It’s Time to End Immigration Detention


We’re guessing that you’ve noticed that travel — particularly international travel — is all but impossible right now. Many people have had their plans disrupted, which is bad. But it’s even worse for those who were forced from their homes and now are caught between countries, as many countries have slowed — or stopped — processing asylum claims. So, like us, you might be wondering — what happens to those refugees stuck between their old lives and their hope for a safer, healthier, new life? Where do they go? 


Answer: They’re being locked up in immigration detention. We thought immigration detention was inhumane and wrong before COVID-19. But now that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, locking refugees up isn’t just an attack on human dignity — it could be a death sentence. It’s time to close all immigration detention centres and focus our efforts on helping people seeking asylum stay safe and healthy. 


Immigration Detention Centres are Unsanitary

Health and hygiene was already a problem at many detention centres pre-COVID. So you can imagine what it’s like now. But we’ll give you a tip: It’s impossible to stay two metres away from others when you’re crowded into a holding tank. Once the virus starts spreading in a detention centre, it puts both refugees and staff at high risk of infection — particularly as healthcare in such centres is often inadequate (or nonexistent).


We’re Locking Up People Who Could Help

We’re locking up doctors who could help us win this fight, and transporting medical workers by train from other countries to help instead. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that staying as close to home as possible will help limit the spread of the virus. So while we’re deeply appreciative of peoples’ willingness to help, we’re also aware that coronavirus needs no passport to hop a ride across international borders.


We’re Forcing People Underground – or Onto the Streets

In Belgium, the Federal Immigration Office closed its doors to people seeking asylum in mid-March — but people kept arriving. “That is the big question: ‘Where are all these people?’ A lot of these people are probably in the streets,” says Marie Polard, a spokesperson at the Red Cross. If people are lucky enough to avoid detention, they’re facing as bad (or worse) danger on the streets. And here’s a reminder: requesting asylum isn’t against the law. There’s no need to lock up people seeking asylum. It’s time to close detention centres and focus on creating housing policies that treat refugees like people, and help them build new lives.


It’s Time for France to Close its Detention Centres

A global pandemic makes it all the more obvious that detaining people seeking safety from war or conflict is unjust, inhumane, and just plain wrong. Last month, about 50 people held at the Mesnil-Amelot detention center near Paris protested against “poor sanitary conditions” by sleeping in the courtyard. People seeking asylum have also been detained (some illegally) in the waiting area of Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport. Refugees stuck in centres de retention administrative (CRAs) don’t have masks. Hundreds of detained migrants have been infected, even while test shortages make it hard to know the real number of people who are sick. It’s time to stop locking people up for no other crime than seeking a safe place to live.


Together, We Can Make a Change

Putting people behind bars is never the solution. France could follow in the footsteps of Spain and other forward-thinking countries and empty its immigration detention centres — for good. This is a health crisis that is far bigger than what sometimes feels like a political boxing match over who has the right to live, work, and raise a family in safety, and who doesn’t. Together, we have to join together to demand the release of refugees from detainment centres — permanently. On 18 March, the Observatory for the Detention of Foreigners (OEE) called on the government to set free the people held in detention centres and waiting areas, citing peoples’ safety, and pointing out the obvious: With flights grounded, it’s impossible to deport people — so why detain them?


We agree. And we hope you’ll join us. We know that refugees are our friends, neighbours, and allies. And in France, refugees are also stepping forward to deliver home-cooked meals to healthcare workers at the Alençon Hospital.  "We came up with the idea of mobilizing Syrian refugee families in Alençon because in our culture, that's how it is: when someone needs help, we chip-in,” Abdul Rahman Ajaj told InfoMigrants.


Take action to help protect and free those being wrongfully detained, and call for the immediate release of all people in immigration detention. Their lives may very well depend on it.