Immigration detention

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Arrested refugees-immigrants in Fylakio detention center, Evros, Greece.

Immigration detention is the policy of holding individuals suspected of visa violations, illegal entry or unauthorised arrival, and those subject to deportation and removal in detention until a decision is made by immigration authorities to grant a visa and release them into the community, or to repatriate them to their country of departure. Mandatory detention is the practice of compulsorily detaining or imprisoning people seeking political asylum, or who are considered to be illegal immigrants or unauthorised arrivals into a country. Some countries have set a maximum period of detention, while others permit indefinite detention.


United States[edit]

A CBP Border Patrol agent with a female detainee in a holding facility.

In the United States, a similar practice began in the early 1980s with Haitians and Cubans detained at Guantanamo Bay, and other groups such as Chinese in jails and detention centres on the mainland. The practice was made mandatory by legislation passed in 1996 in response to the Oklahoma City bombing, and has come under criticism from organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, all of whom have released major studies of the subject, and the ACLU[1] As of 2010, about 31,000 non-citizens were held in immigration detention on any given day,[2] including children, in over 200 detention centres, jails, and prisons nationwide.[3]

The T. Don Hutto Residential Center opened in 2006 specifically to house non-criminal families. There are other significant facilities in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Oakdale, Louisiana, Florence, Arizona, Miami, Florida, Seattle, York, Pennsylvania, Batavia, New York, Aguadilla, Puerto Rico and all along the Texas–Mexico border.

During the five years between 2003 and 2008, about 104[4] mostly young individuals died in detention of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement or shortly afterwards, and medical neglect may have contributed to 30 of those deaths.[5] On 6 August 2008, 34-year-old New Yorker Hiu Lui Ng died in the detention of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.[6] The editors of The New York Times condemned the death and urged that the system must be fixed.[7] The Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stated that the number of deaths per capita in detention is dramatically lower for ICE detainees than for U.S. prison and jail populations, that they provide "the best possible healthcare" and that the nation as a whole is "experiencing severe shortages of qualified health professionals"[8] In May 2008 Congress began considering a bill to set new standards for immigrant detainee healthcare.[8]

In 2009, the Obama Administration pledged to overhaul the current immigration detention system and transform it into one that is less punitive and subject to greater federal oversight.[3] Immigrants' rights advocates, however, have expressed concern that these reform efforts "have been undermined by the agency’s continued overreliance on penal incarceration practices and by the pervasive anti-reform culture at local ICE field offices."[9]


Several Asian nations are known to imprison immigrants on visa violations or for alleged trafficking, including the victims of trafficking and smuggling. These include Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.[citation needed]


Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre

In Australia, mandatory immigration detention was adopted in 1992 for all non-citizens who arrive in Australia without a visa. That only 'border applicants' are subject to detention has sparked criticism, as it is claimed to unfairly discriminate against certain migrants.[10] Other unlawful non-citizens, such as those that overstay their visas, are generally granted bridging visas while their applications are processed, and are therefore free to move around the community. The long-term detention of immigrant children has also sparked criticism of the practice by citizen's groups such as ChilOut and human rights organisations. Nonetheless, the High Court of Australia has confirmed, by majority, the constitutionality of indefinite mandatory detention of aliens.[11] This and related decisions have been the subject of considerable academic critique.[12]

Australia has also sub-contracted with other nations to detain would-be immigrants offshore, including Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Nauru. Australia also maintains an offshore detention facility on Christmas Island. In July 2008, the Australian government announced it was ending its policy of automatic detention for asylum seekers who arrive in the country without visas.[13] However, by September 2012, offshore detention was reinstated. Following the Australian federal election, 2013 policies have been toughened and Operation Sovereign Borders has been launched.


Three main detention centers:[14]

  • Higashi Nihon Nyukoku Kanri Center (East Japan Immigration Detention Center )
  • Nishi Nihon Nyukoku Kanri Center (West Japan Immigration Detention Center )
  • Omura Nyukoku Kanri Center (Omura Immigration Detention Center )



There are eight detention centers known as CIEs (Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros) run by the Spanish Ministry of the Interior. Expulsion paperwork can be initiated when a person is in one of the following situations[15]:

  1. Lacking documentation in Spanish territory.
  2. Working without a work permit, even if they have a valid resident permit.
  3. Be involved in activities that violate public order or interior or exterior state security or any activity contrary to Spanish interests or that could put in danger Spain's relations with other countries.
  4. Be convicted inside or outside of Spain of a crime punishable by incarceration for greater than one year.
  5. Hiding or falsifying their situation from the Ministry of the Interior.
  6. Lacking a legal livelihood or taking part in illegal activity.

Various civil organizations, such as (APDHA, SOS Racismo and Andalucía Acoge) have appealed to the Spanish Supreme Court to declare the regulations behind the CIEs null and void for violating eight aspects of human rights.[16]


"Fuoco ai CIE" (let us burn CIEs (Identification and Expulsion Centres): graffiti in Turin, October 2016

In Italy, the situation is mostly the same as in The Netherlands: irregular immigrants are sent to "CIE" (Identification and Expulsion Centres) if they don't have proper documents. Illegal entry and stay on the Italian territory became a criminal offence in 2009 (l. July 15, 2009, n. 94), after the Bossi-Fini law.[17] Since they have the function of allowing confirm[clarification needed] the identity of the persons held in view of a possible expulsion, or to hold persons awaiting expulsion to some, their sense of political track in relation to the legislative apparatus in its immigration entirety[clarification needed]. It has been reported by many NGOs and government organizations that the condition inside the centres are "inhuman".[18][19][20][21] Amnesty International denounced that the immigrants are placed in containers and in other types of inadequate housing in an extended stay, exposed to extreme temperatures, under conditions of overcrowding.[22]


In 2002 and the following years, Malta began to receive a large influx of migrants.[23] The government then begun to apply the 1970 Chapter 217 of the Laws of Malta (Immigration Act),[24] providing for detention for all "prohibited migrants", including prospective asylum seekers, soon after apprehension by the immigration authorities. In 2003, the Maltese government substituted the indefinite detention policy with an 18-month detention length (the maximum under EU law) after which the applicant is transferred to an open centre if the processing of his/her application has not been finished.[25]

The Maltese detention policy, the strictest in Europe,[citation needed] gathered heavy criticism by the UNHCR for the extensive duration of detention,[26] and in 2004 it was also criticized by the Commissioner for Human Rights of Council of Europe, Álvaro Gil-Robles, as international standards required cautious and individual examination of each case and proper legal checks before incarceration, which were missing in the Maltese legislation. The Council of Europe also criticised four of the administrative detention centres as in "deplorable conditions" and failing to live up to legally binding international standards[27]

The Ministry for Justice and Home Affairs pursued the migrants detention policy nevertheless, justifying it in 2005 by "national interest, and more specifically, for reasons concerning employment, accommodation and maintenance of public order".[28] In 2008 an EP-OIM comparative study found that "following a long stay in detention [illegal immigrants] are then released into the community [...] joining the black market economy and suffering abuse with regard to conditions of work.[29]

The detention policy was criticised, in the following years, by NGOs and international bodies, including Human Rights Watch,[30] the Jesuits[31] and UNHCR.[32] In 2012, the Council of Europe reiterated that such a policy is contrary to the prohibition of arbitrary detention in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).[33]


In the Netherlands, foreigners who fail to obtain a residence status can be detained prior to deportation, as to prevent them from avoiding deportation. Detention centers are located in Zaandam, Zeist, and Alphen aan den Rijn. Besides these detention centers there are deportation centers in Schiphol and Rotterdam (at Rotterdam Airport).

Immigration detention in the Netherlands is criticised for the circumstances immigrants are held in, which is often worse than that of criminal detainees, especially because of the lack of probationary leave, rehabilitation assistance, legal assistance, laws restricting the maximum detention time and a maximum time for judicial review from a judge.[34]


In Portugal, the Ministry of Interior is responsible for immigration matters. The country currently has one officially designated immigration detention centre, located in Porto. Opened in 2006, the centre is managed by the luke Immigration and Borders Service.[35]

There are also five Centros de Instalação Temporária (CIT, Temporary Installation Centres) located in each major airport: Porto, Lisbon, Faro, Funchal and Ponta Delgada. Besides this government-led places, in Lisbon there are the Bobadela reception centre for asylum seekers run by the CPR (Portuguese Council for Asylum Seekers) and the Pedro Arupe reception centre managed by the Jesuit Refugee Service.


