Governments throughout Europe have been keen to show that their policies towards "illegal migrants" are tough. As a result, a growing number of refugees and asylum seekers who enter countries without valid travel documents are being detained.

There has been a significant increase in the use of detention at every stage of the asylum process. Some Member States automatically detain all asylum seekers, while often failing to grant the right to a dignified standard of living during the reception phase to people in detention. De facto detention is particularly common in countries with inadequate reception facilities.

Detention is too frequently used in attempts to enforce returns or transfers. The maximum period for which people can be detained prior to removal has now been set to 18 months in the newly adopted EU Returns Directive.

The practice of detaining asylum seekers significantly impedes their access to the full range of rights during the asylum procedure. ECRE promotes the use of alternative non-custodial measures such as supervision systems, reporting arrangements, bail or guarantee systems, and the promotion of voluntary return through intensive and personalised counseling work prior to and during detention for all rejected asylum seekers.

On 18 June 2008, the European Parliament endorsed new EU-wide rules on returning irregular migrants back to where they came from. ECRE particularly regrets the fact that the agreement allows an excessive period of detention of up to 18 months as well as an EU-wide re-entry ban of 5 years for those forcibly returned.


ECRE's position

► Detention should only ever be used as a last resort where non-custodial measures have been demonstrated not to work on an individual basis in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights.

► Separated children should never be detained and those who have suffered trauma should get special consideration.

► Detainees should be given a clear understanding of the grounds of their detention, their rights in detention and should be able to have their detention challenged in court.

► ECRE strongly condemns the systematic use of detention as part of reception or determination procedures in any European state.


Policy Papers Position on the Detention of Asylum Seekers
Asylum, Detention and the ECHR
Detention and Deportation
Position on Refugee Children
ECRE's Comments on the Proposal for a Directive on common standards and procedures for return
ECRE Information Note on the Asylum Procedures Directive (2005/85/EC)

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Press releases

► 09.07.2012 NGO Statement on the death of a migrant in detention in Malta
► 03.12.2008 Review of European asylum policy: A promising start
► 19.06.2008 Returns Directive: EU fails to uphold Human Rights

ECRE Actions

► 29.11.2013 ECRE/ELENA Information Note on Syria
► 06.09.2013 AIDA Report “Not There Yet: An NGO perspective on Challenges to a Fair and Effective Common European Asylum System”
► 26.02.2013 ECRE Letter to Commissioner Malmstrom regarding transfer of competences in Greece
► 23.11.2012 Op-ed by Liz Fekete, Executive Director of the Institute of Race Relations
► 07.05.2012 166 NGOs call on the EU institutions to respect asylum seekers' right to liberty in EU asylum legislation
► 15.10.2010 Detention of migrants in Ukraine
► 14.05.2008 Joint ECRE and Amnesty International Letter to the EU Parliament on the Returns Directive