March 28, 2012

Holding Patterns: Can Advocacy Efforts to Reform Migration Detention Inadvertently Lead to the Growth of Detention Regimes?

As states increasingly turn to detention as a first option for the management of irregular migration, civil society is faced with fundamental questions about its ultimate goals and strategies. This forum will challenge conventional wisdom and address potential inherent tensions around civil society’s response to a system characterized by inhumane conditions, lack of transparency, and lack of state accountability.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants are detained worldwide each year as they await deportation or asylum. Over the past 20 years, new countries have begun detaining migrants in increasing numbers – from Indonesia to Tunisia, Mozambique to Guatemala, and in many places in between. These states, which serve both as hubs for migrants in transit and as de facto destination points, face pressure from wealthier neighbors to prevent migrants from crossing borders. If trends continue, these states will be among the most important migrant detaining regimes in the world, with detention regimes rivaling those in the U.S., Europe and Australia.

Advocates, lawyers, and civil society organizations are working to promote norms related to detention practices and the right to liberty. But could a focus on improving the conditions of detention actually help rationalize governments’ use of the practice and result in an increase in the numbers of people being detained? What may be the risks and unintended consequences of alternative detention models? Do we have the right data and indicators to evaluate progress and success?

Through a discussion about this growing debate, the Open Society Foundations aim to advance our work and the interventions of others in the field, as well as contribute new perspectives to the broader policy debate on these critical issues. 


  • Maria Hinojosa: President, Futuro Media Group; NPR’s Latino USA; WGBH's Maria Hinojosa: One-on-One


  • Andrea Black, Executive Director, Detention Watch Network
  • Michael Flynn, Coordinator and Lead Researcher, Global Detention Project
  • Grant Mitchell, Executive Director, International Detention Coalition
Date: March 28, 2012
Time: 12:002:00 p.m.

OSI-New York