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Thursday, 6 January 2011

Resource: The Global Detention Project

Norway's Trandum Detention Centre
The Global Detention Project (GDP) is an inter-disciplinary research endeavour that investigates the role detention plays in states’ responses to global migration, with a special focus on the policies and physical infrastructures of detention. The project, which was initiated in October 2006 with funding from the Geneva International Academic Network, is based at the Graduate Institute’s Programme for the Study of Global Migration.

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. Eventually, the project intends to make the entire database fully interactive with the website.

In December the project released five new reports covering Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Belize and detention at Europe's borders.

On Norway they say that although independent observers have lauded some of Norway’s detention practices, its sole dedicated immigration detention facility, the Trandum Detention Centre, has come under intense scrutiny because of a variety of problems at the facility, including riots, fires, and escape attempts. Observers have also criticised the facility for overcrowding and using inadequately trained private security guards. The turmoil at Trandum has occurred against the backdrop of hardening immigration policies in Norway, which have resulted in increasing detentions and deportations as well as more restrictive asylum practices.

Because of its remote geographic location, New Zealand has not faced the same migration pressures as that of its larger neighbour Australia. The smaller inflows are reflected in the country’s detention infrastructure and policies.

New Zealand has no dedicated immigration detention facilities, instead using its prison system for long-term detention, a practice that has been criticised by rights observers. Although a new Immigration Act emphasises alternatives to detention, it also raises the possibility of prolonged and arbitrary detention.

There also seems to be a growing focus on border security in political discourse. In October 2010, for example, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key emphatically rejected that New Zealand would pay for and run a “regional processing centre” for arriving boat people, although he said that having such a facility somewhere in the region “could fit” with the country’s policies. Referring to a then-recent arrival of a boat of asylum seekers in Canada, Key said, "If they can get to Canada they can get to New Zealand so we are looking at our own legislation and our response to this issue."

One of Europe’s key border states, Poland has found itself increasingly under pressure from its European Union neighbours to interdict asylum seekers and irregular migrants attempting to enter the region. As a result, it faces considerable strains with respect to its detention capacities and practices.

During its periodic review of Poland in 2010, the UN Human Rights Council highlighted a number of concerns with respect to Poland’s immigration detention policies, including: the absence of specific laws on the detention of non-citizens after the deadline for their expulsion; inadequate medical assistance in some detention centres for asylum seekers; poor conditions in transit zones and deportation detention centres; and charges that detainees are often unable to learn about their rights because of inadequate translations and inappropriate placement of information sources.

Although Spain receives a disproportionate number of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers compared to many of its European Union neighbours, the country is generally considered an exception to broader European trends on immigration, showing increased tolerance, a greater enthusiasm with regard to immigration, and a stronger acceptance of multiculturalism in opinion polls.

This reputation, however, has been challenged in recent years as the country has seen increasingly larger waves of sub-Saharan Africans attempting to reach the country. Responding to this situation, Spain introduced in 2009 several amendments to its Organic Law—which provides, inter alia, the grounds for the detention of migrants—that aligned the country with key European Directives relating to immigration and increased the amount of time a non-citizen can be held in administrative detention.

The country has also come under increasing criticism for conditions at some of its facilities, which gained international attention in November 2010 when several detainees at a Barcelona facility went on hunger strike to denounce “degrading treatment” there.

With its rich cultural and ethnic history, Belize has traditionally been considered a country of immigrants. However, in recent decades the country has come under increasing migratory pressures. According to the International Organization for Migration, “In relative terms, Belize is the Central American country that has received the largest foreign population since 1983. In 2000, foreigners constituted 14.8 percent of the population."

Irregular migrants are detained in the country’s single prison, the Belize Central Prison, which is operated by a private non-profit group called the Kolbe Foundation. Observers have criticised the government for the deplorable conditions inside the prison, including severe overcrowding.

In October 2010, the Global Detention Project held a workshop with representatives of non-governmental organisations from 12 countries in Europe and neighbouring areas to highlight pressing issues in the region and develop techniques for improving documentation of immigration detention practices and policies. The workshop, which was held at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, was jointly organised with the International Detention Coalition and the Programme for the Study of Global Migration, and was made possible by the generous support of Zennstrom Philanthropies. The report on the workshop, titled "Detention at the Borders of Europe," is available.
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