In Ukraine "Temporary Detention Centres" are run by the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, responsible to the President.[36]

United Kingdom[edit]

The British Home Office has a number of detention centres, including, As of January 2015, 11 designated Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs), four designated Residential and Short Term Holding Facilities and one Non Residential Short Term Holding Facility. Four of the IRCs are managed by the Prison Service and the others are outsourced to private companies including Mitie, GEO Group, G4S and Serco. People can be detained under Immigration Act powers for a number of reasons. The largest category of detainees is people who have claimed asylum. Other people include those detained awaiting determination of their right to entry to the UK, people who have been refused permission to enter and are awaiting removal, people who have overstayed the expiry of their visas or have not complied with their visa terms, and people lacking the required documentation to live in the UK.[37]

The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 formally changed the name of "detention centres" to "removal centres".

The centres are:

The former Oakington Immigration Reception Centre near Cambridge was closed in November 2010.

Additionally, some prisons detain migrants or asylum seekers purely under Immigration Act powers, usually if they have been serving a prison sentence which has expired. There are also four short term holding facilities in Manchester, Dover, Harwich and Colnbrook.

The British government has been given powers to detain asylum seekers and migrants at any stage of the asylum process.[49] The use of asylum has increased with the introduction of the process of 'fast track', or the procedure by which the Immigration Service assess asylum claims which are capable of being decided quickly. Fast-tracking takes place in Oakington Reception Centre, Harmondsworth and Yarl's Wood.

There are three situations in which it is lawful to detain an asylum seeker or migrant.

  1. To fast track their claim
  2. If the government has reasonable grounds to believe that the asylum seeker or migrant will abscond or not abide by the conditions of entry.
  3. If the asylum seeker or migrant is about to be deported.

Once detained it is possible to apply for bail. It is preferable but not necessary to provide a surety and conditions will be provided, usually reporting, if bail is granted. There is legal aid for representation at bail hearings and the organisation Bail for Immigration Detainees provides help and assistance for those subject to detention to represent themselves.[50]

Since summer 2005 there has been an increase in the detention of foreign nationals since the Charles Clarke scandal which revealed that there were a number of foreign nationals who had committed crimes and had not been deported at the end of their sentence.[51]

Criticism of immigration detention focuses on comparisons with prison conditions[52] in which persons are kept though they have never been convicted of a crime, the lack of judicial oversight, and on the lengthy bureaucratic delays that often prevent a person from being released, particularly when there is no evidence that the detainee will present a harm or a burden to society if allowed to remain at large while their situation is examined.

Recently, the conditions of detention centres have been criticised, by the United Kingdom Inspector of Prisons.[53]

See also[edit]



