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Background information in English

Some background information in English
about migrant detention centres in the Netherlands and Europe

On this internetpage we offer some information, reports and evaluations about the the Dutch migrant detention centres in English. It also has the conclusions on the investigation by The Dutch Safety Board in the fire at the detention centre Schiphol-Oost (Amsterdam Airport).

I am not a criminal, I am an artist"
The story of three Moroccan dancers who despite having valid Visas, were refused entry, locked up, and deported by the Dutch authorities. Click here to download this PDF to read and print

“Dad, have we done something wrong?” – Report on families in immigration detention in the Netherlands
“It was unbearable for my daughter. She was petrified. She kept asking me why we were there and even asked me: ‘Dad, have we done something wrong?’” stated an Iranian father who was in immigration detention with his daughter of six years old.
The No Child in Detention Coalition, including Amnesty International, Defence for Children, Stichting INLIA, Kerk in Actie, Stichting Kinderpostzegels Nederland, Stichting LOS, Unicef - the Netherlands and the Dutch Council for Refugees, has published a report based on interviews with eight families who were put in border detention or immigration detention in the Netherlands. Click here to download and read the report in English.
According to the report, the number of children detained with their families in the Netherlands has been increasing since 2010.
The organisations stress that placing migrant children in detention is not in the best interest of the child and urge the Dutch Government to ensure that alternatives to detention, which should be in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, are in place.
For further information
- Asylum Information Database, Update report on the Netherlands: Detention of asylum seekers, May 2014
- Joint open letter to the European Council calling for European commitments on children’s rights to be prioritised in future common migration and asylum policies, 22 May 2014

'The futile detention of unreturnable migrants.'
Twenty unreturnable migrants, detained for a forced deportation that can never happen, tell their own moving stories. Website in English, Dutch, French and Hungarian.
Click here to check out this website and read.

'Are our lives and worries not important at all?'
In this story Gurucharan Singh shows his  change  from guest worker to illegal immigrant and how he was hunted down and locked up by the Dutch authorities in a harsh jail system although he had not committed any crime at all.
Unfortunately this testimony is not unusual in a cynical and sometimes lethal  bureaucracy that crushes individuals.
Click here to download this PDF to read and print

Council of Europe Criticizes Netherlands Again
October 2011 the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe carried out a periodic visit to the Netherlands. Again the Committee had a lot of critical remarks about the detention of migrants. Click here to read more.

Deterrence with prisons does not work
Results of research "Leaving Detention?" by International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Commissioned by International Organization for Migration (IOM) Mieke Kox has studied the effects of prisons on undocumented aliens. She wrote a report about this project with the title "Leaving Detention?"
A few conclusions: the immigration prison and forced return as a deterrence will not work because the motives for undocumented workers to come here are more important. The Dutch government has no influence on most of these motifs.
Only 6 percent of cases, prisoners cooperate in their forced return.
Migrants usually cannot return, even if they get no permit and no proper job. For many of them migration the last option. Even without having arranged anyything in advance (e.g. visa or study permit). Click here to download the full report as PDF

Justitia et Pax Netherlands: ‘Netherlands violate elementary human rights through the current practice of migrant detention’
Justitia et Pax Netherlands has published the report ‘Humanity in migrant detention’.
In this report Roman Catholic prison-chaplains express their concerns about the way refugees and undocumented migrants are being held in custody. The inquiry was made by Justitia et Pax in 2009 among the Roman Catholic chaplains who work in Dutch migrant detention centers. Click here to read more (PDF-file)>>>

Council of Europe criticizes migrant detention in the Netherlands
Human rights commissioner from the COUNCIL OF EUROPE criticizes migrant detention in the Netherlands. Click here to read some fragments of the report Or click here to read the whole report in English

The making of the illegal migrant: How twenty years of Dutch immigration policy have created Fortress Netherlands
As a tourist one experiences the Netherlands as a progressive and tolerant country. But for irregular migrants the Netherlands has not much of its progressiveness and tolerance left. And while many other countries in the EU such as Italy, Belgium and Spain have seen waves of empowerment of irregular migrants fighting for the recognition of their rights as workers and citizens, the Netherlands has remained astonishingly quiet in this respect for years now. Click here and read more

Hospitality behind bars – immigrant detention in the Netherlands
Under these very restrictive conditions in a country with a culture of compromise instead of confrontation there is not much room for collectice action. So what is left to the irregular migrants are the weapons of the weak. Being the only sphere of individual autonomy left to a detained person, the body is most often one’s only weapon. Refusing to eat, refusing to move, refusing to obey and even suicide, including setting oneself on fire are examples of how detainees resist to the Dutch immigration regime. The detention centre often responds with measures of violence and punishment such as isolation. Click here and read more

Report Amnesty International about migration prisons in the Netherlands
The Netherlands: The detention of Irregular Migrants and Asylumseekers - is the title of a very comprehensive and critical report from Amnesty International about migration prisons in the Netherlands. It makes clear that the daily practice of Dutch migration detention is violating many human rights. The report describes several clear cases of ill-treatment, but it also gives a lot of realistic recommendations to avoid human rights abuses in future. Click here to download the full report in English as a PDF document (500 kB).

