Worrying reality

Latin-American countries discuss illegal detention of immigrants Latin-American countries discuss illegal detention of immigrants

This week, the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) addressed two underlying challenges for the immigration agenda in the Americas: the detention of immigrants and the need to find ways to protect people who migrate for humanitarian reasons as a result, for example, of natural disasters.


When speaking on Thursday (October 30) at a hearing on the detention of immigrants held at the headquarters of the IACHR in Washington DC, the commissioner Felipe Gonzáles stressed that “this hearing is very important since it refers to one of the central problems regarding the situation of immigrants on the continent”. Gonzáles, who is rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, participated in the hearing on “Immigration detentions and alternative measures in America”, organized by nearly 160 NGOs from various different countries on the continent. Conectas was one of the entities that requested the hearing and Raísa Cetra, advisor to Foreign Policy Program, attended the session presenting concerns on the topic in Brazil and other countries in the region.

“At this hearing, we could better understand the situation concerning immigrants on the continent and the primary alternatives to detention,” he said.


Despite the fact that international human rights norms determine that the detention of immigrants should be an exceptional measure to be used only as a last resort, many countries still adopt it as the rule.


Brazil is one of the countries that does not apply detention as the rule. Instead of arresting immigrants for deportation, the country uses alternatives to detention, such as notification for voluntary departure. This practice, however, is not provided for by current legislation, which allows for the detention of illegal immigrants for deportation.


“We want Brazil to continue being a good example. More importantly, we want the country to be an international reference on the subject of immigration. This, however, will not be possible with the current Foreigner Act, which is a legacy from the military dictatorship. While this legislation remains in place, there will be a constant threat of setbacks in the area of detaining immigrants. We urgently need to adopt a new immigration law backed by respect for human rights,” said Camila Asano, coordinator of Foreign Policy at Conectas.


Click here to read the five fundamental principles that a new Migration Law should contain


One sign of a setback is already occurring at São Paulo’s international airport of Guarulhos, where immigrants without the proper entry documents are being administratively detained arbitrarily without their rights being respected. Following their detention, many immigrants, including pregnant women and small children, without the proper international protection, are sent back to their country of origin.


“The situation at Guarulhos airport is extremely serious. People who have fled their country of origin and fear for their lives if they return are kept in inhumane conditions for days, weeks or even months and they are not permitted to apply for refugee status. They are sent home, in a clear violation of the principle of non-refoulement,” said Vivian Holzhacker, a lawyer for the Cáritas Refugee Shelter in São Paulo. “We hope that the Brazilian State will adopt measures to allow alternative treatment for people who are in need of international protection at border areas, ports and airports,” she added.


Cartagena 30


The Cartagena 30 strategic process, in which the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean celebrate progress in the protection of refugees and analyze the challenges that lie ahead, was also addressed at the hearing “Human rights situation of refugees in America”, held on Monday (October 27), also in Washington DC.


In December, when the process reaches its final stage – in a conference of leaders held in Brazil – the organizations will call on States to pay more attention to the new demands for the international protection of people who leave their countries for humanitarian reasons, such as natural disasters, but who are not currently considered refugees by the countries in the region.


The wave of Haitian immigrants to Brazil caused by the earthquake of 2010 in the Caribbean country demonstrates this need. At the time, the Brazilian government took an important step to improve international protection by issuing humanitarian visas to the Haitians.

However, the number of visas that have actually been granted is far lower than the demand, and this has been criticized by social organizations. They claim that the flaws of the Brazilian measure, which is exceptional and not permanent, illustrate the need for the countries of the region to introduce these kinds of measures clearly and before the crises get too serious.

“Once again, we have an another example of why Brazil needs a new immigration law that can handle situations like the one from Haiti, by guaranteeing the appropriate shelter to people fleeing humanitarian crises. We need a clear procedure and not improvisations, like what we saw with the Haitians,” said Asano.

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