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Protecting the liberty of migrants

Press release

Despite the long-lasting negative impacts of detention on people’s mental health and well-being, immigration detention is being used more and more. As reducing irregular entry and stay remains a top priority for the EU and Member States, increasing numbers of vulnerable migrants are being detained – especially at borders and to enforce the Common European Asylum System.

European Red Cross Societies are deeply concerned by this trend and have developed a set of policy recommendations to protect the liberty of migrants. Drawing from their operational experience in immigration detention, these recommendations aim to discourage the use of detention as a migration-management strategy, and to promote the development and implementation of alternatives to detention in the EU.

“Immigration detention has grave humanitarian consequences”, stresses Red Cross EU Office Director, Denis Haveaux. “It increases the vulnerability of people who, for a variety of reasons, are already at risk. Moreover, inadequate detention conditions have been observed in several countries, including overcrowding, limited access to health care, and an overly securitised environment”, he adds.

A boy and his grandfather have come from Sheberghan province to the ICRC office to talk with their detained loved one, Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, April 2018

Particularly worrying is the ongoing practice of placing children in detention – something which is shockingly not explicitly prohibited under EU law. “Immigration detention has profound and harmful consequences for children’s health and development,” says Martin Ärnlöv, Secretary-General of the Swedish Red Cross. “They suffer the effects even when they are detained for short periods of time, or are held in detention with their families”, he underlines.  The immigration-related detention of children and other vulnerable groups should therefore urgently be stopped.

While EU law requires States to implement alternatives to detention for asylum seekers, less than half of EU countries examine alternatives during the decision-making processes that lead to detention. In fact, alternatives to detention are rarely, and often inappropriately, applied in practice. With this in mind, European Red Cross Societies call for a shift from coercion-based options to a more humane and engagement-based approach. Limiting the use of immigration detention has shown to bring significant benefits in upholding the dignity of the individuals concerned and in supporting their social inclusion.

If there are grounds to deprive a person of their liberty, alternatives to detention should always be considered first. As the EU works on a new Pact on Migration and Asylum, more needs to be done to safeguard migrants’ liberty and make sure that immigration detention really is a measure of last resort.

Download the complete position paper

Learn more about the work of the Red Cross in the field of migration and asylum.


For further information, please contact:

Eva Oyon, Head of Unit, Communications, Red Cross EU Office, +32(0)2 235 09 22,

For media inquiries, please contact Eva Oyón on: or +32 2 235 09 22

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