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The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently announced a new five-year global strategy, Beyond Detention, to assist countries to move away from the detention of asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless people worldwide. According to UNHCR, the practice of detaining asylum seekers and refugees has become routine in several countries.

Seeking asylum is lawful and the exercise of a fundamental human right. The detention of asylum-seekers as a routine response should be avoided – these are people who need protection.

UNHCR Director of International Protection Volker Türk

Beyond Detention includes three key parts: An end to the detention of children; availability of alternatives to detention both in law and implementation; and conditions of detentions, when unavoidable, fully meet international human rights standards.

From June 2014 to June 2019, UNHCR will work with government and others to deal with issues surrounding detention policies and practices. To implement Beyond Detention, UNHCR sees “… the development of national action plans, which will include awareness-raising, capacity-building, strengthening partnerships, information sharing, data collection and reporting, research and monitoring.”

In November 2013, CVT and the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC) issued a report, Tortured & Detained: Survivor Stories of U.S. Immigration Detention, which estimates the U.S. government, from October 2010 to February 2013, detained approximately 6,000 survivors of torture as they were seeking asylum protection.

As a general matter, survivors of torture should not be detained but, when they are, they should be treated with dignity, have access to basic information and legal counsel, and be released—safely and with adequate supports—as quickly as possible.

CVT Director of the Washington Office Annie Sovcik

The report found that, for survivors whose torture may have occurred while in a confinement setting, the immigration detention experience is often retraumatizing and may lead survivors to relive their torture and suffer further psychological damage. Moreover, the indefinite nature of immigration detention may trigger a profound sense of powerlessness and loss of control, contributing to additional severe, chronic emotional distress.

Tortured and Detained: Survivor Stories of US Immigration Detention

Tortured and Detained: Survivor Stories of US Immigration Detention

To illustrate the personal and psychological impact of the detention experience, CVT and TASSC conducted interviews with asylum seekers and torture survivors who have been held in immigration detention facilities in the United States. Their profiles contained in the report are firsthand accounts of what asylum seekers and torture survivors are seeing, thinking, feeling, and enduring as they arrive in the United States and are arrested, shackled, and confined.