November 02, 2022

Breaking Boundaries: A Mercy Response to People on the Move Issue Spotlight #1 - Supporting Migrants at Borders and in Detention

The Mercy Global Action Migration Task Force’s report ‘Breaking Boundaries: A Mercy Response to People on the Move was born from a collection of stories and experiences of Mercy work with migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers around the world. The report is tied together by human rights-based critical analysis and Catholic social teaching.


Assistance to Migrants in Transit and at Borders

For many people on the move, particularly those who are in irregular situations, the process of immigrating is often undignified and perilous. At land, sea, and air borders around the world, migrants can experience discrimination, violence, loss of freedom, or even death. Mercy Sisters, Associates, and Partners encounter migrants throughout every aspect of their journey, and many support migrants who have recently crossed borders. For some, that means providing companionship and immediate assistance, including medical care, adequate food and water, blankets, clothing, sanitary items, and an opportunity to rest.

This type of assistance is not always welcomed by governments. There is a worrying and growing trend of “criminalization of solidarity” in recent years, as individuals and organizations who have helped refugees and migrants by providing humanitarian support have been threatened and prosecuted in courts simply for helping migrants in need. As the increased militarization and externalization of borders have made migration more dangerous for people on the move, individuals and organizations who provide life-saving support to migrants are needed more than ever.


Assistance to Migrants in Detention

In some countries, migrants can end up in prolonged or arbitrary detention, a tactic used to control, deter, or prevent migration. Although detention and strict immigration laws are presented as means of safeguarding countries from threat, they have damaging and enduring effects on migrants, their families, and countries as a whole by furthering and legitimizing the criminalization of migration as well as systematic intolerance, xenophobia, and racism. Detention causes physical and mental health impacts that are often felt long-term, it tears families apart and instills fear in communities. Through their advocacy and friendship with migrants, people around the Mercy World have been able to create a “ministry of presence” that provides migrants comfort, companionship, and access to housing, employment, and legal assistance in times of isolation, trauma, and uncertainty.

Mercy Sisters, Associates and Partners continue to advocate for non-custodial, community-based alternatives to detention, which better respect the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. These alternatives are more cost-effective than custodial detention, and they maintain high compliance rates, especially when migrants are able to meet their basic needs, and are able to access the legal and social support necessary to make informed decisions about their migration journey. An end to immigration detention is not only possible, it is beneficial to states, and necessary to ensure the dignity and rights of people on the move.


What are we being called to?

Examine the relationship between racism and migration policies in your country.

Raise your voice to make sure policies and practices are human-rights based and non-discriminatory. Call on governments to:


  • Decriminalize irregular migration
  • Demilitarize border enforcement against migrants & asylum seekers
  • Stop and reverse border externalization
  • Decriminalize humanitarian assistance to migrants & asylum seekers
  • Prioritize alternatives to detention, end child immigration detention, and use the detention of adults only as a measure of last resort


Spread the word across your own social media platforms by sharing Breaking Boundaries: A Mercy Response to People on the Move and Mercy Global Action’s infographic on Supporting Migrants at Borders and in Detention on social media. Please engage with us on Twitter @MIAGlobalAction and @MercyWorldwide.

Download the Infographic
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