EU: The privatisation of migrant detention: major new study by Migreurop


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"In the decade influenced by the September 11 attacks, a “migration security market” sprang up, as the interests of European political leaders willing to militarize EU borders progressively converged with those of the main defense and security service providers. Within this market, immigration detention – at borders and within the EU – plays a growing role. By presenting the various facets of privatisation of immigration detention in Europe (United-Kingdom, France and Italy), this report aims to provide a tool to decode the issues around these “outsourcing” realities, both in terms of the detainees’ living conditions and treatment and in terms of the symbolic and political consequences of these choices."

See: Migrant detention in the European Union: a thriving business (Migreurop, link) and the full report (link to pdf).

The report concludes (emphasis added):

"Under the guise of “mass” migration, the EU and its Member States are continuously strengthening their systems to deprive migrant populations of their liberty. Emblematic of European policy for the exclusion of foreign nationals, migrant detention facilities offer fertile ground for human rights violations. The acts of resistance and rebellion by detainees are a sign of the injustice and despair caused to those who find themselves trapped inside.

For over thirty years, the EU and Member States have pursued a policy of detaining migrants, despite its limited effectiveness in reaching targets. In terms of deportation – which is supposed to be the main purpose of migrant detention – the figures show that many people held in administrative detention are never removed from the country. As to the objective of “controlling” migration movements, the experience of the past 20 years has shown that mechanisms put in place to control migration merely help to create more obstacles for migrants, often putting their lives at risk. Detention has failed to discourage migrants from attempting to cross borders.

A number of studies have demonstrated the ideological impact sought by the governments who put in place migration control, regardless of their effectiveness: “Through spectacular measures and thundering speeches, governments aim to convince an electorate ill at ease with the turmoil in today’s world that everything possible is being done to keep them safe”. In a world where the political and economic soverignty of nation states is being eroded, the roll-out of migrant detention centres closely resembling prisons, even though they are not actually prisons, not only criminalises a section of the population seen to be undesireable, but also showcases the action of the State to give the impression that it has the situation under control.

Apart from this policy of smoke and mirrors, this study also shows that the explanation also lies in the development of a migrant detention “industry” in the EU. The examples given here, from construction to administration, through to activities associated with logistics and care for the people detained there, migrant detention camps are a source of profit for numerous private players. Growing privatisation of migrant detention, in its many forms across European countries, on the treatment of detained migrants is not without impact on the treatment of detained migrants.

Calls for tender issued by governments focused on the lowest price often result in less funds being allocated for the management of migrant detention centres, resulting in lower standards of “reception” and care for detainees. In the United Kingdom, 42 milllion pounds in savings must be found under the new contract between the Home Office and Serco for the management of the Yarl’s Wood centre. According to the report published by the National Audit Office in July 2016, these savings will mainly come from a 20% reduction in Serco staff, to be replaced with self-service kiosks which migrants can use to order meals, for example. Relentless cost-cutting will only further dehumanise migrant camps and worsen living conditions for detainees.

Furthermore, privatised management of migrant detention pushes these already obscure institutions further into the shadows. With access for journalists and civil society to migrant detention centres already strictly regulated, limited and even prevented in the majority of Member States, outsourcing the management of the camps and related services to private players only further hinders access to information on the latter. The account given by Louis Joiet, former UN Rapporteur on arbitrary detention, of his attempt to obtain a copy of the contract between Australia and a private company clearly illustrates the risk that information will be withheld in the context of privatised management of migrant camps: “The immediate response I received was that it was a business secret – rather than a State secret. For my contact, the State was just the same an ordinary commercial customer, and the UN an institution that he feared would disclose the trade secrets used to manufacture his ‘merchandise’ to the competition”. In another case in the UK, Corporate Watch faced a year-long battle to gain access to monthly self-evaluation reports by the companies managing migrant detention facilities.

Finally, outsourcing management and services linked to the operation of detention facilities also serves the political interests of States, insofar as it allows the State to dilute the responsibility of public authorities vis-à-vis detention facilities and the violations of rights they generate. In an article published in March 2014, the IRIN (online news bulletin with “humanitarian analysis and news” managed by the UN until January 2015) sheds light on the potential consequences of such outsourcing based on examples from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, the first countries to have outsourced migrant camps: “the possibility for States to escape their responsibilities, the lack of transparency on the work practices of the supplier companies, the loss of State control over their activities, the lack of information on the real cost of subcontracting, the quasi-monopoly of certain multinationals, which carve up the global detention market between them, collusion between their managers and certain political leaders, and finally the criminalisation of migrants that results from this privatisation"."



Detention, the preferred migration management method

I. The normalisation of migrant detention
Who is being detained?
Where is detention happening?
How is detention happening?

II. The human and financial cost of an ineffective policy

The privatisation of migrant detention takes many forms

I. United Kingdom
A market dominated by a handful of multinational security companies

II. Italy
Public-private management of migrant camps
A competitive market

III. France
The privatisation of legal aid for detained migrants
Multinationals operating in administrative detention in France

IV. The privatisation of migrant detention, a growing phenomenon in the EU

The impact of the privatisation of migrant detention

I. The impact of privatisation on the lives of detainees
Cutting costs and increasing profits to the detriment of detained migrants
Poor working conditions and poorer detention conditions
Does privatised management of migrant detention centres encouraging growing violence against detainees?
Putting migrant detainees to work and turning them into captive labour

II. The symbolic impact of the privatisation of migrant detention
"Humanising" as an attempt to depoliticise administrative detention
Criminalisation of migration

III. Profitable collusion between the public sector and the private sector
"Migration security" lobbies in the UK
Business and corruption in the Italian detention market
The dilution of responsibilities

The report: Migrant detention in the European Union: a thriving business (link to pdf)

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