At land, sea and air borders around the world, undocumented migrants experience discrimination, violence or other rights violations. These include arbitrary decision making, unlawful profiling, disproportionate interference with the right to privacy, violent and dangerous interception practices, illegal deportations, and prolonged, systematic or arbitrary detention. International border zones are not exempt from the law, including human rights obligations. National authorities have the duty to fulfil the fundamental rights of all migrants. Migration management in Europe primarily focuses on controlling migration and deterring irregular migration. Over recent years, extensive operations, both within and at the external borders of the European Union’s territory, have aimed at apprehending and detaining undocumented migrants, and enforcing deportations. In this context, detention of migrants is frequently used systematically; it is often arbitrary and unlawful. Migrant children and their families are also detained, contrary to international child rights standards that state a child should never be detained for migration control purposes, nor separated from their family. Procedural rights in immigration detention are usually limited. There is often much less involvement of judges in making and reviewing decisions to detain migrants than people in the criminal justice system. Civil society also has very limited access to the centres. This makes it difficult to ensure decisions are lawful, detained migrants are able to challenge their detention and any rights violations, and independent monitoring of conditions in the detention. Migrants in detention may face serious human rights violations. Women and children are especially vulnerable to violence and abuse in places of immigration detention. Studies have shown that even short periods of immigration detention can have long-term impacts on physical and mental health.

PICUM is working collaboratively – with a range of organisations and institutions involved in human rights, migrants’ rights, children’s rights, health, education and social inclusion – to call on the European Union and its member states to ensure fundamental rights at its borders.


  • Human rights should always be central in law, policies and practices concerning migration management. Enforcement policies should ensure migrants’ fundamental rights through independent and systematic monitoring of apprehension, detention and deportation procedures


  • Viable alternatives to detention should be promoted and adopted. The use of detention for migration control purposes deprives people of their liberty for the administrative convenience of states and frequently violates migrants’ human rights.


  • Children should never be detained. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has stated that the detention of a child because of their or their parent’s migration status always constitutes a child rights violation and contravenes the principle of the best interests of the child.


  • Procedural safeguards and access to justice should be ensured for all migrants in apprehension, detention and deportation procedures.


  • Migrants who cannot be deported should not be detained and should be granted residence status. Migrants who cannot return to their country of origin or be deported should be granted access to a regular residence status and access to social services, including housing, health care and education.


  • A clear firewall should be established between processes of detection and apprehension of undocumented migrants and access to services, protection and justice. Detection and apprehension processes should not result in violations of migrants’ rights.