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Detention Watch Network Demands “Dignity Not Detention” for Refugees and Asylum Seekers on World Refugee Day

June 17, 2010
Dignity not Detention ImageAs we recognize World Refugee Day on June 20th, 2010 Detention Watch Network calls on President Obama to strengthen the United States’ commitment to protecting and respecting the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants held in the U.S. detention system.

The United States estimates it will detain 400,000 people this year in immigration detention, including thousands of asylum seekers. Those detained involuntarily become part of a secretive web of more than 270 private, federal, state and local jails, and prisons that lacks enforceable standards of care and any independent oversight, at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion to taxpayers.

Refugees and asylum seekers leave their country because they fear for their own life or safety or that of their family. Yet upon their arrival to the United States where they are seeking refuge under U.S. law, they are often held in prison- or jail-like settings in remote locations far from their families. They must wear prison uniforms, are regularly shackled during transport and in their hearings, and are held behind barbed wire. While detained, immigrants face horrific prison conditions, including mistreatment by guards, solitary confinement, the denial of medical attention and limited or no contact visitation with their families. In many cases, these conditions have proven fatal: since 2003, a reported 111 people have died in immigration custody.

One example is the case of “Omar,” who has been held in an Arizona detention center for the last seven months. Omar and his family have been targeted by a majority clan in Somalia, including an incident where his sisters were raped and killed by militiamen at his family’s shop in Mogadishu. Three days after his sisters were killed, his family home was attacked by the same militia and his mother was captured and beaten. Omar fled Somalia six days later and made his way to the United States, seeking asylum in December 2009. He was interviewed by an asylum officer who found he had a credible fear of return to Somalia. However, Omar was denied parole and has remained detained in Arizona for the last 7 months while he applies for asylum through the court system.

Under international law, the U.S. must enforce immigration law in a manner that ensures the right to due process, fair deportation procedures, freedom from arbitrary and inhumane detention, and other fundamental human rights.  In violation of these basic human rights obligations, the U.S. subjects asylum seekers to mandatory detention with no access to a hearing to challenge their detention until they can establish a credible fear of persecution.  Others, like Omar, routinely are denied release on parole pending their asylum hearings.  The single most important factor affecting the outcome of an asylum seeker’s case is whether he is represented by counsel. Yet immigrants in detention have no right to government-appointed counsel and may be held for a long time without legal representation.

For more information on the Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice Campaign, visit


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a coalition of organizations and individuals working to reform the immigration detention and deportation system so that all who come to our shores receive fair and humane treatment.

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