In some countries, immigration detention has historically been one of the most opaque areas of public administration. There is therefore an increasing need to look at ways for a variety of players, including parliamentarians, to work together to monitor places where migrants and asylum seekers are held and to facilitate a greater level of transparency and accountability.
In Europe, most parliamentarians have a right to visit detention centres for migrants and asylum seekers, as part of their mandate as national parliamentarians. Yet a survey conducted by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly in December 2011 revealed that this right is not always known to parliamentarians or used to its full capacity.
Parliamentarians are responsible for scrutinising the government, adopting legislation and approving budgets. There are many reasons for them to visit places of detention:
- to have first-hand information: Visiting places of detention is a unique means to see, smell and hear the realities of detention and get first-hand information on the treatment of detainees, their conditions and the functioning of the places of detention;
- to check the application of national laws and practices, to ensure they are being applied and are appropriate and to propose changes where relevant;
- to examine whether detention is appropriate, taking into account the human and financial costs for the persons in detention and for the state, as well as the alternatives to detention;
- to monitor respect for international, European and national standards of detention.
The mere fact of visits by parliamentarians or other bodies to places of detention can open up the closed world of custody and contribute strengthening public confidence. These visits also have an important deterrent effect and reduce the risk of human rights violations.
Joint APT and Council of Europe project
The APT, together with the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, want to support parliamentarians to carry out visits to immigration detention centres. A first training was held in December 2011 in Strasbourg on the key principles and methodology in visiting places of detention, as well as a visit to an immigration center.
The project has resulted in a practical guide, Visiting Immigration Detention Centres, which was launched in October 2013 to assist Parliamentarians in carrying out visits to places where irregular migrants and asylum seekers are held. The Guide is complemented by a short video and a series of training sessions.
Watch an interview with Jean-Pierre Restellini, European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and APT Secretary General Mark Thomson at the launch of the Guide at the Council of Europe on 1 October 2013.