17 January 2014

ECRE together with the Flemish Refugee Action (Belgium)Detention Action (UK)France Terre d’Asile (France) and Menedék – Hungarian Association for Migrants (Hungary) published this week the report Point of No Return: The Futile Detention of Unreturnable Migrants gathering qualitative research based on the experiences of 39 unreturn­able migrants who have been detained in Belgium, France, Hungary and the United Kingdom.

Unreturnable migrants cannot go back to their country of origin for reasons beyond their control. At the same time, they cannot obtain a residence permit in the country where they live. Without documents or status, they can be detained for a forced return that cannot be carried out.

Migrants can be unreturnable for various reasons. Sometimes the reasons are administrative: for example, the inability or refusal of the national authority of the country of return to issue documentation, without which return is impossible. Some are unreturnable because they are stateless. Others cannot be returned to countries where their human rights could be breached, such as Somalia and Mali, or because return would contravene their right to a family life. Finally, some migrants are unreturnable for medical reasons, since essential treatment is unavailable in their country of origin or they are to unwell to fly.

Unreturnable migrants live in long-term limbo, facing the constant threat of immigration detention. In the UK, they can be detained indefinitely. In each country, they can be repeatedly re-detained and released. States refuse to acknowledge the fact of unreturnability and use detention to attempt to enforce return.

Unreturnable migrants frequently remain for years in an irregular situation, without the prospect of a regular residency status. As a consequence they are excluded from rights to health care, housing, education and work. They experience destitution, poor physical and mental health, and even criminalization. They are simply stuck, with nothing that they can do to take responsibility for their lives.

“I wouldn’t wish this kind of life on my worst enemy”, said Boban. As a stateless citizen in Macedonia, Boban was not entitled to his fundamental rights. In search of these rights, he left his country behind and has now been recognised by the Belgian courts as stateless. Nevertheless, this does not automatically give Boban the right to a residence permit. He lives on the streets and does not receive any social support. Boban was in a detention centre twice, but as the Macedonian authorities do not acknowledge him as one of their citizens they will not let him return. Eight years later, he is still undocumented, still unreturnable, and still without a future.

The project ‘A face to the story: the issue of unreturnable migrants in detention’ is supported by EPIM, the European Programme on Integration and Migration.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 17 January 2014
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