New Internationalist

Tough Guide to the world’s immigration detention centres

January 2014

Are you the kind of person who is fleeing injustice and human rights abuses? New Internationalist has compiled the most-up-to-date info on where you might be staying – in some cases indefinitely. It’s all here, from the near rock-bottom, basic ‘minus one star’ to the absolutely fatal ‘minus five star’.

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


Sweden’s 235 bed spaces were recently described as a ‘prison with extra flavours’. Readers, this is IKEA chic, complete with 24-hour internet and fruit bowls. But you may still get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture registered concern over a lack of psychiatric care in a 2009 report. Give it a miss.
STAR RATING: minus one star


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


With authentic British irony, the country which brought you habeas corpus glories in indefinite detention for foreigners. With 4,500 bed spaces and 13 establishments you will get panoramic views of Oxford, Portsmouth and the hills of Sussex as your locked van speeds you from one prison to another. A sense of humour is essential.
STAR RATING: minus three 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


EU funding is increasing capacity. Arrest at the River Evros on the Greek/Turkish border means automatic detention by one or other country; a leaking boat or Greek police ‘push back’ may end your trip completely. Kumpaki, offering views on to the charming old centre, is your stop for short stays in Istanbul. Don’t mention ‘Gezi Park’ to the guards.
STAR RATING: minus two 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


Travelling with the kids? No problem. Children are detained along with adults. A (very) young Tough Guide researcher said, ‘we had one toilet for 37 people’. Tough Guide readers are advised not to attempt escape; recapture often leads to a severe beating. The law allows for 10 years’ detention.6
STAR RATING: minus five 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


Arrival (if you’re lucky) by picturesque local boat from Indonesia results in mandatory detention. As of October 2013, 8,521 people were accommodated in this way. ‘Offshore processing’ is all the rage so don’t count on seeing Sydney. If you land up on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, prepare for cramped conditions, stifling heat and humiliation.7,8
STAR RATING: minus four 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.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 469 This feature was published in the January 2014 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 469

New Internationalist Magazine issue 469
Issue 469

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