Refugees, detention and mental health
Ten Abstracts
Data from all sources converge in demonstrating that prolonged detention has adverse mental health and psychosocial impacts on adults, families and children. Click here and read more in this PDF document.

Council of Europe critizes Dutch migrant prisons
The Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe criticizes severely the daily practice of the Dutch immigration detention. The committee (European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) controls the Convention against Torture of the United Nations from 1984. This convention is meant to prevent ill-treatment of prisoners by their governments. In June 2007 the committee visited three immigration prisons in the Netherlands. In a report to the Dutch government in February 2008 the committee concluded:

  1. The Netherlands have to stop immigration detention at boats ‘at the earliest opportunity’.
  2. The Netherlands has to set an ‘absolute time limit’ for migration detention, ‘as is already the case in the majority of European countries’.
  3. Placement in an isolation cell should ‘rarely last for more than a few hours’. The common practice of restraining detainees in isolation for lengthy periods for small issues ‘could very well be considered as ill-treatment’.
  4. Medical care has to be extended.
  5. The regime in the migrant prisons is far too tough. Often the migrants have to stay at their cells for 21 hours a day.
  6. The training of the guards is ‘insufficient to enable such staff to undertake other than passive security duties, thus reinforcing the carceral atmosphere already very evident on the (detention) boats.
  7. Making telephone calls is too expensive for the prisoners. They should also have more possibilities to receive visitors.

The Dutch government reacted in a letter to the parliament. It denied some criticism and promised to ‘think about’ other remarks of the committee.

Read also
Click here, download, print and read the article ‘CPT report – Parts about Migration Prisons in the Netherlands’
Click here, download, print and read the complete CPT report from 5 February 2008 as a PDF (1,3 MB)

Europarliament condemns Dutch migrant detention
December 2007 the European Parliament published a very critical report *) about migrant prisons and open centres in all EU countries. The report condemns the Dutch migration detention policy in strong words:

  1. The regime and living conditions in several migration prisons are ‘excessively severe’, ‘particularly harsh’, ‘entirely unsuitable’, ‘grim’, ‘dehumanising’.
  2. These prisons will make migrants ill. They are ‘pathogenic’ and ‘generate or aggravate psychological and psychiatric disorders’.
  3. The use of isolation cells ‘only worsens their psychological condition’.
  4. Undocumented migrants ‘should only be deprived of their freedom as a last resort’.
  5. About detention boats the report writes: ‘Confined spaces, poorly ventilated cells, humidity, and the lack of rest areas reinforce the punishment aspect of the detention which is unjustified given that the foreign nationals are not criminals.’

*) 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; European Parliament; Directorate-General Internal Policies; Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs; Brussels, December 2007; PE 393.275

Read also:
* ‘Migrant Prisons in the Netherlands - parts from a report of the European Parliament’
Click here to download the abstract on the Dutch situation
* Complete report: ‘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’; European Parliament; Directorate-General Internal Policies; Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs; Brussels, December 2007; PE 393.275.
Click here to download the complete report (306 pages) in English.

Devastating conclusion by The Dutch Safety
Board on Schiphol detention centre fire
The Dutch Safety Board came to a devastating conclusion on Schiphol detention centre fire killing 11people, some of them even unlawfully incarcerated. The Board has completed its investigation into the fire at the detention centre Schiphol-Oost, that took place in the night of 26 October 2005. In its report about the incident, the Board concludes among other things that three governmental services - the Custodial Institutions Service (DJI), the Government Building Agency and the municipal of Haarlemmermeer - failed to live up to their responsibilities. Especially fire prevention did not get appropriate attention.
Click here to see a visual presentation of the report on the website of the Dutch Safety Board (unfortunately only with Dutch comment, 70 MB). or
Click here and download the complete report in English as a PDF. (184 pages, 11 MB)

Children in immigration detention
Experiences and perspectives of children who have been in immigration detention. Bachelor thesis Cultural Anthropology, Utrecht University
Gerrianne Smits-Baauw, August 2007.
For this research, data were collected from twenty-three children and adolescents who have been in immigration detention, via interviews with the children, their parents or volunteers who counsel them. Detention duration varied from two weeks till 9 months, with a mean duration of 4 months.
The age of the children and adolescents who were interviewed, or whose mothers were interviewed, varied from two years to twenty-four years. For some children more than one year has passed since release. Except one seventeen years old boy, all the children were at least seven years in the Netherlands or were born here.
This research has been carried out under supervision of a university supervisor, Defence for Children International and the Johannes Wier Foundation for Human Rights and Healthcare.
Click here to download, print and read the abstract in English.

Amnesty International writes comprehensive
study on migrant detention centres in Europe
Under the title "Migration-Related Detention: A research guide on human rights standards relevant to the detention of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees" Amnesty produced a comprehensive study on this subject.
Click here to download the Amnesty International study.

