Europe: first EU workshop on immigration detention
29 November 2012

Serghei, a Moldovan immigrant living in Portugal, was arrested after his residency papers were stolen and he failed to provide documentation at a routine traffic check point. Serghei was detained at the Unidade Habitacional Santo Antonio, a former juvenile delinquent prison, used for detaining undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, Porto (Don Doll)
One of the main concerns identified was the continued detention of migrant children, including unaccompanied minors, and other vulnerable groups such as victims of torture and trafficking and migrants with special health issues in the EU.
Brussels, Athens, 29 November 2012 – With immigration detention a growing issue across Europe, NGOs from 15 European Union countries gathered in Greece to discuss ways to prevent the damaging and unnecessary detention of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Greece was chosen to host the meeting due to international criticism of  its migration and detention practices. The group concluded that immigration detention is widespread across the EU and that despite the existence and clear economic advantage of alternatives, they remain vastly unused.

The workshop concluded with the decision to constitute a working group on detention in the EU. The International Detention Coalition (IDC), with collaboration from the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), brought together over 20 organisations from 15 EU member states for the first European Union workshop on immigration detention in Athens, Greece from the 22 until 23 November.

The aim was to develop a regional civil society strategy and action plan on detention, as well as share concerns and priorities on the issue. Participants included European NGOs such as the European Council for Refugees (ECRE), the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Amnesty International, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and France Terre d'Asile, as well as the UN refugee agency (UNHCR)

During the two days, more than 45 participants discussed the different immigration detention policies and practices in place in EU member states, such as Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania and the UK, and shared relevant national statistics on the issue. The new EU legal framework on reception conditions, procedures and return was extensively discussed, including the lack of a specific ban on the detention of children and of a maximum timeframe for immigration detention.

The organisations used the second day of the workshop to identify common issues of concern and vulnerable groups, as well as creative ways to advocate for the improvement of national and EU legislation towards ending unnecessary immigration detention. 

Common EU concerns on immigration detention. One of the main concerns identified was the continued detention of migrant children, including unaccompanied minors, and other  vulnerable groups such as victims of torture and trafficking and migrants with special health issues in the EU. In this context, one of the advocacy initiatives mentioned was the Global Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children. The campaign has already been endorsed by 80 organisations and is asking states to stop detaining children, individuals to take action by signing a petition and children to record video messages of support for children in detention.

Another clear concern was the seldom employment of alternatives to detention either already in place, or potentially accessible at a national level. Thus, the need for further exploration and development of alternatives to immigration detention in the EU came out a priority for the organisations present at the workshop, as well as for IDC, on a more global level.

Extra-European territories. Some statistics and practices have been of particular relevance and  interest. For instance, in France, detention practices on the European mainland differ from the  extra-European territories, such as Reunion, Guyana and Mayotte, where there is no effective judge control, limited legal assistance and almost inexistent transparency. Similarly, there were over 5,000 children placed in immigration detention in Mayotte in 2011, although France has a clear policy against child immigration detention. 

In Italy, detention conditions depend on the agreements and policies of the private entity that runs each Centre for Identification and Expulsion. Therefore, some centres don't allow detainees to wear shoes, some ban the use of smartphones, and some make male detainees go into an actual cage in order to shave. Last year, there were 7,735 people in immigration detention in Italy.

In Greece, detention is a widespread practice applied to undocumented migrants and asylum seekers automatically, indiscriminately, often times in inhumane conditions, and almost as a punitive measure. The detention of children is not expressly banned under Greek legislation, so that during 2011, in only one detention centre on the border, Filakio Detention Centre, a total of 573 unaccompanied minors have been detained. Moreover, the Greek legislation has recently changed in order to increase the maximum period of detention of asylum seekers from three months to 12 months, an amendment meant to discourage the submission of asylum  claims. 

In addition, the Greek authorities refusal to receive and register more than 20 asylum applications per week often results in the extension of detention given that numerous potential asylum seekers have no access to lodging an asylum application. This results in their first contact with Greek authorities being in the form of a return decision that includes a detention provision. 

The United Kingdom is the only European member state that practices indefinite immigration detention, where some 160 persons have currently been in detention for more than one year. However, the UK has also recently introduced a family return process that aims to promote voluntary return and minimize the use of detention. Some countries like Malta, the Netherlands and Greece, are continuing to regard detention as one of the most effective migration management tools, and some like Belgium, Denmark and Sweden are increasingly identifying and implementing Alternatives to Detention (ATD), such as open accommodation centres and case management. 

Claudia Liute, contact for the International Detention Coalition

The International Detention Coalition (IDC) is a coalition of over 250 NGOs and individuals working in more than 50 countries around the world. The IDC advocates for greater respect for the human rights of detainees; this includes limiting the use of, seeking alternatives to, and using the least restrictive forms of immigration detention. The IDC constructively engages with governments around the world on alternatives to immigration detention, particularly for children and young people, who are most affected.





Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
international.communications@jrs.net
+39 06 69 868 468