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Tough Guide to the world's immigration detention centres


United States

A wide range of accommodation is available for Tough Guide readers. In early 2013 Congress budgeted for 33,400 detention spaces – the largest in the world. But the US also offers the traveller the ultimate get-away-from-it-all experience – solitary confinement. Some establishments withhold food to control detainees who can ‘earn back a regular diet’. 1,2,3
STAR RATING: minus four stars


Ukraine offers an arresting pastiche of racism, corruption and violence. With 400 bed spaces and up to 12 months’ detention, hospitality can be overdone. Take the riot police putting down a hunger strike in Lutsk detention centre in 2012, who threatened: ‘We will kill you if you don’t come to lunch.’ UNHCR advises against travelling here.
STAR RATING: minus four stars


Tough Guide can’t bring you total bed-space numbers. Even police stations are used to detain migrants. Tough Guide notes that a Greek court recently acquitted escaped migrants on the grounds that their stay in a Greek detention centre amounted to torture. The friendly greeting Yahsu! (Hi) may help when meeting the locals.4
STAR RATING: minus four stars


On your way along the West Coast of Africa, you will encounter Spanish-funded Nouadhibou – affectionately known as ‘Guantanamito’. It houses those attempting the north passage into Spain or the Canaries. Don’t miss the hair-raising, unforgettable experience of ‘collective expulsions’ back to Mali and Senegal.5
STAR RATING: minus three stars


Informal detention by regional militia – with little food and no healthcare – adds spice to the Libyan experience even for the jaded ‘seen-it-all’ traveller. In late 2013 UNHCR reported that the delightfully named Department for Combating Illegal Migration was in fact releasing illegally detained asylum seekers. Quick, don’t miss out!
STAR RATING: minus five stars

Words: Timothy Baster and Isabelle Merminod
Illustration: Kathryn Corlett

  1. 'Sequestration Exposes Need to Eliminate th Immigration Detention Bed Quota'. National Immigrant Justice Center.

  2. Invisible Isolation, National Immigrant Justice Center, September 2012.

  3. Global Detention Project.

  4. Asylum In Europe.

  5. mnesty International Annual Report, 2013.

  6. ‘Barely Surviving, Detention, Abuse, and Neglect of Migrant Children in Indonesia’, Human Rights Watch, 2013.

  7. Immigration Detention Statistics Summary, Australia Department of Immigration and Citizenship, October 2013.

  8. ‘This is breaking people – human rights violations at Australia’s asylum-seeker processing centre on Manus island, Papua New Guinea.

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