Alternatives to Detention: Framework of principles

  1. Liberty is a fundamental right. No one should be detained unless absolutely necessary. As affirmed in the UNHCR Detention Guidelines, detention of asylum-seekers should normally be avoided and be a measure of last resort.[1] Measures should be taken to avoid unnecessary detention, including by:
  1. Promoting greater consistency in detention decisions, while avoiding arbitrary detention
  2. Adopting a firm policy of not detaining children (while keeping families together)
  3. Ensuring access to good legal representation (for example through duty counsel).
  4. Ensuring access to NGOs.
  5. Using individual case assessment strategies to minimize use of detention, taking into consideration particular vulnerabilities and the need for transparency.
  6. Offering a wider range of reporting options.
  7. Instituting a feedback system for inappropriate detentions.
  1. Alternatives to detention must not lead to increased enforcement measures against people who otherwise wouldn’t be detained.
  2. Alternatives to detention must not extend enforcement measures against people who otherwise would be released.
  3. Alternatives should not be drawn from criminal models.
  4. The most effective way to ensure compliance with immigration rules is to provide comprehensive case support, including giving individuals good information and presenting them all the options. Support should include good access to legal representation.

In any alternatives, there needs to be clear understanding of and respect for different actors’ roles. Enforcement is CBSA’s role. NGOs provide support and services. NGOs must not be expected to play an enforcement role.


[1] UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Guidelines on the Applicable Criteria and Standards relating to the Detention of Asylum-Seekers and Alternatives to Detention, 2012, available at: