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Developing alternatives to detention

Video about programmes that offer alternatives to detention of unaccompanied and separated children on the move
My name is Diana Martínez and I’m an official of the International Coalition Against Imprisonment for Mexico and Central America. IDC began to work in 2011, from an assessment on the topic on alternatives to imprisonment in Mexico. And with this study, there was an impact on the Mexican government to convince them to do a pilot program for alternatives to imprisonment. It was a very small pilot program in 2015, which was carried out with 20 boys and girls, in conjunction with two civil-service organizations. Two shelters which were receiving boys, girls, teenagers, and above all refugees.
This project lasted around nine months and when the evaluation was completed, it ended up that the boys and girls remained in an open door place with all the rights guaranteed, with adequate accompaniment, and they don’t leave. Despite the fact that at the very beginning, they had every intention to continue their path to the United States. Then, this was a small pilot program, but successful, which allowed the National Migration Institute to have more confidence to believe in the alternatives. To think it was possible to work together with the civil society to remove the boys and girls from detention. Above all, we work with examples that are at an international level.
IDC works with the whole world and already has various collaborations with the government. And bringing good practices to the Mexican government, we convince them that Mexico was ready to initiate a pilot program. We made it in a timeframe for the Citizen’s Council of the National Migration Institute. We produced a document, a description, we sat down with the organizations and the National Migration Institute to create a series of regulations that must be followed in order that the children could leave the migration stations. The organizations resorted to the migration station in order to interview the kids and know if it was an adequate profile for their fostering model. And then, they took the kids out and gave them the proper attention.
The National Migration Institute gave the facilities for the migration document and to continue their proceedings. And then the children were finally set up with family resources. It was a proceeding that was given in a mechanism’s time frame which the National Institute of Civil Participation has. And this mechanism facilitated the conversation between civil society organizations and the authorities. First, we had a pre-pilot phase, in which negotiations were carried out to establish the rules of the pilot program. Then we had a phase for implementing the pilot program, which was six months at the beginning, but was expanded to an additional three months more. And finally, we had an evaluation phase.
The National Migration Institute was evaluated as much as the organizations, what happened in the pilot program? And what were the things which had worked? And what were the things that hadn’t worked? Yes. Now we are in the evaluation that we call post-pilot. And it’s one of the things that emerged as a result of the evaluation, it’s that spaces existed but these spaces weren’t equipped to meet the needs of boys, girls, and teenagers. Another situation is that the organizations require additional resources to attend to immigrant boys, girls, and teenagers. Another topic is that the authorities have the information at the top, but they don’t have the information at the bottom.
So then, those who are at the migration stations must be equipped so that they can understand what the pilot program is dealing with. And then, there comes the general law of the rights of boys, girls, and teenagers. The Attorney General of Protection comes in, as well as the state attorney generals. And then the work now is focused on working with them so that they are the ones by whom the plans of restitution of rights can be followed, and can be settled to the children in different spaces.
So then, the evaluation which they threw us is a route to follow and now we are working on this route to strengthen the actors which are working and which are managing cases of immigrant boys, girls, and teenagers. And another student also which was said on the way, is the necessity of the outline for case management. The shelters don’t always have a lawyer, which can carry out the proceedings of recognizing the refugee conditions, or which could be presented to the National Migration Institute to process a stay document for humanitarian reasons. An outline was required that would be an intermediary between the authorities and the shelters.
So then we created, between an organization and the IDC, a case processing outline, that there was a lawyer who would facilitate these communications and accompany the boys, girls, and teenagers. For example, to convince the schools that the children had the right to be in a classroom, even though they didn’t have an immigration document yet. So then, this outline was also foundational for us and it is a learning process from the pilot program. I believe that first working with the authorities, for us was foundational. Because they are the ones who have the kids under their care, because they are the ones who have the resources. Many times the children were in some distant places and then they facilitated the transfer.
Without a doubt, the work with authorities was defining. And another is the work with Civil Society. But always making it clear that the obligation is firstly the government’s and that civil society gives support, but it cannot give everything. So then, if everyone puts something on the table, what is the contribution? And they speak with clear rules, I believe that this can be very interesting. I also believe that it is really worth it to have a prior assessment before doing some sort of pilot program of whatever type of project. To have an abilities assessment and of other experiences that can strengthen a pilot program of this nature.
I believe that for us, one of the lessons learned was that there can be other experiences that we don’t know and that could be strengthening. The topic of assumptions is also very necessary. We had to support one of the organizations to manage public resources, so that it could contract caretakers in order to have more children in its program. So then, the topic of resources is always very important. You can’t always give from the government officials and also from the organizations, but there can always be an opportunity in some other offices or public resources, that can support these efforts. And I believe that is something that we don’t do very often, set before those can support these programs.
Well, the best is just the normative part. What is always lacking and what is all this public policy work going together with a normative change as well with a normative timeframe. Whom we make an incident, many times we center ourselves on the migratory authorities or in the asylum authorities. But without a doubt, there is an important work with the legislators, who are those which give the timeframe which favors that the children are not in detention.

In this video we hear from Mrs Diana Martinez from the International Detention Coalition (IDC) in Mexico. She tells us about a programme offering alternatives to detention for unaccompanied and separated children on the move, developed in partnership with the Government of Mexico and other non-governmental agencies. She also tells us about the steps that were taken including the importance of changing attitudes toward the use of detention. Please note, the additional films of children in detention you see in this video are not of children in detention in Mexico, but of children being detained in other countries.

One significant feature of projects such as the one in Mexico is the development of a range of suitable care options for unaccompanied and separated children. This offers appropriate alternatives to detention. We will see an example of this in the next course step.

The IDC have documented projects around the world that provide alternatives to detention for refugees and migrants. Some of these projects have been developed specifically for unaccompanied and separated children. You can find out more about these projects through this interactive map.

There is work being undertaken in many different countries to provide alternatives to detention. Here are just a few examples:

  • Austria – development of comprehensive reception and care arrangements in the community for unaccompanied children, including guardianship
  • Estonia – laws prohibit detention of unaccompanied children
  • Germany – State policies ensure unaccompanied children receive services through the national child protection system
  • Indonesia – alternatives to detention include shelters for unaccompanied children and community accommodation for those with UNHCR documentation
  • Kenya – a policy for services to register with authorities and receive an identification documentation as an alternative to automatic detention
  • China – Exit and Entry Law excludes vulnerable groups from detention, including children
  • Malaysia – a mandate exists by which alternatives to detention should be considered
  • South Africa – alternatives to detention are now mandated in law and include the provision that children are only detained as a matter of last resort
  • Yemen – unaccompanied children are hosted in child protection facilities
  • Zambia – strengthening capacity of frontline officers and service providers to identify vulnerable migrants including children, using a Profiling Form and referring them to relevant authorities and service providers where they will receive appropriate protection services. Improving coordination and collaboration among stakeholders to improve protective services

You might want to look at this briefing paper developed by IDC on ways to prevent the use of detention. IDC has also produced a report providing details of three pilot programmes in Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Poland. These programmes illustrate how it is possible to develop effective and sustainable alternatives to detention. They also highlight the importance of case management as we discussed earlier in the course.

The ‘See Also’ section below has links to other reading material that may be of interest to you.

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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