Detention Centres

  1. definition
  2. examples and/or illustrations
  3. other useful sources
  4. bibliography


“There are a wide variety of names and definitions used by countries to describe their immigration detention facilities. Mexico, for instance, calls them estaciones migratorias (migratory stations); Turkey “guesthouses”; Japan “detention houses”; France centres de rétencion administrative. How a facility is named can also depend on who operates it. For example, the United States terms government-owned detention facilities “service processing centres,” while privately-operated sites are called “contract detention centres.” In addition, the official name of a detention site can depend on its particular function–such as whether it is used to detain only asylum seekers, or whether the site confines only those awaiting imminent deportation. Because of the diverse nomenclature, as well as the varying purposes of the centres, the Global Detention Project has developed a unique typology to accurately categorize detention sites.”

-Global Detention Project. 2009. “Frequently Asked Questions.” http://www.globaldetentionproject.org/about/faq.html. [Accessed 29 September 2013].

“As part of their enforcement of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), officers of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) are authorized to arrest permanent residents and foreign nationals who have, or who may have, breached the Act. People can be detained if they pose a danger to the public, if their identity is in question or if there is reason to believe that they will not appear for immigration proceedings. A person who is detained may be held in a correctional facility or an immigration detention centre. Detentions are reviewed by a CBSA officer or by a member of the Immigration Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) who may release the person outright or under certain conditions. The IRB is an independent tribunal and its members are trained in immigration law…Following an arrest, a person can be detained at a provincial correctional facility or at the minimum-security immigration detention centre in Montréal or Toronto. The CBSA also has a facility in Vancouver for detentions of less than 72 hours.”

-Canada Border Services Agency. July 2009. “Detention: Factsheet.” http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/media/facts-faits/007-eng.html. [Accessed 29 September 2013]. 


Examples and/or Illustrations

“The Global Detention Project defines migration-related detention (or “migrant detention”) as the deprivation of liberty of non-citizens because of their undocumented or irregular status. Although this form of detention can be based on criminal charges, in most countries migrant detention is an administrative procedure that is undertaken to verify the identity of individuals, process asylum claims, and/or ensure that a deportation order is carried out. Officials in some countries have argued that migrant detention also functions as a deterrent for would-be migrants and asylum seekers. It is important to note that one of the key concerns vis-a-vis this form of detention is precisely its administrative nature. Domestic legal systems are often not as detailed regarding these detention situations, which can result in detainees facing legal uncertainty, including lack of access to the outside world (including to legal counsel), inadequate or no possibilities of challenging detention through the courts, and lack of limitations on the duration of detention…To assess the growth and evolution of detention institutions, project researchers are creating a comprehensive database of detention sites that categorises detention facilities along several dimensions, including security level, bureaucratic chain of command, facility type (is a given site an exposed camp, a dedicated migrant detention facility, or a common prison), spatial segregation (are there separate cells for criminals and administrative detainees, for women and men), and size. This data is gradually being ported to the GDP website in the form of maps, lists, and country profiles.”

-Global Detention Project. “About the Global Detention Project.” http://www.globaldetentionproject.org/about/about-the-project.html#c1878. [Accessed 29 September 2013]. 

“65. The Working Group has noted with concern, during the period reported upon, a development yet again towards tightening restrictions, including deprivation of liberty, applied to asylum-seekers, refugees and immigrants in an irregular situation even to the extent of making the irregular entry into a State a criminal offence or qualifying the irregular stay in the country as an aggravating circumstance for any criminal offence.

66. The Working Group has also publicly expressed, together with other mandate holders of special procedures, its concern regarding a law-making initiative of a regional organization comprising mainly receiving countries which would allow concerned States to detain immigrants who are in an irregular situation for a period of time of up to 18 months, pending removal. It would also be permitted to detain unaccompanied children, victims of human trafficking, and other vulnerable groups.

67. It was felt that States should be reminded that detention shall be the last resort and permissible only for the shortest period of time and that alternatives to detention should be sought whenever possible. Grounds for detention must be clearly and exhaustively defined and the legality of detention must be open for challenge before a court and regular review within fixed time limits. Established time limits for judicial review must even stand in “emergency situations” when an exceptionally large number of undocumented immigrants enter the territory of a State. Provisions should always be made to render detention unlawful if the obstacle for identifying immigrants in an irregular situation or carrying out removal from the territory does not lie within their sphere, for example, when the consular representation of the country of origin does not cooperate or legal considerations – such as the principle of non-refoulement barring removal if there is a risk of torture or arbitrary detention in the country of destination – or factual obstacles – such as the unavailability of means of transportation – render expulsion impossible.

68. In conclusion, the Working Group feels duty bound to reiterate that immigrants in irregular situations should not be qualified or treated as criminals and be viewed only from the perspective of national security.”

-Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. 16 February 2009. “Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.” A/HRC/10/21. http://daccess-ods.un.org/access.nsf/Get?Open&DS=A/HRC/10/21&Lang=E. [Accessed 29 September 2013].

