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Europe: EU states need not detain migrants
December 22, 2011

Europe: EU states need not detain migrants
"Detention is akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nutshell. It does not make sense to deprive the liberty of large groups of migrants on the assumption that a minority would abscond from the authorities," said Philip Amaral, JRS Europe Advocacy Officer and author of the report.

(Brussels) December 22, 2011 — Detaining migrants is unnecessary because more humane non-custodial alternatives exist, according to the latest Jesuit Refugee Service report, From Deprivation to Liberty. JRS Europe launched their new report the European Union Parliament, at an event which included members of the parliament and representatives from the Belgian Migration Office and NGOs.

The report is based on in-depth interviews with 25 migrants participating in alternatives-to-detention programs in Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. It finds 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.

The report is available for download here on the JRS Europe website.

"Community-based measures are more humane than detention, so long as migrants are given adequate support," said Philip Amaral, JRS Europe Advocacy Officer and author of the report.

Gerrt Verbauwhede of the Belgian Migration Office acknowledged that the current Belgian system is still in its infancy but was appreciative of the JRS recommendations. "Our system is still growing, we are only existing three years but we will take the JRS report on board," he said.

Mr. Verbauwhede also noted there is not enough information provided to those arriving at the border. ‘’It is clear that we have to give them direct information at the time," he said.

In light of the report's findings, JRS urges 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 euro 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.

Fears that migrants would abscond if not detained are exaggerated. In Belgium, up to 80 percent of migrants who have taken part in the community case management program 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 percent. 

"Detention is akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nutshell. It does not make sense to deprive the liberty of large groups of migrants on the assumption that a minority would abscond from the authorities," said Mr. Amaral.

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 to resolve 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.

"Alternatives-to-detention work best when they are linked with improvements in the larger system. The migrants with whom we spoke strive to be honest in their dealings with the national authorities. They ask to be treated in a dignified and fair manner, with access to good legal advice and basic social support – conditions that are necessary for effective asylum and immigration systems," concluded Mr. Amaral.



JRS Europe launched the report at an event at the European Parliament on December 20, 2011. Minister of European Parliament Antonio Masip Hidalgo (Spain/S&D) hosted the event. He is leading the Parliament's efforts to negotiate a new EU law on reception conditions for asylum seekers. Three featured speakers were:

• Philip Amaral, JRS Europe, presented the report's findings;
• Geert Verbauwhede, attaché, Belgian Immigration Office, presented Belgium's response to the report;
• Fabian Lutz, policy officer, European Commission DG Home Affairs, described what other EU member states are doing to practically implement alternatives-to-detention that are in line with the recently adopted EU Return Directive.

The Belgian alternative was established in 2008 in response to pressure from civil society organizations to end the detention of migrant families and children. Undocumented families, and those who apply for asylum at the border, are accommodated in four locations throughout the country. On average, families stay in the houses for 24 days. From October 2008 to November 2011, 43 percent of families who have stayed in the houses were forcibly removed from the country. One-third has been granted the right to remain in Belgium; out of these, 47 percent were given a legal protection status.

In Germany JRS interviewed unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan staying at facility called Alreju, an accommodation centre managed by Diakoniches Werk, a charity representing Protestant churches in the country. Generally unaccompanied minors can be detained, as German federal law does not set a minimum age for detention. The Alreju facility, located in Brandenburg state, offers a non-custodial alternative-to-detention for unaccompanied minors. In the centre they receive full board and housing, access to local schools as well as individualized support in dealing with their asylum and immigration applications. 

In recent years the UK has implemented a variety of alternative-to-detention pilot projects. However, one of the most widely used measures requires migrants to report regularly to a UKBA centre to prove their whereabouts. During the course of the research, JRS Europe interviewed people who report from once to three times per week; two of these had recently worn electronic tags, devices that verify their whereabouts to the UKBA via an electronic signal. Unsuccessful asylum applicants who are required to report, or wear a tag, can be detained and deported at a moment's notice. 

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