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Global Migration Centre

International Law and Migration Detention: Coding State Adherence to Norms

The detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers is drawing the attention and resources of entities from all facets of contemporary society - including government agencies, not-for-profit groups, private companies, and international organizations, resulting in the creation of new forms of collaboration between state and non-state actors.

While the international community focuses on developing ways to “govern” migration, the issue of the legal framework and key norms in the treatment of migrant detainees have largely been overlooked. The project aimed at filling this research gap by looking at the legal and normative framework of migration detention.

Among several noteworthy results, the project led to the elaboration of an overarching normative framework for immigration detention that covers all binding norms – be they universal or regional; the development of indicators to assess the degree to which countries adhere to these; the development of an online database documenting the phenomenon of immigration-related detention that serves the dual goals of publicizing rigorously constructed data on national detention regimes and providing a central organizing framework for information and analysis on detention produced by relevant actors across the globe.

This research project was funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies, and was carried out from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2013.

Project Team


  • Vincent Chetail, Project Coordinator
  • Michael Flynn, Project Co-coordinator
  • Mariette Grange, Senior Researcher
  • Izabella Majcher, Research Assistant