Table of Contents

Research Handbook on International Law and Migration

Research Handbook on International Law and Migration

Research Handbooks in International Law series

Edited by Vincent Chetail and Céline Bauloz

Migration is a complex and multifaceted issue, and the current legal framework suffers from considerable ambiguity and lack of cohesive focus. This Handbook offers a comprehensive take on the intersection of law and migration studies and provides strategies for better understanding the potential of international legal norms in regulating migration. Authoritative analyses by the most renowned and knowledgeable experts in the field focus on important migration issues and challenge the current normative framework with new ways of thinking about the topic.

Chapter 6: Detention of migrants: Harsher policies, increasing international law protection

Beth Lyon

Subjects: development studies, migration, law - academic, human rights, public international law, politics and public policy, human rights, social policy and sociology, migration, urban and regional studies, migration


Immigration detention is the phenomenon of depriving non-nationals of their liberty for violating immigration law. Governments utilize immigration detention because, although national borders are firmly drawn in the text of international law and in political rhetoric, most actual borders are not readily defensible against unauthorized migration. After creating an enduring and impactful international legal regime for identifying and protecting refugees in the post-war period,the international community turned its attention away from managing migration, and has never effectively addressed the cross-border movement of low-income workers, smuggled, and trafficked people. The result is a high level of irregular migration. An estimated 15-20 per cent of the 215-plus million migrants on earthhave no legal right to be present in the countries where they reside. Enforcement solutions to irregular migration are generally impracticable because of the socio-economic integration unauthorized migrants have in their countries of residence. However, irregular migration is an issue of popular concern, causing governments to seek enforcement methods that will satisfy the public. Governments increasingly choose detention of migrants as one of these methods; it serves as a tangible proxy for the fences and guards that anti-immigration advocates demand, and its inefficiency and inhumanity as a policy choice is easier for governments to conceal.

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