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Alternatives to detention: Steps to ending indefinite immigration detention for refugees in Thailand

Four years ago, the police came to inspect Truc's* house in the suburbs of Bangkok.

She is a young refugee who fled Vietnam with her family due to religious and ethnic persecution.

As there is no system of asylum in Thailand, they are subject to arrest as illegal immigrants.

On this occasion, the police arrested her, along with her family and placed them in immigration detention.

Truc was very scared. In detention, her family was forced to separate. Officers took her parents and placed them in separate male and female detention centres. Her two brothers were moved to separate shelters while she was moved to a girl’s shelter.

“Although the staff at (the) children's shelter is kind to me, I wasn't happy at all. It was a very bad experience of my life. I had to stay there for almost half a year. And it has affected many things on our bodies and minds.” says Truc.

Thanks to a policy to not hold children and their families in detention, Truc and her family were eventually released on bail under the care of HOST International.

Under this arrangement, HOST case mangers provided support to re-integrate families into the community, plus access to local services and basic needs including income, healthcare and education.

“On the day we were released in the community", says Truc, "my mother had to raise the child alone because my father was not released either. I feel insecure not having my father with us. The fact that we were separated made the mother-daughter relationship so far apart."

"It wasn't good until my father was finally released on bail earlier this year. We need to take time to rebuild our relationship with our father. But we are glad to be back as a complete family again.”

Alternatives to detention

The use of detention is commonplace in responding to illegal migrants, but due to the inability for refugees to return to their country of origin, they remain for long period in detention.

For children, this also often means being separated from their parents.

HOST International is committed to ending indefinite immigration detention for refugees. We promote community-based alternatives that enable governments to monitor undocumented migrants, while recognising the unique situation of refugees.

Above all, we believe in maintaining a level of human dignity and civil liberty in the process.

This commitment has led to a close working relationship with the International Detention Coalition (IDC) and supporting objective 13 of the Global Compact on Migration (GCM).

Last week, Hayat, one of our Australian team members, visited Bangkok to participate in a regional forum on alternatives to detentions in the Asia Pacific Region.

Hayat has lived experience of being in immigration detention as a young person in Indonesia as he sought protection from the Taliban in Afghanistan. At the forum, Hayat was able to contribute his experiences and to advocate for community-based alternatives and asylum mechanisms that will avoid the use of detention for minors.

"Immigration detention remains prevalent in the Asia Pacific region. In many countries in the region, it is used as a first resort and discriminatory and without any safeguards, such as the legal limit on the period of detention and guarantee of the procedural right to challenge the decision of immigration detention." shares Hayat.

"The meaningful participation of people with lived experience in all decision makings and discussions is non-negotiable. They have the answer and the lived experience, and they bring diverse and meaningful engagement and participation to the table."

effectiveness of aTD - A report

Recently, HOST engaged an independent evaluation of the HOST ATD program in Bangkok, in partnership with IDC. The report was released last week as part of a separate regional inter-governmental platform on ATD that was held in Malaysia.

The evaluation report highlights the social, economic and psychological benefits of the case management model and demonstrated clear benefits to those that participated in the program compared to those that hadn’t.

The report also highlighted that refugees in the program fully cooperated with immigration reporting requirements, engaged at school, and built positive relationships with the local community. It also costs much less than detention.

Click the link below to download a free PDF of the full report.

Thai Evaluation Report_final2022
Download PDF • 7.81MB

The value of partnership with the Thai government and local NGOs has been clear in the evaluation and was culminated in the recent signing of an MOU between HOST International Thailand and the Thai Department of Children and Youth in July 2022.

We believe that detention is unnecessary in the management of undocumented migrants and have found value in working with government officials in the region to consider alternate approaches including case management and foster care models.

We welcome the opportunity to continue working with governments, UN and NGO partners in the region to find alternative approaches to migration management that protect the rights and needs of people seeking protection.

*Name has been changed to safeguard the privacy of our participant.

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