Open Access Now

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In May 2016, the campaign “Open Access Now” left the floor to the mobilisation “Close the Camps” (see the May 23, 2016 release).


Camps for foreigners in Europe: Open the doors!

We have a right to know, they demand to be free…

Behind the official objective of heading «towards a better management of migration flows», the institutionalisation of the detention of foreigners continues to criminalise those who have been designated as unwanted in spite of not proving effective in relation to its initial goal.

Around 600,000 migrants are detained each year in European Union countries, adults and children, most often on the basis of a simple administrative decision. Their detention – often referred to using euphemisms such as «custody» or «holding» – may last up to 18 months, according to European law, while they await an expulsion that will only take place for half of the people who are subject to expulsion orders [1] and will send them back to their home country or to a third country where they often do not have any important bonds.

The legal basis? Two European texts provide for the administrative detention of migrants, making this denial of freedom systematic:

  • the directive laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers in member states («Reception» directive);
  • the directive on common standards and procedures in member states for returning illegally staying third-country nationals («Returns» directive », also known as the «directive of shame»).

Their crime? None. These people have merely come or lived irregularly in the country in which they have been detained. They have travelled in accordance with the fundamental right of all the world’s citizens to leave any country, including his own [2], and with the idea that the European Union is a space in which human rights are respected.

Now, once they are detained, these people are not just denied their freedom of movement but also, most often, their private and family life as well as legal advice and/or health care that is suitable for their situation, and an effective jurisdictional oversight on their denial of freedom and expulsion, etc.

The Open Access Now campaign was launched in 2011 by the Migreurop and Alternatives Européennes networks, its goal is to close all the detention camps in Europe and beyond and, in the meantime, to demand and increase accountability and transparency about the reality of migrants’ detention.

This campaign is run by an international steering committee that comprises Migreurop, Alternatives Européennes, La Cimade (France), Anafé (France), Arci (Italy), Sos Racismo (Spain), Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (Belgium), Ciré (Belgium) and Frontiers Ruwad (Lebanon).

Through the actions and resources organised within the framework of the campaign, it attempts to raise awareness about the reality and detention conditions for foreigners in Europe and beyond, to play a role in warning and defending detained foreigners and to document the consequences of this detention in camps, which are daily settings for the violation of fundamental rights.

One of the resources prepared by Migreurop within the framework of the Open Access Now campaign is the interactive Close the Camps map, which aims to improve access to information as widely as possible, by listing the different camps and pratical information concerning them. The interactive map also has the purpose of enabling a better understanding of the consequences of the development of mechanisms on the lives and rights of migrants.

In practice, the European states and institutions attempt, somehow, to conceal this aspect that seldom shines through about a policy that, moreover, is presented as respecting rights.

Thus, today, in most of the EU countries, but also in those where the Union’s migration policy is deployed and/or with which it has signed neighbourhood agreements, access to the camps is strictly regulated, limited, or even impeded, for journalists and civil society. Very often, it is difficult to meet any detainees. Only MPs have a right to visit them. While the «Returns» directive envisages that «Relevant and competent national, international and non-governmental organisations and bodies shall have the possibility to visit detention facilities», the European Commission recognises in its first evaluation report on this directive that compliance with this possibility is not guaranteed in 7 Member States. The assessment by our organisations, which have been engaged in issues concerning detention for over ten years, is far more worrying.

Hence, it is essential, whether it is a matter of pleading for a «humanisation» of detention facilities – which can only prove an illusion –, or for these centres to be closed, or for the rights and legislation that are in force to be respected, for it to be possible to have access to clear information about the existence and functioning of the camps and to be able to report its disfunctions.

The campaign also relies, for the purpose of putting an end to the secrecy that surrounds these sites, on the right to information guaranteed by article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This article clearly stigmatises the «interference by public authorities» which seek to prevent citizens from having access to information, and in particular to information concerning the functioning of these institutions.

In view of the unsustainable financial and especially human cost of detention, of its being a constant source of rights violations and that its effectiveness in relation to its official purpose of expulsion is debateable, we demand the closure of detention camps, regardless of how they are named and where they are, not only in European territory, but also in the European migration policy’s partner countries.

For as long as these places exist in Europe and beyond, because citizens have a right to know the consequences of policies that are enacted in their name, and the people who are detained have a right to communicate with the outside world, also in public, we demand:

-unconditional access for civil society and the media to informatiom and to detention facilities,

-for the effective exercise of the rights of detainees, who must no longer face inhuman and degrading treatment, to be guaranteed in official texts and in practice

-for MEPs and national MPs and other people, institutions or organisations who are guaranteed access to visit detention facilities and encourage the development of national and European legislation to better protect the rights of detained foreigners.


[1] According to the European Commission, “With regard to the return of those without the right to stay in the EU, statistics demonstrate that there is a considerable gap between the persons issued with a return decision (approximately 484,000 persons in 2012, 491 000 in 2011 and 540 000 in 2010)” and those who, as a consequence, have left the EU (approximately 178,000 in 2012, 167 000 in 2011 and 199, 000 in 2010), Commission Communication on EU Return Policy, 28 March 2014 (p. 4). Moreover, as can be read in the European Migration Network’s study «The use of detention and alternatives to detention in the context of immigration policies», published in November 2014, «The impact of detention and alternatives to detention on the ability of Member States to adopt and execute prompt and fair decisions regarding return may be rather insignificant» (p. 4 of the summary).
[2] Article 13 of the «Universal Declaration of Human Rights» and article 12 of the «International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights»