Since July 2021, HOST International and the International Detention Coalition (IDC) have been working together to strengthen community-based alternatives to immigration detention for children and their families in Thailand.
The project, funded by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), aims to shift focus from enforcement-focused models, and focuses on female heads of households and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
Within the project, a formal independent evaluation of the HOST Community-based Case Management Pilot Program, which began in December 2018 was conducted. The pilot program was started in response to the release of children and their families from immigration detention under the ATD-MOU of the Thai government.
The following are a few of the evidence-based recommendations found in the review.
Mitigating Stress for Parents and Children in Detention
Based on independent evaluation of the ATD-MOU of the Thai government, we found that the majority of parents and children experienced stress in detention and felt emotional relief once living in a community setting.
It is evident that living outside of detention allows them to reclaim their rights and dignity.
Those surveyed emphasized that they gained confidence in living and moving around the neighborhood without fear of being arrested.
For the children who attend school, there was a very positive impact, and they are supported to integrate into Thai community and culture.
Parents, as well as some of the children, have had the opportunity to strengthen life skills through HOST’s activities such as planting vegetables.
Support Groups for Women
The majority of mothers, as well as social workers, have stated that women experience difficulties transitioning from the detention centre to living in a community.
During the initial stages, likely due to the ongoing effects of detention, they felt insecure, lacked confidence, and relied on others while caring for their children alone.
One of the key recommendations following this program evaluation is that support groups are required, especially those run by and for women recently released from detention and have settled in the community.
Sharing Global Best Practices
In parallel to the project review, international best practice was sought in terms of the latest promising practices on community and rights-based, gender responsive ATD models.
This research specifically focused on models that could be applied in Thailand to support the Thai government and ATD-MOU implementing partners in better responding to children and their families released from, or at risk of immigration detention.
The research found that countries including Ireland, Sweden, Italy, UK and the Netherlands had a range of mechanisms that prohibit the immigration detention of children and their families in law, policy and practice.
This includes ensuring that refugee, asylum seeking, and migrant children are mainstreamed into national child protection systems and have the same access to rights as other children in the country, such as education, healthcare and accommodation.
There are also important mechanisms to support unaccompanied children, such as the appointment of guardians, family-based care, and appropriate age determination processes.
A clear finding from this is that there is a gap in gender-responsive approaches and analysis in the development and implementation of community-based ATD.
This gap needs to be filled.
Sharing Our Findings
On the 28th of February, an event was held to share the findings and recommendations of the project within the Thai context.
On the day, there were over 60 attendees – online and in person – with representatives from the Thai Government’s Department of Children and Youth (DCY), Immigration Bureau, National Security Council, Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Foreign Affair.
Also in attendance were representatives of the Canadian Embassy, US embassy, Australian Embassy, UNHCR, IOM and NGOs.
At the event, HOST representative Yuhanee Jehka, provided a presentation on Host’s Community-based case management program, the findings from the program evaluation and recommendations to RTG.
The event was a culmination of many years’ work and we were encouraged with the reception of our findings.
Though the current project has come to a close, the event encouraged further coordination on expanding the use of community and rights-based, gender responsive ATD.
These new models will provide greater respect for the rights of children and their families released under the ATD MOU and provided a lot of groundwork to end for all stakeholders to collaborate further in the future and end child detention in Thailand once and for all.