Alternatives to detention in Thailand
The project in brief
Started 2019 and is ongoing.
Working with partners to implement an effective Alternatives to Detention programme.
Thailand is home to one of the largest refugee populations in Southeast Asia, with approximately 5,600 registered urban refugees and asylum seekers in Bangkok alone, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) December 2018 figures. Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not recognise refugees’ right to safety. This leaves refugees and asylum seekers with limited means to access protection, humanitarian assistance, and livelihoods and no legal right to employment.
Despite the commitments made by the government, Thai law still fails to recognise or provide protection for refugees, and all migrants found in Thailand without permission are subject to imprisonment and a fine.
On 21 January 2019, Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, representatives of the Royal Thai Police, the Ministries of Social Development and Human Security, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Health, Education, and Labour signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the Determination of Measures and Approaches Alternative to Detention of Children in Immigration Detention Centres. The MoU acknowledges that children should only be detained as a measure of last resort and any detention period should be as brief as possible. The MoU prioritises the best interests of the child and affirms government responsibility to ensure children remain under their family’s care. Children should only be transferred into privately-run shelters or government custody as a measure of last resort.
Thailand is also working towards a National Screening Mechanism for all refugees and asylum seekers. This would see the Thai government take a greater role in the organization and administration of refugee affairs, including assessment of refugee claims. It is hoped that this will promote a more protective environment for urban refugees and asylum seekers, including the possibility of avoiding the need to detain them.
Since January 2019 HOST International, operating under the auspices of Peace Way Foundation, commenced a community-based case management programme focusing on refugee and asylum seeker children and their families recently released from immigration detention centres. Following the signing of the Thai Government’s Memorandum of Understanding on the Determination of Measures and Approaches Alternative to Detention of Children in Immigration Detention Centres, we are working in partnership with Thailand’s Department of Children and Youth (DCY) to implement an effective Alternatives to Detention programme. HOST has provided seed funding and skilled staff to get this program underway and to demonstrate the effectiveness of community-based approaches to undocumented migrants. We employ three local case managers and a programme manager and work closely with other local services including Thailand DCY, Thailand Immigration Bureau, UNHCR Thailand, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and a wide range of other NGOs and community organisations to ensure effective use of resources and to avoid duplication.
HOST International has acted to enable the swift implementation of a Thai community based alternative to detention program for children and families that have been arrested in Thailand. We have demonstrated a way that international NGOs, local NGOs and governments can act together to respond to opportunities for protection and livelihood where legal protections are not in place. HOST has provided the skills, resources and infrastructure, local people and NGOs inform and do the work, and the Thai government officials manage the legal implementation frameworks.
Through this work, HOST has committed to building the capabilities of local NGOs and Thailand’s Department of Children and Youth (DCY), the agency responsible for refugee and asylum seeker children released through the MOU process. Our case managers are working closely with DCY staff and are undertaking joint activities particularly during pre-release, release, and family reunification. We are working with DCY as they seek to build appropriate and humane approaches and systems for working with refugee and asylum seeker children in the community and therefore avoiding potentially more punitive approaches.
Additionally, as Thailand moves towards a national screening mechanism for refugees, we see the value of collaboration amongst key actors in working closely with Thailand’s Immigration Bureau to contribute to the design and implementation of solutions that meet the needs of multiple stakeholders and facilitate respectful and fair treatment of refugees in Thailand.
Through this work we have delivered the following:
Pre-release counselling and bail preparation
Sourcing and securing safe and appropriate accommodation
Transportation and orientation into the local community
coordination of essential material items between NGOs
Development of a child-focused case management plan based on family strengths, needs, and goals
Facilitating access to medical care, legal support, education, training and other services
Provision of needs-based emergency relief payments for living, transport, and medical costs
Psycho-social support and life skills education for parents and children
Group and community based activities
Community outreach and sensitisation
Thailand Department of Children and Youth (DCY)
Thailand Immigration Bureau
The Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons (CRSP)
International Detention Coalition (IDC)
International Organisation of Migration (IOM)
Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN)
HOST International (Peaceway Foundation)
Challenges and how they were overcome
Challenges in coordination among government, NGOs/CSOs, UNHCR, and IOM and access to accurate information. Regular case coordination meetings are organised by HOST in partnership with DCY.
Detention release procedures involve paying large fees for bail (approx. $USD 1600) and needing bail guarantors. Coordination among NGO/CSO network for identifying suitable guarantors & fundraising
Protection concerns for the mothers as single women living in the community, as previously they had lived with their husbands/fathers who remain in IDC. Implementation of community-based protection strategies.
Minimal engagement with other ministries that were signatories to the MOU (i.e. Foreign Affairs, Interior, Health, Education, and Labour). Supporting DCY and Immigration Bureau to engage with these stakeholders.
Lack of access to employment and market is a key challenge in transitioning refugees to independence.
The impact of separation of children from their families for a long period of time requires specific attention to reintegration and addressing language and cultural barriers within the family unit.
Sensitising local community to avoid reporting to the police resulting to re-detaining of refugees is a key factor in sustainability of the program
Lack of resources to support individuals with critical health needs and supporting children with disability
Results of the Good Practice
Working in partnership with Thailand’s Department of Children and Youth (DCY), UNHCR, and local NGOs, the agency responsible for refugee and asylum seeker children released following the signing of the Thai Government’s Memorandum of Understanding on the Determination of Measures and Approaches Alternative to Detention of Children in Immigration Detention Centres (MOU)
The collaborative approach to delivering the intent of the MOU provides real alternative to detention outcomes for refugee children in Thailand. Building the capacity of service provision through partnership with DCY, bringing local knowledge, skills, capacity and experience to support the refugee and local community, focusing on building the resilience of families transitioning out of detention to develop greater self-agency within the existing legal framework.
As Thailand moves towards a national screening mechanism for refugees, we see the value of collaboration amongst key actors in working closely with Thailand’s Immigration Bureau to contribute to the design and implementation of solutions that meet the needs of multiple stakeholders and facilitate respectful and fair treatment of refugees in Thailand.
How the project meets the GCR Objectives
The Alternatives to Detention (ATD) project meets:
- Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries
- Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
The MOU provides an effective platform for creating opportunities to meet the principle of Humanity of the international humanitarian standards by providing a legal and support pathway to ending detention of children and developing humane approaches to undocumented migrants.
The abilities of partners to collaboratively work together amidst different roles and responsibilities and in the absence of the ratification of international human rights instruments in Thailand, directly respond to both principles of Neutrality and Impartiality.
The focus on case management capacity building to support and build the capacity of local services directly responds to the principle of Independence. At the same time support families to develop resilience, self-agency and independence also meets this principle.
This program facilitates independence, access to health and safety, access to basic housing and food, and a voice in relation to their treatment as illegal migrants in Thailand. It also avoids arbitrary detention of refugees.
Working with Thailand DCY and Immigration bureau towards actualising family unity through the release of fathers and other adult family members.
Working in partnership with Thai Immigration Bureau in developing and implementing alternative to detention approaches for all other refugees and asylum seekers that are in immigration detention facilities.
David Keegan, CEO, HOST International