International Coalition on the Detention of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants

More than 100 human rights groups worldwide form coalition to challenge immigration detention

Dated: 19th June 2006

“Why am I detained here? I’m not a criminal…It’s worse than being in prison. At least when you are in prison you know for how long you are there and why.” These are statements made by refugees and migrants held in detention – simply for entering or remaining in a country or moving without authorisation.

States have the right to control their borders. But this right is not absolute. Fundamental human rights are not negotiable, and that includes the right not to be arbitrarily detained. Immigration detention – although permissible in certain exceptional circumstances – should never breach fundamental human rights protections, be used to limit people’s access to seek and enjoy asylum, or be of an unreasonable or unlimited duration. “Closed centres, camps, removal centres, airport transit centres… Call them whatever you like. They all amount to prisons. Slowly but surely we have criminalised asylum and demonised migration”, said Anna Gallagher, Coordinator of the International Coalition on the Detention of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants.

In Zambia, most refugees, some for over 30 years, are not entitled to leave their camps. And those who leave these camps may be imprisoned in grossly overcrowded and often life threatening conditions. In Australia, migrants may be detained indefinitely pending their deportation without judicial oversight. For instance, a rejected Kashmiri asylum seeker was detained for 7 years. These are just 2 examples of the detention practices that the coalition has documented.

The coalition has been collecting information on immigration detention practices in 36 countries. It found that the worst detention practices adopted by governments were being copied from others and politicians frequently justify their immigration detention policies on the grounds that another, often richer, country is operating a similar policy.

“Hidden from the general public, governments around the world are using detention to restrict and deter migration flows. So many people are being detained – sometimes for indefinite periods – in prisons or prison-like circumstances.  We have recognised the need to work together internationally to uncover and challenge such arbitrary practices,” said Ms. Anna Gallagher, coordinator of the newly-formed International Coalition on the Detention of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants.

Note to Editors and journalists

The coalition has been set up to raise awareness of governments’ detention policies and practices and to promote greater protection and respect for the human rights of detainees. It advocates limiting the use of, seeking alternatives to, and using the least restrictive forms of, immigration detention. The Coalition has established working groups to study and make policy proposals on the standards governing detention, (including procedural safeguards and conditions of detention), and on restrictions on freedom of movement for those living in refugee camps. 

The coalition involves over one hundred members (non-governmental organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations, academics and individuals) in 36 countries from around the world – in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Oceania, the Caribbean, North America, Central and South America – all from countries where individuals are detained purely on the basis of their immigration status.

The steering committee of the Coalition brings together a number of leading international NGOs which share concerns about the treatment of immigration detainees, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Jesuit Refugee Service, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, World Council of Churches, and a number of national NGOs.

The international detention coalition is being launched worldwide on 20th June 2006, with events being organised by member organisations in the following countries: USA, Canada, Mexico, Kenya, South Africa, India, Australia, Lebanon, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Malta, Ireland, Switzerland

For more information on the coalition,

contact Anna Gallagher: e mail [email protected] Tel:  (+34) 947 541 835
or Melanie Teff at [email protected] Tel: (+39) 06 6897 7386; (+39) 338 752 2606