Conditions in detention facilities


Country Report: Conditions in detention facilities Last updated: 10/06/22


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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 a 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. There is a library with access to the internet, a number of other computers, a gym room and an enclosed outdoor area for ball games. Detainees are expected to help out with activities of daily living, keeping their rooms tidy and helping with work in the kitchen. If they refuse then their daily allowance can be reduced.

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.[2] 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. 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.[3] Basically the detainee should be allowed to retain objects of personal value and other belongings. Belts and braces are not normally taken from the detainee nor are objects such as personal cutlery, perfume bottles and deodorants. However the possession of a knife is not allowed. Regarding medicine there are restrictions to possessing a large number of sleeping tablets. Since the staff at the detention do not have medical training it can sometimes be difficult to know what to decide in individual cases. However, they can refer to guidelines issue by the Social Welfare Board.

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. However the Migration Agency does have a responsibility to limit the spreading of or access to for example pornographic materials or TV programmes which can be found offensive by other detainees.

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. The detainee is often searched by the police before arriving at the centre. If that was the case the detainee will not be searched on arrival. If a body search is ordered then the law stipulates that it must not be carried out more thoroughly than the situation requires. Respect should be shown towards the detainee and a witness should be present unless this possibility is declined by the detainee. Women may not be bodily searched by a man nor in the presence of other men unless they are doctors or qualified nurses. There are different degrees of body searches. The Migration Agency’s staff is never allowed to carry out searches that involve examining the outer and inner parts of the body or the taking of tests. The Agency staff can only examine clothes or any other object the person is wearing, bags, packages and other objects brought by the detainee to the centre.

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.[4] 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. If it is clear from the weight or thickness of a letter that it only contains written material then it should be handed over to the detainee without any inspection. However if there is a reasonable suspicion that the letter or package contains drugs, alcoholic drinks or dangerous objects then the detainee should be summoned and the object may be inspected. A letter must not be opened or scanned before the detainee gives their permission. If staff suspect that a letter may have a passport or other identity document inside, they are not allowed to open that mail. The only way the authorities can use their right to take care of a passport is if the detainee shows it to them.

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. 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.[5] They can have access to these objects upon leaving the detention centre, as a list needs to be made of all stored objects.

Regular security inspections are conducted at the detention centre to make sure that windows, walls, alarm systems, electricity plugs and the like are in order. However such inspections cannot involve a routine search of the personal belongings of the detainees. Bags, bedclothes, cupboards, wardrobes and chests of drawers cannot be searched, unless there is well-founded suspicion of possession of forbidden objects.

All detainees have access to health care at the same level as other applicants, therefore, requiring, regular visits from nurses and doctors.[6] All detainees have access to open air at least 1 hour a day often in a closed courtyard.

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,[7] 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 works satisfactorily, but that the facility is overcrowded and there are problems with the detainees who have drug addictions. The JO notes 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.

Detention conditions during COVID-19

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 deceased on 14 April 2020.[8]




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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