In his latest Human Rights Comment, Nils Muižnieks has highlighted the urgent need for States to invest in alternatives to immigration detention, while outlining a 5 step plan to abolish the use of migrant detention.

Muižnieks stresses that abolishing migrant detention “does not mean giving up on managing one’s borders, including decisions over who enters a country and who can stay. It means investing in alternative measures to manage migration effectively, which are not as far-reaching and harmful as detention.”

The Commissioner’s forward-looking statement calls on states to develop a “well-stocked toolbox” of alternatives that support migrants to engage with migration processes.

States should ensure that “case management and coaching” are an integral part of these alternatives, as well as “assurances that basic needs can be met,” he says – these factors help ensure the protection of their human dignity and also encourages positive engagement with the authorities.

Muižnieks notes that such alternatives also help states: “If properly implemented, they can help build trust, communication and engagement between the migrant and the state in return procedures, which can actually increase their effectiveness”.

He adds that in many cases such alternatives are sufficient to render immigration detention unnecessary (without applying restrictive measures). Alternatives are also far cheaper than immigration detention.

The Commissioner’s recommendations are supported by international research, including the IDC’s There Are Alternatives, which shows that holistic engagement-based alternatives to detention can reduce immigration detention and achieve better outcomes for both states and the individuals concerned.


Categorical prohibition on child immigration detention

The Commissioner’s comment reiterates his position that immigration detention is never in the best interests of the child and calls for states to completely abolish child immigration detention. He highlights the need to expand alternatives to detention for vulnerable persons including children.

He further notes that setting up more ‘child-friendly’ detention facilities, as planned for example by the Dutch and Belgian governments, “cannot seen as a substitute for categorically prohibiting the detention of children”.

Back in December 2016, the Commissioner has raised concerns about the Belgian government’s plans to reintroduce immigration detention for families with children. In a letter addressed to the Secretary of State for Migration and Asylum of Belgium, Mr Theo Francken, the Commissioner expressed the view that opening closed family units near Brussels airport would go against the best interests of the child. He urged the government to instead maintain and further develop existing alternative arrangements and work towards completely ending child immigration detention.

The Commissioner latest human rights comment calls on states to develop road maps with clear deadlines for the abolition of child immigration detention.


The Commissioner’s five step plan to abolish migrant detention

  • Include clear alternatives in law and policy
  • Develop a well-stocked toolbox of alternatives
  • Present a roadmap and firm deadline for the abolition of child detention
  • Set up exchange of good practices
  • Improve data gathering on detention practices


Further Reading; 

See the Human Rights Comment here.

Commissioner’s webpage on the human rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers

European Court of Human Rights, Factsheet on the detention of migrants, 2016

Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Twenty Guidelines on Forced Return, 2005

Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Resolution 1707(2010) on the detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Europe, 2010

Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, webpage on its Campaign to End the Immigration Detention of Children

Global Campaign to End Child Detention’s website

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, webpage on detention of asylum seekers

International Detention Coalition, ‘There are alternatives: a handbook for preventing unnecessary immigration detention’ (revised edition), 2015

EU Fundamental Rights Agency, ‘Alternatives to detention for asylum seekers and people in return procedures’, 2015