Skip to main content

Press releases Multiple Mechanisms

UN human rights experts urge States to adopt alternative measures and put an end to detention of migrants

17 December 2021



Millions of migrants, including women and children, continue to be detained because of their migration status. In a statement marking International Migrants Day, human rights experts* urge States to systematically apply alternative measures to confinement, particularly in the present difficult situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to immediately stop detaining migrant children, as well as ultimately putting an end to the detention of all migrants. Their full statement is as follows:

“On the occasion of International Migrants Day and in the context of a continuing global health crisis, we feel duty-bound to highlight the plight of millions of migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, and stateless people in all corners of the world who find themselves deprived of their liberty solely based on their migration status.

While we laud those States that are actively pursuing and implementing alternative measures to immigration detention, we urge all others to prioritize non-custodial accommodation solutions and community-based care arrangements, as many States have pledged under the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

People should not be treated as criminals merely for irregular crossing a State border or lacking proper documentation. Mass detention of these people cannot be considered as just a casual measure of immigration control. Nonetheless, there has been a significant increase in the use of immigration detention by States since the 1990s, although the prohibition of arbitrary detention is a non-derogable rule of customary international law.

We remind States that detention under international human rights law must always be non-discriminatory and an exceptional measure of last resort. The detention of children on grounds related to their own or their parents’ migration status is never governed by the principle of exceptionality, and never responds to the best interests of the child; it is therefore always prohibited under international human rights law.

We urge States to immediately cease immigration detention of children, and phase out, and ultimately put an end to this practice for all other migrants. We stress that alternative measures to detention not only have more protection of people’s dignity, humanity, health and well-being, they are also significantly less costly to operate than detention facilities.

On the other hand, custodial measures have significant negative impact on the health and personal integrity of migrants, including their adverse consequences over their mental health, such as anxiety, depression, exclusion and post-traumatic stress disorder, and even risk of suicide. These risks have been particularly aggravated in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The criminal justice system, such as bail, home-based detention or other restrictions on movement, including electronic surveillance or periodic reporting to the authorities, should not be used in the immigration context. They also should not be used as alternatives to immigration detention. If alternatives to imposing restrictions on the rights of migrants are used, the safeguards surrounding them should be as stringent as those applied to detention situations.”


* The experts: Mr. Can ÜNVER, Chairperson of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW). CMW is the body of 14 independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families by its State parties. It held its first session in March 2004. See the Committees General Comment No. 5 (2021) on migrants rights to liberty, freedom from arbitrary detention and their connection with other human rights.

Mr. Felipe González Morales (Chile) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in June 2017 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three years. As a Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. He is Professor of International Law at the Diego Portales University, in Santiago, Chile, where he is also the Director of a Master's programme in International Human Rights Law. See the Special Rapporteurs report on ending immigration detention of children and providing adequate care and reception for them.

For more information and media requests, please contact Yiyao Zhang (+41 22 917 85 94 / [email protected]) or Idrissa Kane, Secretary of the CMW Committee (+41 22 917 92 73 [email protected]) and Nikolaus Schultz (+41 22 917 92 28 / [email protected])


Learn more with our videos on the Treaty Bodies system and the Committee on Migrant Workers
Follow the UN Treaty Bodies on social media!
We are on Twitter @UNTreatyBodies

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts and @UNTreatyBodies