Conditions in detention facilities


Country Report: Conditions in detention facilities Last updated: 19/04/23


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Chapter 11 of the Aliens Act contains specific rules on how the detention centre should be run. Aliens who are held in detention must be treated humanely and their dignity should be respected.[1] By humane treatment is meant that: (a) the foreigner is always the focal point and their case must be dealt with in a legally safe and expedient manner; (b) a good relationship must be established between the detainee and the staff from the very outset of the detainee’s entry to the premises; (c) the foreigner must be able to feel secure and safe in this exposed situation; and (d) the staff must be sensitive to the needs of the detainee.

Conditions in detention centres should be as close as possible to those at regular reception centres, run by the Migration Agency. The only difference should be that the detainees are in a closed building and therefore have certain restrictions to their freedom of movement. Coercion or limitations in freedom of movement should not exceed what is necessary based on the grounds for the deprivation of freedom.

Religious observance is possible for persons of all creeds. It is a basic right according to the Swedish Constitution. However, this does not mean they can leave the centre to go to a mosque, shrine or church. Instead a neutral room is reserved for religious observance at the detention centre. Detainees are also able to request visits from pastors, imams and others who are important in their religious observance. Some faith communities see to it that a leader or representative visits the detention centre regularly.

While at the detention centre, the detainee has the right to a daily allowance in the same way as other asylum seekers. Daily activities are organised for both their physical and mental health. [2]

If deemed necessary to uphold security, a detainee can be confined in their room if this is necessary for the orderly running of the centre and for safety reasons or if the foreigner represents a danger to themselves or to others. Such a decision must be reviewed as often as is required but at least every third day. If the person is a danger to themselves then a medical examination should be promptly ordered. [3] There is no requirement that detention confined to a room at the centre must be tried before removing someone to police custody or to the prison services.

A detainee is not allowed to have alcoholic drinks or other stimulants or any object that can hurt anyone or be to the detriment of the keeping of order at the detention centre.[4] But, the detainee should be allowed to retain objects of personal value and other belongings.

Detainees have the right to freedom of information and the right to express opinions in the same way as other citizens. Therefore, no restrictions can be placed on the individual’s possession of certain newspapers or magazines.

If the detention centre staff suspects that a detainee may be in possession of forbidden substances such as drugs, alcohol or objects that can harm others or be a threat to order at the centre then a body search can be ordered.[5]

Mail sent to the detainee can sometimes be the object of examination, in which case it should be opened in the presence of the detainee. If the detainee does not consent to the package being opened in their presence then the object should be put aside and not opened. An examination of the contents should not include reading a letter or other written documents. Mail from legal counsel, lawyers, international organisations that have the right to receive complaints from individuals or from the UNHCR must not be opened. [6]

Smart phones are not allowed in detention centres since they can be used to take photos of persons present there. Simpler mobile phones without a camera function can be borrowed from the detention centre. [7] Personal belongings that the detainee cannot have in their room are stored at the detention centre, unless the property is illegal, in which case it is handed over to the police.[8] They can have access to these objects upon leaving the detention centre, as a list needs to be made of all stored objects.

All detainees have access to health care at the same level as other applicants, therefore, requiring, regular visits from nurses and doctors.[9]

Inspections are carried out in detentions centres in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. In Sweden, the designated National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to carry out the task is the Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO).

Kållered, Gothenburg: During their last inspection in 2018,[10] the Ombudsman (JO) pointed out that routines regarding the removal and placement of disruptive detainees in a police holding were lacking in consistency and poorly motivated. The general impression at the inspection was that the work at the detention centre in many ways was satisfactorily, but that the facility was overcrowded and there were problems with the detainees who have drug addictions. The JO noted some deficiencies, including

  • lack of uniform procedures for how circumstances are documented as the basis for decisions on separation and security placement are and that the documentation when the separation is suspended has not been done uniformly;
  • many decisions lacked a clear individual assessment, and in some decisions it was difficult to understand why the circumstances reported led to the conclusion that a separation was necessary or why a separation could not continue in the local detention centre;
  • application of different assessment levels;
  • many decisions lacked an assessment of whether the Migration Agency could take measures to avoid a police holding placement, for example by placing the detainee in another detention centre;
  • separation was used as a form of punishment for the detainees with drug issues and the custodians were placed in a police holding for the purpose of addressing and correcting a general problem with drugs in the detention centre;
  • it is common for security placements to be made with reference to the Migration Agency’s limited resources and that the detainees with psychological problems are placed in custody mainly because the staff at the detention centre do not have the skills to handle them;
  • that it took a long time before the Migration Agency visited the detainees who were placed in security holdings and reconsidered the decisions on security placement, and that the Migration Agency at its ongoing;
  • in several cases the review had not examined the reasons for the placement, mentioned in the decision.

