Immigration detention in Europe: challenges for monitoring bodies

Thursday, November 28, 2013

On 21-22 November, representatives of more than 25 National Preventive Mechanisms across Europe, parliamentarians and international experts gathered in Strasbourg at the conference Immigration Detention in Europe: Establishing Common Concerns and Developing Minimum Standards, jointly organised by Council of Europe’s Migration Coordination Division, the UK NPM and the Sub-Committee on Detention of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE).

Participants reaffirmed that detention of migrants should be used as a measure of last resort and alternatives to detention should be promoted.

“Seeking asylum is not a crime. Furthermore being an irregular migrant is not, in itself, a crime either. Persons should not, in principle, be locked up in conditions worse than criminals for these reasons”, said Annette Groth, Vice-chairperson of the Sub-Committee on Detention of PACE.

However, in practice asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants are often detained across Europe. Very often, this detention does not reflect its non-punitive nature and is not in accordance with human rights and principles.

The conference provided the opportunity for European NPMs to discuss their main concerns about treatment and conditions of immigrant detainees across Europe, particularly regarding access to legal advice and procedures, women and children, health care, safety and order. They also shared their experiences and identified the main challenges in relation to monitoring immigration detention facilities.

The APT is currently developing, jointly with the UNHCR and the International Detention Coalition, a new practical guide on immigration detention and took the opportunity to share some of the key issues faced by monitoring mechanisms when visiting places of detention for migrants. These include ensuring the legality of immigration detention and that detention is not punitive, and taking into account the particular vulnerability of migrant detainees.

Need for minimum standards?

In light of the issues and challenges highlighted through monitoring immigration detention facilities, participants explored the case for a set of minimum standards for the treatment and conditions of immigration detainees across Europe. The conference will feed into a report, coordinated by the Council of Europe, which will examine whether there is a need for the development of those standards and what they might include.