Alternatives to Detention: Advocacy, Challenges, and Opportunities in Southern Africa

The detention system within Southern Africa has long been riddled with gaping wounds. To this end, the rise in the use of immigration detention as a migration management tool has unfortunately been accompanied by an accelerated deprivation of basic human rights. In the case of South Africa, this has particularly taken the form of zeroing in on migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees with widespread disregard of legal protections or various court orders in place aimed at securing their rights. Straying away from utilitarian and retributive theories of justice, detention has ultimately become a pretext for perpetuating and preserving long-held inequalities in society.

In light of Covid-19, Lawyers for Human Rights (“LHR”) seeks to strengthen regional collaboration with its African neighbours in order to promote the use of ATDs by highlighting the disproportionate impact of the criminalisation of the Disaster Management Regulations (GN 43107 GG 657) of 18 March 2020 (“Lockdown Regulations”) as amended by law enforcement on migrants. The event seeks to bring together legal experts, African partners, and civil society in order to share perspectives and strategies.


In the wake of Covid-19, rigid lockdown orders have heightened overarching concerns surrounding the use of immigration detention as a tool to further target, attack, and criminalise non-nationals in South Africa. In particular, the designation of immigration officers as enforcement officers of South Africa’s Lockdown regulations has revealed the lack of provision for effective law enforcement accountability mechanisms which has inevitably resulted in an abuse of power and rendered migrants more susceptible to unlawful arrests. Moreover, the Department of Home Affairs (“DHA”) has designated additional correctional facilities as places of detention specifically geared toward undocumented migrants. These centres have been permeated with blatantly inhumane conditions that are unsanitary, overcrowded, and overwhelmingly lack access to basic hygiene, food and water—placing migrants and asylum seekers acutely at risk of contracting the deadly virus. Although the findings are alarming, immigration detention and the subsequent deprivation of rights which detainees endure are not unique instances in the region. Accordingly, these are the grounds which have necessitated the normalisation of and advocacy for ATDs, especially during a time of dire public health concerns. In paralleling data-driven medical and health recommendations with sociopolitical justifications, ATD has the potential to ignite a solidified rights- based framework to decongest prisons and replace them with community-based settings, while also embracing the dignity of migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees.


1. Gather data and empirical research on the challenges and concerns among IDC members and peers of promoting ATD advocacy, as well as take stock of the successful and ineffective strategies to augment involvement;
2. Reflect on how ATD can reduce the criminalisation of migrants, and its compatibility with policy and legislative efforts;

3. Chronicle regional developments so as to promote interstate networks, crosscutting collaboration, and community-building in Southern Africa;

4. Analyse how the onset of Covid-19 has heightened or stymied ATD as a priority in addressing immigration detention;
5. Promote exchange among IDC partners on the differences and similarities in detention conditions and ATD approaches in their respective countries.

Date: 12 June 2020

Time: 09H00 – 12H00 SAST

Organisers: Lawyers for Human Rights and the International Detention Coalition

To join this webinar, please RSVP to who will provide you with the link to join using the Zoom platform.

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