In March 2022 the Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO) made an inspection in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture at the detention centre in Märsta. The Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO) expressed concerns about the following. During 2021 there had been detainees secluded for longer periods of time, as long as a couple of weeks. The Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO) noticed that the rooms where detainees were held secluded had camera surveillance all day long. According to the Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO) camera surveillance is a very serious breach of a person’s privacy. Even though the area around the bathroom did not have camera surveillance, it was almost impossible for the detainee to take care of personal hygiene or changing clothes without being observed. The Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO) also noticed that personal information about the detainees were written on boards by the staff in a manner that made it possible for other detainees to see.[11]

In a decision dated in May 2022 the Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concerns at the very serious allegations concerning the lack of appropriate treatment provided to a detainee in Sweden for his health condition and recalled that all persons detained must be treated with humanity.[12]

Detention conditions during COVID-19

Several civil society organisations expressed their concerns regarding the increased risk of infection for persons in detention who cannot be returned due to COVID-19-related obstacles.[13] The umbrella organisation Swedish Network of Refugee Support (FARR) organised an online survey with questions relating to hygiene, cleaning routines, access to information and health care inside the centres; based on which the public authorities were able to adopt adequate COVID-19 measures. Five out of the six detention centres were requested to contribute through anonymous answers and a total of 22% of the detained persons at that time participated to the survey. The respondents reported issues of overcrowding, impossibility to follow distancing rules between detainees, and shortcomings in cleaning and hygiene routines. 57% of the respondents informed that they had experienced covid-19-related symptoms, but that only 13.8% of them were able to consult a nurse to that end. Further, many respondents added that they felt their concerns and worries were not taken seriously by the detention staff. They also informed they were reluctant to tell staff about their condition and potential symptoms, out of fear of being moved to a section with infected people, as a result of which they would be even more at risk of becoming sick.[14]

The Parliamentary Ombudsmen (JO) carried out an inspection regarding the COVID-19 situation at the detention facilities under the supervision of the Swedish Migration Agency. Due to the risks of infection, the Migration Agency set up two different sections in all the detention centres; namely one designed for confirmed COVID-19 cases; and another section for suspected COVID-19 cases. As regards the possibility to respect physical distancing, reports from staff and detainees at the detention centres of Flen and Märsta revealed that this was difficult to implement in practice as many rooms were shared by six people. Staff informed that they had not received proper training nor information as to how to use protective equipment against the virus besides a link to an “instruction-video” illustrating how to use the safety equipment. Regarding access to information, the JO was informed that some of the detainees had received information verbally and a few had received written information on how to wash hands and other hygiene-related information.

There was one case in the Märsta detention centre where a detainee was found to be positive to COVID-19 on 18 March 2020 and was released from detention on the same day. The man was informed he could leave the detention centre but said he did not want to leave as he had nowhere to go and did not want to potentially infect other people. His condition deteriorated and he was examined on 21 March 2020 by ambulance personnel but did not need hospital care. His condition further deteriorated and he was hospitalised on 23 March 2020. He died on 14 April 2020.[15]

During 2022 the running of the detention centres returned to normal activities similar to the situation before COVID-19.[16]




[1] Ch. 11, Section 1 Aliens Act.

[2] Ch. 11, Section 3 Aliens Act

[3] Ch. 11, Section 7 Aliens Act.

[4] Ch. 11, Section 8 Aliens Act.

[5] Ch. 11, Section 9 Aliens Act.

[6] Ch. 11, Section 10 Aliens Act.

[7] Migration Agency, ‘Supervision and detention’,  available in Swedish at:

[8] Ch. 11, Sections 11-12 Aliens Act.

[9] Ch. 11, Section 5 Aliens Act.

[10] JO, Inspektion av Migrationsverket, förvarsenheten i Kållered, Göteborg, den 13–14 mars 2018, available in Swedish at:

[11] The Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO) report from inspection available in Swedish at:

[12] Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Opinion No. 26/2022 concerning Hassan Fazali (Sweden), 19 May 2022, available at:

[13] FRA, Migration: Key Fundamental Rights Concerns, November 2020, available at:, 32.

[14] Lindberg, A., Lundberg, A., Häyhtiö, S. and Rundqvist, E., Detained and Disregarded: How COVID-19 Has Affected Detained and Deportable Migrants in Sweden, 2020 available in English at:

[15] JO, Migrationsverkets åtgärder med anledning av COVID-19, 9 October 2020, available in Swedish at:

[16] Migration Agency, Annual Report 2022, Dnr: 1.3.2-2023-2262, available in Swedish at:, 84.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX – I Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation