European Migration NetworkBRUSSELS (December 6, 2014) – A new synthesis report published by the European Migration Network (EMN) entitled, The use of detention and alternatives to detention in the context of immigration policies, has provided a glimpse into the prevalence of immigration detention as well as the availability and impact of alternatives to immigration detention in the EU.

The Synthesis Report was prepared on the basis of national contributions from 26 EMN National Contact Points throughout 2013-2014, including: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Norway. National contributions were based on desk analysis of existing legislation and policy documents, reports, academic literature, internet resources and reports as well as information collected from national authorities.


The report made a number of interesting findings, including:

  • A reported 92,500 people were detained for immigration reasons in the region during 2013.
  • The highest number of immigration detainees was reported in France (38,266), followed by Spain (9,020), Hungary (6,496), Bulgaria (6,303), and Belgium (6,285).
  • The lowest number of immigration detainees was reported in Estonia (94), followed by Slovakia (204), Latvia (221), and Lithuania (243).
  • Between 2009-2013 the greatest increase in the use of immigration detention was observed in Bulgaria (by more than 600 percent) and Hungary (by 226 percent).
  • The greatest decrease in the use of immigration detention was observed in Slovakia (by 65 percent) and the Netherlands (by 53 percent).

The report also highlighted a number of gaps with regard to the uniform use of immigration detention and alternatives across the EU, including:


Grounds for detention

National legal frameworks varied across reporting States with regard to the reasons for which individuals were placed in immigration detention. The most common reported grounds for detention were:

  • ‘risk of absconding’ (in 25 of the 26 participating States);
  • ‘establishing identity of the third-country national’ (in 22 of the 26 participating States);

These were followed by ‘threat to national security and public order’; ‘non-compliance with the alternatives to detention’; ‘presenting destroyed or forged documents’; and ‘reasonable grounds to believe that the person will commit an offence’.


Length of detention

With regard to length of detention, the report found that the average length of immigration detention in 2013 across participating States was nearly 40 days. The highest average detention period in 2013 for which data was available was recorded in Malta (180 days) followed by Estonia (58 days). Meanwhile, the lowest average detention period was observed in Sweden (5 days) followed by Finland (11.8 days) and metropolitan France (11.9 days).


Detention of children and other particularly vulnerable individuals

In the vast majority of profiled States, the detention of vulnerable persons (including unaccompanied minors, accompanied minors and families with children, pregnant women, victims of trafficking, and survivors of torture) is either explicitly prohibited in law or possible only in exceptional circumstances.

For example, detention of UAMs is either explicitly prohibited in national legislation (AT, BE, BG, CZ, ES, FR, HU, IE, LV, PL, SI, SK) or applied only in “exceptional circumstances” (CY, DE, EE, EL, FI, HR, LT, MT, NL, PT, SE, UK, NO).


Alternatives to detention

The majority of States (24 in total) provided for alternatives to detention in law, which included: reporting obligations; residence requirements; the obligation to surrender identity or a travel document; release on bail; electronic monitoring; provision of a guarantor; and release to care workers or under a care plan. In Malta, alternatives to detention are not currently provided in law, while in Greece alternatives to detention are provided for under national law but are not applied in practice. In all States participating in the study, alternatives to detention were granted on the basis of a case-by-case examination.

However, the study demonstrated that community-based management programs are not currently available in any of the 26 States that participated in this study. And the study has shown that it is difficult to measure the impact of alternatives to detention on the effectiveness of States’ return policies and international protection procedures. Very little statistics are available to evaluate this question, and available statistics are often based on very small samples and gathered from sources that are not readily comparable.

Statistics on the total number of third-country nationals granted alternatives to detention for the period 2009-2013 are available in 13 Member States. In 2013, the largest number of third-country nationals provided with an alternative to detention was in France (1,258), followed by Austria (771), Belgium (590) and Sweden (405).



EU Law Analysis: Immigration detention in Europe: What are the facts? A new European Migration Network Study