Report webinar EMN Netherlands

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10.30-10.40 | Welcome

Mr. Hans Lemmens, Coordinator EMN Netherlands
Mr. Hans Lemmens welcomed the speakers and participants of the webinar. Approximately 90 participants attended. The diverse audience consisted of practitioners, NGO representatives, government officials and researchers, both from the Netherlands and other European countries. Mr. Lemmens briefly introduced the work of the European Migration Network as well as the topic of the webinar, after which he gave the floor to Ms. Marie Bengtsson.

10:40-10.50 | Presentation EMN Study ‘Detention and alternatives to detention in international protection and return procedures’

Ms. Marie Bengtsson, Migration expert EMN Sweden
Migration expert Ms. Marie Bengtsson briefly introduced the scope of the study, to which 25 EU Member States contributed. The study showed that there are many similarities between Member States in the use and practice of alternatives. For example, the obligation for immigrants to report oneself is used by all Member States; the requirement to reside at a designated place is used by many Member States. Some alternatives are only used by a few Member States, such as electronic monitoring. Ms. Bengtsson then talked about the criteria most commonly used to decide whether to apply detention or provide an alternative. The level of risk of absconding of the migrant turned out to be one of the main criteria for all Member States. Ms. Bengtsson further stated that fundamental human rights, as for example legal aid and the right to healthcare, are ensured in all Member States when it comes to detention and alternatives measures. Countries differ on some points, e.g. the right to visit and the right to receive social or psychological counselling.

10.50-11.00 | Overview of national practices in relation to alternatives to detention in the Netherlands

Ms. Julia Koopmans, Researcher EMN Netherlands
Ms. Julia Koopmans gave a summary of the Dutch contribution to the EMN Study. Beside this, she presented the benchmark EMN Netherlands conducted, in which the Dutch policy concerning (alternatives to) detention is compared to other EU Member States. Ms. Koopmans first listed the alternatives to detention that are employed by the Netherlands: reporting requirements, submission of a financial deposit, surrendering documents, being obliged to stay at a freedom of mobility restricting premise (Vrijheidsbeperkende locatie, VBL) and being obliged to stay in a designated area at the airport after being refused entry.

Due to the little data available on this topic at the surveyed organisations (except for the freedom of mobility restricting premise), it was hard to compare detention to alternatives for detention. Despite the data gap, the benchmark did list some challenges and advantages of the employment of alternatives to detention. Advantages of alternative measures mentioned are fewer costs of some alternatives, alternatives being less invasive measures, positive aspects in the return procedure and easier to motivate to return and more competent staff. Challenges are the risk of absconding and limited time for decision-making.

11:00‐11:10 |  Reflection on national practices and priorities in relation to alternatives to detention in the Netherlands and Europe

Mr. Lambert Obermann, Senior advisor Dutch Advisory Council on Migration (ACVZ)
Mr. Obermann presented the outcomes of the ACVZ advisory report on migration detention in The Netherlands, including reflection on alternatives to detention. Conclusion of the report was that it is difficult to compare the effectiveness between detention measures and alternative measures due to a lack of data. Furthermore, there are considerable differences in effectiveness according to destination, nationality and organisation.The report therefore does not conclude that detention measures are the solution to the return issue. Other negative sides to detention could be high financial costs, difficulties with removing uncooperative foreign nationals and chronic bottlenecks in implementing the detention process. The report therefore recommends to experiment more with less coercive supervision measures.