“[In detention facilities] every individual has access to medical services. For example, there are doctors and nurses on site and after-hours medical support is available at CBSA facilities. As well, social workers and representatives from NGOs regularly visit the CBSA’s immigration holding centres. Detained individuals can have visits from family members, friends and community groups, use the telephone and receive mail…While in detention, children have access to the outdoors, a play area, and schooling is provided…People are detained in either a CBSA-run immigration holding centre (Laval, Quebec; Toronto, Ontario; a short-term facility in Vancouver, British Columbia) or a provincial correctional facility. Where individuals are held depends on which facilities are available and the degree of danger or risk these individuals pose to themselves or others. In 2011-2012, for example, 71% of people detained were held in a CBSA immigration holding centre. The CBSA works closely with its provincial correctional partners to ensure limited interaction, where possible, between immigration detainees and individuals detained for criminal reasons. A CBSA officer is assigned to their case while they are in provincial or CBSA facilities…The Canadian Red Cross, an independent and non-profit organization, monitors detention conditions in each CBSA facility, as well as in correctional facilities in several provinces, to ensure that national standards and international obligations are met. At the same time, the CBSA regularly consults stakeholders and NGOs, such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Canada, about detention issues and takes their recommendations into account as a means to continuously improve detention conditions.”

-Canada Border Services Agency. 26 October 2012. “Overview of the CBSA’s Immigration Detention Program” http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/media/facts-faits/121-eng.html. [Accessed 29 September 2013].

“Persons detained in Canada under IRPA are vulnerable because they have been deprived of their liberty and their movements are closely controlled. This vulnerability is further compounded for those that have experienced traumatic events. Immigration detainees may also be faced with difficult challenges as newcomers to Canada, including lack of social support and language barriers. The Canadian Red Cross began monitoring immigration detention facilities in 1999 on the west coast of Canada in response to a request from the Government of Canada. The program now includes visits in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia. This program builds on the legacy of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ experience in monitoring detention conditions for prisoners of war and political prisoners worldwide.”

– Canadian Red Cross. “Detention Monitoring Project.” http://www.redcross.ca/what-we-do/migrant-and-refugee-services/detention-monitoring-program.  [Accessed 29 September 2013].


Other Useful Sources

Amnesty International, Migration-Related Detention: A Research Guide on Human Rights Standards Relevant to the Detention of Migrants, Asylum-Seekers and Refugees, November 2007, POL 33/005/2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/476b7d322.html [accessed 29 September 2013] 

Canadian Red Cross. “Detention Monitoring Project.” http://www.redcross.ca/what-we-do/migrant-and-refugee-services/detention-monitoring-program.

Global Detention Project. http://www.globaldetentionproject.org/home.html.

Pratt, Anna. 2005. Securing Borders: Detention and Deportation in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Detention/Pages/WGADIndex.aspx.

International Detention Coalition, http://idcoalition.org/



Burnett, Jon and Fidelis Chebe. 2010. “Captive Labour: Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Employment in UK Immigration Removal Centres.” Race & Class 51(4): 95-103.

Coffey, Guy. 2006. “‘Locked Up Without Guilt or Sin’: The Ethics of Mental Health Service Delivery in Immigration Detention.” Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 13(1): 67-90.

Curtis, Faith and Kathleen J. Mee. 2012. “Welcome to Woodside: Inverbrackie Alternative Place of Detention and Performances of Belonging in Woodside, South Australia, and Australia.” Australian Geographer 43(4): 357-75.

Fischer, Nicolas. 2013. “Bodies at the border: the medical protection of immigrants in a French immigration detention centre.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 36(7): 1162-1179.

Griffiths, Melanie. 2012. “Anonymous Aliens? Questions of Identification in the Detention and Deportation of Failed Asylum Seekers.” Population, Space and Place 18(6): 715-727.

Hall, Alexandra. 2010. “ ‘These People Could Be Anyone’: Fear, Contempt (and Empathy) in a British Immigration Removal Centre.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 36(3): 881-898.

Khosravi, Shahram, 2009. “Sweden: detention and deportation of asylum seekers.” Race & Class 50(4): 38-56.

Larsen, Mike and Justin Piché. 2009. “Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy, and Indefinite Detention: The Case of the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre.” Canadian Journal of Law and Society. 24(2): 203-229.

Levitan, Rachel, Esra Kaytaz and Oktay Durukan. 2009. “Unwelcome Guests: The Detention of Refugees in Turkey’s “Foreigners’ Guesthouses.”’ Refuge 26(1).

Mcsherry, Bernadette and Azadeh Dastyari. 2007. “Providing Mental Health Services and Psychiatric Care to Immigration Detainees: What Tort Law Requires.” Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 14(2): 260-271.

Pugliese, Joseph. 2008. “The Tutelary Architecture of Immigration Detention Prisons and the Spectacle of ‘Necessary Suffering.’” Architectural Theory Review 13(2): 206-221.

Silverman, Stephanie J. and Evelyne Mass. 2012. “Why Immigration Detention is Unique.” Population, Space and Place 18(6): 677-686.

Sutton, Rebecca and Darshan Vigneswaran. “A Kafkaesque state: deportation and detention in South Africa.” Citizenship Studies 15(5): 627-642.