviewed in Germany wait for prolonged periods of time for a decision on their asylum application.

In the UK, JRS Europe interviewed unsuccessful asylum applicants living freely in the community. They are required to report to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) up to three times per week. However, return to their countries of origin is not a viable option. They stay in the UK despite no longer being eligible for social assistance. Denied the right to work, they rely on family, friends and charities for housing, food and other basic necessities.

You can read From Deprivation to Liberty: Alternatives to detention in Belgium, Germany and the UK here

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