  • Dow, Mark, American Gulag. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
  • Kalhan, Anil, Rethinking Immigration Detention, 110 Columbia L. Rev. Sidebar 42, 2010
  • From Nothing to Zero: Letters from Refugees in Australia's Detention Centres. Melbourne: Lonely Planet, 2003.
  • Mares, Peter, Borderline. Sydney, University of New South Wales Press, 2001.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Bernstein, Nina. "In-Custody Deaths". New York Times. Archived from the original on 14 September 2008. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  3. ^ a b Anil Kalhan (2010), "Rethinking Immigration Detention", Columbia Law Review Sidebar, 110: 42–58, SSRN 1556867
  4. ^ voice of america (archived link)
  5. ^ "Careless Detention: System of Neglect". Washington Post.
  6. ^ Nina Bernstein (2008-08-13). "Ill and in Pain, Detainee Dies in U.S. Hands". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
  7. ^ Editorial (2008-08-16). "Mr. Ng's Death". New York Times.
  8. ^ a b "Detention In America". CBS News. 11 May 2008.
  9. ^ "Detention Watch Network, National Immigrant Justice Center, & Midwest Coalition for Human Rights" (6 October 2010). " "Year One Report Card: Human Rights & the Obama Administration's Immigration Detention Reforms".[dead link]
  10. ^ Archived 25 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Al-Kateb v Godwin (2004) 219 CLR 562
  12. ^ Zagor M, 'Uncertainty and Exclusion: Detention of Aliens and the High Court' Federal Law Review 2006; 34: 127–160
  13. ^ Tim Johnston (2008-07-30). "Australia Announces Changes on Asylum Seekers". New York Times.
  14. ^ Bureau, Immigration. "Immigration Bureau of Japan Website".
  15. ^ Gobierno de España (3 July 1985). Boletín Oficial del Estado número 158, ed. "Ley Orgánica 7/1985, de 1 de julio, sobre derechos y libertades de los extranjeros en España" (pdf) (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  16. ^ Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía. "Andalucía Acoge junto a SOS Racismo y APDHA recurren ante el Tribunal Supremo el Reglamento de los Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros".
  17. ^ Also before that law, the centre-right governments tried to restrain the judicial review of the expulsion. Against the fundamental principle of habeas corpus, which should be given to the judge, the "owner of the body" of the alien is the chief constable, who embarks the foreigner on the first flight: if after forty-eight hours he should be right in having the measure lapsed, he will know it in his new home abroad: Buonomo, Giampiero (2002). "Ma la conversione del dl sull'immigrazione clandestina s'intreccia in modo incerto (e confuso) con il ddl governativo". Diritto&Giustizia edizione online.  – via Questia (subscription required)
  18. ^ "Relazione 2003 della Corte dei Conti".[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ "Rapporto di MSF" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 May 2012. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  20. ^ "L'arresto di don Cesare Lodeserto riapre le polemiche sui Cpt". Archived from the original on 11 May 2006.
  21. ^ Una storia dal centro di detenzione di Roma )
  22. ^ "Cpt, Amnesty: «Violati i diritti dei rifugiati»".
  23. ^ Joseph St. John, Martha Delicata, Mario Azzopardi, "The Organisation of Asylum and Migration Policies in Malta", National Report 2008 of the National Contact Point of the European Migration Network, Malta, p.11
  24. ^ Chapter 217 (Immigration Act) Archived 15 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  25. ^ Björn Kårén, "Malta and Immigration. Sovereignty, Territory and Identity". University of Lund [1], p.19
  26. ^ Amore, Katia (2007). “Malta”, pp. 237–248 in European Immigration – a Sourcebook, edited by Anna Triandafyllidou and Ruby Gropas. Egland: Ashgate Publishing Limited
  27. ^ Björn Kårén, p.. 19-20
  28. ^ Government of Malta (2005). “Irregular Immigrants, Refugees and Integration – Policy Document, Ministry for Justice and Home Affairs, Ministry for the Family and Social Security” [2], p.5
  29. ^ European Parliament-International Organisation for Migration, Comparative study of the laws in the 27 EU member states for legal immigration including an assessment of the conditions and formalities imposed by each member state for newcomers, [3][permanent dead link], p.352
  30. ^ Human Rights Watch, 18 July 2012
  31. ^ "Jesuits in Malta :: Detention in Malta".
  32. ^ Times of Malta, 1 July 2012
  33. ^ Report by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, following his visit to Malta from 23 to 25 March 2011, 9 June 2011
  34. ^ Anton van Kalmthout (2005), "Van barbaren en illegalen (Dutch)", Zandschrift, archived from the original on 2013-02-22
  35. ^ Portugal Detention Profile Archived 4 September 2010 at the Wayback Machine.. Global Detention Project. Retrieved 8 February 2010
  36. ^ Council of Europe Anti-Torture Committee visits Ukraine. Retrieved 28-08-07
  37. ^ Silverman, Stephanie J.; Hajela, Ruchi (6 February 2015). "Immigration Detention in the UK". Migration Observatory, University of Oxford. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  38. ^ "Brook House Immigration Removal Centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  39. ^ "Campsfield House immigration removal centre: Fire breaks out". BBC News. 19 October 2013. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  40. ^ "Colnbrook immigration removal centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  41. ^ "Dover immigration removal centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  42. ^ "Dungavel immigration removal centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  43. ^ "Harmondsworth immigration removal centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  44. ^ "Larne House". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  45. ^ "Morton Hall immigration removal centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  46. ^ "Pennine House". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  47. ^ "Tinsley House immigration removal centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  48. ^ "Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  49. ^ "".
  50. ^ "Bail for Immigration Detainees".
  51. ^ "Ricin case 'shows asylum chaos'". BBC. 2005-04-14.
  52. ^ Archived 13 March 2005 at the Wayback Machine.
  53. ^ "" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 September 2006.

Further reading[edit]