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Home / Resources / News / Conditions of migrants in temporary detention camps

Conditions of migrants in temporary detention camps

The gaps in European legislation as regards to migrants conditions (such as the maximum time of detention, which changes from one country to another) open the door to very different interpretations on what are acceptable standards across the EU. The measures used by the authorities should be proportionate to the situation. However this is not always the case: abusive, arbitrary or unnecessary procedures have been reported in many documents from NGOs and European institutions, like the use of seclusion rooms or unnecessary handcuffing, treating migrants like criminals, mirroring a tendency towards the criminalisation of migration. Sometimes the basic standards that should be expected in places aimed at the reception of people (hygiene, separation between men and women…) are not ensured. Migrants face humiliating and degrading situation. Human rights are sometimes violated. The lack of communication with the external word, and the lack of transparency from the authorities, makes their voices difficult to be heard. European Alternatives is concerned about the conditions in which illegal migrants are temporarily detained in camps, which sometimes look like lawless areas. Although the EU Return Directive 2008/115/CE (not implemented by all member states) guarantees some fundamental rights, it is sometimes less favourable to migrants’ rights than national legislations. This could lead to a lowering of  the applicable standards.

List of key problems related to camps and temporary detention of migrants


  • Access to legal assistance, information, health or communication with the external world are very limited and sometimes denied by the authorities. Free legal aid is not guaranteed. Migrants have no idea about what is going to happen, they are not informed about the procedures which are often rushed through. Practices such as reducing permissions to visits or breaking telephone cameras in order to avoid shooting videos that could be given to activists have been reported.
  • Camps are often located in buildings similar to prison, or even in buildings attached to prisons.This can lead to the amalgam between migrants and criminals. The staff working in camps is sometimes the same as those working in prisons and have not benefited from a different and need-specific training. Therefore migrants are sometimes treated as criminals.
  • The buildings are not adequately kept and are often insalubrious and overcrowded.
  • There is a lack of transparency in regards to the conditions of detentions, and NGOs’ access to the camps is limited.


  • Migrants face many obstacles when it comes to procedures for asylum seeking.  Detainees and associationsreported that in some camps application forms are not given to asylum seekers[1].
  • Migrants are victim of arbitrary treatments and punitive repression.Rapes, degrading attitudes, violence, beatings have been reported[2].
  • The detention has moral and psychological impact on migrants, leading to rebellions, depression and in worst cases to suicides.

While opposing the idea of camps for migrants, European Alternatives believes that while camps exist, human rights organizations should be allowed inside them, to give legal and medical assistance as well as to monitor the conditions in which migrants are temporarily detained. The creation of common guidelines which will have to be used by camps staff can also encourage changes. The implementation of these guidelines should be monitored regularly.
For what regards refugees, according to article 31of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (also known as the Geneva Convention) of 1951, (1) The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1[3], enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence. (2)The Contracting States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized or they obtain admission into another country. The Contracting States shall allow such refugees a reasonable period and all the necessary facilities to obtain admission into another country.
The detention of asylum seekers should be avoided, as recommended by the United Nation Refugee Agency. However, in camps the right to apply is not always guaranteed and it has been reported, by NGOs that procedures for asylum seeking are sometimes hindered. European Alternatives advocates for alternatives solutions to camps.We believe that camps are not the best solution to guarantee their rights. Other alternatives involving States and NGOs can be found, such as release on condition. The European Union should aim towards those alternatives rather than detention and unify its regulation in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention, as it was planned in the two five-year programmes for the creation of a Common European Asylum System. A clear regulation setting high standards of protection, which could be easily understood and implemented by all Member States and asylum seekers, is eagerly awaited.

More info:
Migreurop, Campaign of parliamentary visits for a right of access inside detention centres for migrants, 04/2011.
European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Return Directive: EU fails to uphold human rights,, 06/2008.
European Parliament, Directorate-General Internal Policies, The conditions in centres for third country national (detention camps, open centres as well as transit centres and transit zones) with a particular focus on provisions and facilities for persons with special needs in the 25 EU member states,, 12/2007.

[2] European Parliament, Directorate-General Internal Policies, The conditions in centres for third country national (detention camps, open centres as well as transit centres and transit zones) with a particular focus on provisions and facilities for persons with special needs in the 25 EU member states, 185,186
[3] Article 1 of the Convention as amended by the 1967 Protocol : A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it..