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UNHCR guidelines relating to the detention of asylum-seekers

Briefing notes

UNHCR guidelines relating to the detention of asylum-seekers

23 February 1999

UNHCR has issued updated guidelines on the detention of asylum-seekers. UNHCR is, as a matter of principle, opposed to the detention of asylum-seekers, and regrets that many countries hold asylum-seekers in detention, particularly if they entered the country without authorisation. Too often asylum-seekers are held in prison, sometimes with common criminals.

In UNHCR's view, detention of asylum seekers should take place only in exceptional circumstances - for public safety reasons, for example, or briefly in order to ascertain identity. Detention must be prescribed by national law and conform to international standards. Children should not be placed in detention, and particular attention should also be paid to vulnerable persons (victims of torture, trauma, unaccompanied elderly, persons needing medical care), women and stateless persons.

Where control of the residency of asylum-seekers is considered necessary, UNHCR urges states to examine alternatives to detention, such as the obligation to report regularly to authorities or to live in a designated, but "open" reception centre, in order that an adequate level of freedom of movement is guaranteed.