Trust and support key to effective alternatives to detention

New guidance from the Council of Europe could help European governments refocus on the kind of alternatives that really work to reduce harmful and expensive immigration detention.

A detailed and practical guide, it uses a broad understanding of alternatives to immigration detention, “across a range of non-restrictive and restrictive options, in order to consider a wider range of practices that can help states avoid the use of detention in the context of migration”.

The Analysis of the legal and practical aspects of effective alternatives to detention in the context of migration was adopted by representatives of all forty-seven member States of the Council of Europe, through its foremost inter-governmental human rights body, the Steering Committee on Human Rights.

It analyses the European and international standards relevant to alternatives to detention and provides guidance on the practical aspects of implementing effective alternatives, recognising persisting challenges in this field.

But the real added value of the document is that it sets out key elements which make alternatives to detention effective. According to the study, alternatives are more effective in terms of ensuring respect for human rights, compliance and cost efficiency when they:

  • Use screening and assessment to address individual circumstances, including vulnerabilities and risks;
  • Provide clear and precise information about rights, duties and consequences of non-compliance;
  • Ensure access to legal assistance from the beginning and throughout the process;
  • Build trust in asylum and migration procedures;
  • Uphold individualised case management services;
  • Safeguard the dignity and fundamental rights of the persons concerned.

This holistic approach to migration systems helps move beyond the traditional focus in Europe on types of risks and conditions, to understand the factors that help achieve government objectives while also ensuring the rights and welfare of migrants.

“The Analysis highlights that by building trust and supporting migrants, governments can achieve their compliance and case resolution goals without detention” said Jem Stevens, IDC’s Europe Regional Coordinator, “Council of Europe governments have agreed that to ensure detention is really a last resort, they can and should be trying this approach first.”

The Analysis is the result of over a year’s work carried out by Council of Europe’s Drafting Group on Migration and Human Rights (CDDH-MIG) in 2016 – 2017. In terms of follow-up, it suggests developing a practical and user-friendly handbook for authorities on effectively implementing alternatives to immigration detention as a next step to this work.

Read the guidance here.