[ 11. Aug 2010 ]

Migrant Detention Harms All

Becoming Vulneralbe in Detention

Research report urges the introduction of safeguards to prevent unnecessary harm. JRS press release from 08. Jun 2010.


BRUSSELS, Belgium - After 18 months of research in 23 European countries, the evidence is clear. Migrant detention causes harm to physical and mental health, even among those considered as the least vulnerable. The findings of this extensive study, Becoming Vulnerable in Detention, coordinated by JRS-Europe, coincide with the conclusions of research studies undertaken in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

The 400-page study highlights how asylum seekers and undocumented migrants who are held in detention centres quickly become susceptible to hazardous psychological stress. The longer they are detained, the worse their conditions become. Detention does not just harm people with 'special needs'. The myth that 'single young men' are not vulnerable no longer holds.

"Migrants suffer from weight loss, insomnia, migraines and depression due to severe psychological stress. Not only is this the view of the detainees themselves, time and again, but even many detention centre staff described how detention visibly affects the health of migrants and asylum seekers. Unlike convicted criminals, 80% of asylum seekers do not know when they will be released from detention. This undoubtedly leads to psychological harm", said JRS-Europe Advocacy Officer, Philip Amaral.

JRS-Europe urges EU governments to introduce routine pre-screening measures to ensure that particularly vulnerable persons, such as children, are never detained. These screening procedures should be periodically repeated during the period of detention to prevent asylum seekers and undocumented migrants from unnecessary suffering.

"Isolated from society in closed environments, children are particularly vulnerable. Nearly 90 percent of the children interview reported experiencing mental health problems as a result of their detention", added Mr Amaral.

"Detention has been bad for me", says a 16-year-old Nigerian boy detained for more than three months. "I came [to Europe] to be a student, to become a professional, and what has become of me? I am a prisoner." A detention centre staff person described detainees as going through "stress, anger and desperation", as a result of having "lost contact with their families".

Throughout Europe, asylum seekers - people who came to Europe seeking protection - and irregular migrants are kept in prison-like conditions, even though they have committed no crime. The study shows that the restriction of freedom, the isolation from loved ones, and the physical and mental stress detention creates are too much for any one individual to bear.

Immigration detention should only be used as a last resort where all other alternatives have been exhausted. Asylum seekers should never be detained while their application for protection is being examined. Undocumented migrants should only be held in detention for legitimate removal purposes. Detention should be subject to ongoing judicial oversight and not exceed a reasonable time limit.

The report will be presented to the public in Brussels on 8th June. The full study and executive summary is available on the JRS-Europe website,

Notes to the editors:

  • The report is a part of a project coordinated by JRS-Europe in partnership with NGOs in 23 European Union countries. It is co-financed by the European Commission under the "European Refugee Fund".
  • Detainee interviews were conducted in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.
  • Detainee interviews were not conducted in Italy and in the United Kingdom, even though JRS-Italy and JRS-UK are partners in the research project. In the latter case, the UK Border Agency refused JRS-UK permission to conduct research in detention centres.
  • Partner NGOs to this project are available to discuss the research conducted in their respective countries. For contact information, contact Mr. Philip Amaral (details on the first page).
  • The research project began in January 2009 and was advised by academic researchers from the Refugee Studies Centre of the University of Oxford, and the Institute for Ethics and Law at the University of Vienna.