11:10‐11:20 | Q&A

  1. What is the difference between detention and accommodation at a freedom of mobility restricting premise at the airport? What makes the latter an alternative to detention?
    Ms. Koopmans clarified that this refers to the freedom restricting measure at the border for migrants that are refused entry and have to return. The area where these migrants have to stay is the international lounge at the airport, which is the area after security but before the gate. The distinction is clear, as persons concerned can move around freely as any other traveller and as there is no constant supervision.
  1. Can the panellists reflect on the effectiveness of alternatives to detention in comparison to immigration detention?
    Ms. Bengtsson expressed that this was one of the main topics that the EMN Study wanted to look into, but that it became clear early on that, unfortunately, different Member States did not have that kind of data. She agreed with Mr. Obermann that there are differences between nationalities in effectiveness of detention measures, and that this makes an analysis more complex as many other factors come into play when reviewing the effectiveness of these measures. Mr. Obermann highlighted the importance of investing in an EU-wide database in which information on measures used and results could be gathered, so that a more informed discussion could be held on these alternatives.

11:20 – 11:21 |  Poll questions

Before the break Mr. Lemmens shortly introduced three questions to which the audience could answer through an online poll:

1. Alternatives to detention are more effective than detention in promoting return.
A. Agree   

B. Disagree
Result: A small majority of the participants, 56%, indicated that alternatives to detention are more effective than detention in promoting return.

2. EU Member States should experiment more with alternatives to detention.
A. Agree
B. Disagree
Result: All participants agreed that Member States should experiment more with alternatives to detention.

3. Member States should apply alternatives in detention instead of detention because:
(more answers possible)

A. Cheaper
B. Less invasive measure
C. Detention is criminalizing
D. Other reason

Result: Alternatives to detention being less invasive measures and detention being criminalizing were most often chosen by participants as reasons for applying alternatives to detention instead of detention.

11:21‐11:30 | Break ​​​​​​

11:30‐12:10 | Panel discussion on practical implementation of alternatives to detention in immigration procedures

Mr. Lemmens invited three experts from Finland, Estonia and The Netherlands to briefly present the main characteristics of policies and practices in their respective countries on alternatives to detention, and to share practical experiences with these policies. The panel discussion was moderated by Ms. Koopmans. 

Finland: Mr. Miko Sivola, Chief inspector, Helsinki Police Department
Finland makes use of several alternatives to detention such as reporting requirements, surrendering travel documents or tickets or obligations to give security. Asylum seekers often have to report to the reception center. Instead of detaining minors, unaccompanied minors of fifteen years and older have a residence obligation in Finland. The main criterion in assessing the use of detention or alternatives to detention is the risk of absconding. Mr. Sivola expressed that alternatives to detention can be more effective in cases where persons already have family in Finland, children perhaps, and stayed in Finland for a considerable time.

Estonia: Triin Lõhmus, Development expert policy officer, Police and Border Guard Board/Border management bureau
Alternatives to detention which Estonia employs are for example reporting of address, surrendering travel documents and counseling. Decision-making in Estonia concerning detention or alternatives is based on an individual weighting of interests. Other important considerations are whether a person is a threat to public order, whether there is a risk of absconding and whether the person concerned has crossed the border illegally. In Estonia foreign nationals can only be detained once per case and detention can last up to a maximum of 18 months. Any extension of detention has to be defended in front of a court.

Netherlands: Peter Verheij, Operational specialist, National Police/Aliens Police Department (AVIM)
Reporting requirements is the alternative measure to detention that is most often employed in the Netherlands. The risk of absconding is the main criterion involved in the decision-making on which measure to employ. Indications that a person is going to cooperate towards their return are for example whether the person has already bought a flight/train ticket or whether the person is in contact with IOM. Detention is always a measure of last resort. In contrast with the Estonian policy, persons can be detained repeatedly in the Netherlands for an unlimited number of times.  

12:10-12:15 |  Concluding remarks

Mr. Lemmens noted that the webinar highlighted many similarities in the policies of the different Member States on the use of detention and alternatives measures but also some notable differences. As a concluding remark, Mr. Lemmens reiterated the remark of Mr. Obermann that an encompassing EU-wide registration of the use of detention and alternative measures to detention would allow for a more informed discussion on the subject. He than thanked all speakers and panel members, the support staff, as well as the audience.