Article originally published on Council of Europe website, 26 March 2020 – accessible here
I call on all Council of Europe member states to review the situation of rejected asylum seekers and irregular migrants in immigration detention, and to release them to the maximum extent possible.
In the face of the global Covid-19 pandemic, many member states have had to suspend forced returns of persons no longer authorised to stay on their territories, including so-called Dublin returns, and it is unclear when these might be resumed. Under human rights law, immigration detention for the purpose of such returns can only be lawful as long as it is feasible that return can indeed take place. This prospect is clearly not in sight in many cases at the moment. Furthermore, immigration detention facilities generally provide poor opportunities for social distancing and other measures to protect against Covid-19 infection for migrants and staff.
Releases have been reported in several member states, including Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, with the latter country having just announced a review of the situation of all those in immigration detention. It is now important that this process continues and that other member states follow suit. The release of the most vulnerable should be prioritised. Since the immigration detention of children, whether unaccompanied or with their families, is never in their best interest, they should be released immediately. The authorities of member states should also refrain from issuing new detention orders to persons who are unlikely to be removed in the near future.
Member states should also ensure that those released from detention are given appropriate access to accommodation and basic services, including health care. This is necessary to safeguard their dignity and also to protect public health in member states.
The release of immigration detainees is only one measure member states can take during the Covid-19 pandemic to protect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty more generally, as well as those of asylum seekers and migrants.