Fortress Europe
Thousands of casualties among all that tried to reach Europe.
Click here to view a special website on Fortress Europe


    Info on the South Korean migrant union MTU
  2. Independent race and refugee news network (I.R.R)
  3. Abschiebehaft
    Kampagne gegen Abschiebungen, Abschiebeknäste und Abschiebelager
  4. National Coalition of Anti-deportation Campaigns
    Info and documentation on migrant detention centres in het U.K.

More internet links:
Across the border
Deportation of refugees and migrants from the Netherlands

This site contains (among many other things) 4 translated chapters from the original dutch version of the publication 'Over de grens'.
'Across the border' is a book about the deportation of undocumented migrants and refugees out of procedure from the Netherlands. These expulsions deliver more and more confrontations, through which not only the migration policy is brought up to discussion but also the society and the world we want to live in. With 'Across the border' we give ammunition to those who refuse the migrationpolicy in the Netherlands or be critical of it.

Human Rights Watch Commentary on Dutch Asylum Policy
Presented on the occasion of the Parliamentary Roundtable Discussion called by the Permanent Commission on Justice
September 24, 2003

Fleeting Refuge:
The Triumph of Efficiency over Protection in Dutch Asylum Policy; Human Rights Watch; April 2003

Dutch Asylum Policies Breach Rights
The Netherlands' Humanitarian Tradition Erodes; Human Rights Watch; April 9, 2003

Fire at Dutch airport prison kills 11 illegal immigrants
Fire at Dutch airport prison kills 11 illegal immigrants; Luke Harding; Friday October 28, 2005; The Guardian

Platform for organisations about undocumented migrants

Special website of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) - Europe
is dedicated to asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in administrative detention in Europe.

Concerns about Schiphol fire need urgent follow up
Special report by Amnesty International 21 September 2006

Europe one Huge Prisoncamp (1,7 MB)
A comprehensive map of camps, migrant detention centres and prisons in Europe done by the French organisation Migreurop gives a sinister and detailed picture where all these camps are located. In short: All over the place.

Dutch detention centers for asylum seekers and irregular migrants
A short 2 pages overview on this violation of human rights, written by Astrid Essed, Dutch League for the Human Rights.
Click here and download this document.

Ill treatment in a Dutch deportation prison
Testimony by an ex-detained refugee is at the centre of this brochure on the detention of refugees and undocumented migrants. This man was detained in the deportation-prison (border-prison) ‘Tafelbergweg’ in Amsterdam for half a year from the end of 2002 on, because his asylum request was refused.
Click here to download the complete story in English.

Dutch Detention
A transcript of the program Dateline, by SBS, Australia , 19 July 2006, reporter: Nick Lazaredes
Click here to download the transcript

Investigation ill-treatment detained migrants UK
(The Independent; Tuesday, 30 September 2008)
Claims by hundreds of asylum-seekers that they have been beaten or abused by British guards during their detention and removal from this country are to be independently investigated for the first time, The Independent has learnt.
Click here to download the article in The Independent

Abuse is 'systematic' at UK asylum migrant detention centres
A scandal involving systematic physical, mental and verbal abuse of asylum seekers in British migrant detention centres is being investigated amid calls for the government to create a new watchdog to monitor the welfare of detainees.
An Observer investigation can reveal that a series of incidents has led to a criminal investigation and civil claims for damages over a series of alleged assaults, reportedly involving beatings and, in one case, a death. Read the article by Jamie Doward, social affairs editor.
Click here to download the article in The Observer

Self harm in UK migrant detention centres
( Independent 19.4.08)
The true cost of using migrant detention centres to lock up failed asylum-seekers has been exposed by statistics showing the extent of self-harm among those held.
Figures show that in the last four months of 2007, 42 people needed medical attention for self-harm in Britain's 10 centres.
This represents 2 per cent of the 2,095 people held at that time. As well as these cases, one in five people held were considered to be at risk of self-harm and being formally observed. Colnbrook detention centre, near Heathrow, was worst, with 18 cases of self-harm treated in four months, and 126 people under formal watch.
Meanwhile, at Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire, where this week mothers have been on hunger strike in protest over the detention of their children, 52 inmates were under formal watch, and eight people required medical attention because of self-harm.
The statistics, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, support the views of many immigration experts and MPs that prolonged detention of migrants is unethical.
A spokeswoman for the Refugee Council said: "These figures confirm our huge concerns about detaining vulnerable people for indefinite periods. Many of these people will have undergone extreme trauma and in some cases torture and detention in their home countries.
"We urge the Government to consider alternatives to detaining people, given the severe effect it has on their mental health."
Emma Ginn, of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, said she hoped the statistics would act as a wake-up call to the UK Border Agency.
"Some self-harm attempts are just a cry for help, but some of these were serious suicide attempts. Why would any so-called bogus asylum-seekers make an attempt on their life? It's an indication of the living hell that they're going through."
Ms Ginn believes that the only option is to close the centres. "An alternative must be found," she said, "because they're driving people to make attempts on their own lives."

Photos Schipholfire

  1. Click here for a photo report by NOS tv
  2. Click hier for a photo report on the memorial service 2006 by NOS national television
  3. Click here for a photo special by Dutch newspaper Volkskrant.
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