Quick Facts

Number of dedicated detention centres: 0

Total detention capacity (in special prison unit): 24 (2008)

Max. length of administrative detention: 1 year (asylum seekers); 4  months (irregular migrants)

Number of asylum applications: 510 (2009)

Pending asylum claims: 29 (2009)

Number of deportations: 233 (2008)

Last updated: June 2010

Luxembourg Detention Profile

Detention Policy

Detention Infrastructure

Facts & Figures

One of Europe’s smallest countries with a population of just over half a million, Luxembourg has historically welcomed migrant labour, which has played an important role in the country’s prosperous economic development. However, in the face of large influxes of asylum seekers in the wake of the Balkan conflicts, the country’s attitude towards foreigners began to sour. The government implemented its first asylum legislation in 1996 and established its first immigration detention unit in 2002 (Kollwelter 2007; Levinson 2005). 

Detention Policy

The detention of irregular migrants awaiting deportation was first mandated in the 1972 Aliens Law (Loi concernant: 1° l’entrée et le séjour des étrangers; 2° le contrôle médical des étrangers; 3° l’emploi de la main-d’œuvre étrangère). A more recent law on the circulation of people and immigrants, adopted in 2008 (Loi sur la libre circulation des personnes et immigration – Immigration Law), continues to mandate the detention of irregular migrants refused entry into the territory as well as foreign nationals illegally residing in Luxembourg.


Foreign nationals refused entry are initially detained at the airport for up to 48 hours. If they cannot leave voluntarily or be deported within that time frame, they are taken to a secure facility where they are detained awaiting deportation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department of Immigration authorises the detention for a period of up to one month and can authorise the renewal of this order three times, bringing the maximum detention period to four months (Immigration Law, Art. 120).


The Grand Ducal order of September 2002 stipulates that a special section (“Centre de séjour provisoire pour étrangers en situation irrégulière”) of the Centre Penitentiaire du Luxembourg hold immigration detainees.

Criminalisation. A foreign national who has lived or worked illegally in Luxembourg can be punished with imprisonment for a period of eight days to one year, and/or be fined a maximum of €1,250 (Immigration Law, Art. 140). A person who has presented false documents or information in order to enter the territory can also be punished with a prison term of one month to two years and made to pay a maximum fine of €3,000 (Immigration Law, Art. 141). People who have been deported are refused entry for up to 10 years (art 116). They can appeal this order after three years; however, if they try to re-enter the territory after having been refused entry they can be sentenced to a prison term of six months to three years and be fined up to €3,000 (Immigration Law, Art. 142).


Unaccompanied minors are not detained within the detention facility but are taken to an “appropriate place” (Immigration Law, art. 120). They are not deported unless they present a serious security risk and unless it is deemed to be in their interest (art. 103). Caritas confirms that women and children are never held in the detention centre. However, a new dedicated immigration detention centre currently under construction (due to open in early 2011) will have facilities to accommodate families. (Soric 2010). At present, in rare cases single women and families are held in a closed transit centre, the Centre d’Accueil Intérimaire en vue d’un Départ Accompagné (AIDA) at the airport for a maximum of 72 hours awaiting deportation. This centre will close once the new immigration detention centre opens (Soric 2010).


Asylum seekers. Luxembourg ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention in1953 and the 1967 Protocol in 1971, but it adopted its first national asylum legislation in 1996 (loi du 3 avril 1996 portant création d’une procédure relative à l’examen d’une demande d’asile). The law was amended in 2006 to incorporate European directives on asylum (la loi du 5 mai 2006 relative au droit d'asile et à des formes complémentaires de protection -Asylum Law) (Luxembourg Government 2009; Kollwelter 2007).


Although asylum seekers who are considered to have legitimate claims are typically not detained in Luxembourg, the 2006 asylum law provides for detention of asylum seekers in specific cases, including when he/she: 1) applies for asylum with the aim of avoiding deportation after being found to be illegally residing the country; 2) does not fully disclose his or her identity or travel itinerary or does not cooperate with the authorities; 3) is to be transferred to another country that is deemed responsible for the asylum procedure, under the Dublin II agreement; 4) is part of an “accelerated procedure” (Asylum Law 2006, Art. 10).


The “accelerated procedure” is outlined in article 20 (Asylum Law 2006). If the asylum seeker does not cooperate with the authorities; presents false documents, or improbable, unsatisfactory, or erroneous information; uses the asylum procedure in order to delay or prevent deportation; has lived in the territory illegally when he or she should have made an asylum claim earlier—all these instances fulfil a special condition under the “accelerated procedure” in which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration will decide on the asylum claim within two months.


If the asylum seeker does not cooperate with the authorities (hides or destroys documents proving his or her identity or nationality), the three month maximum duration of detention can be renewed three times by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, bringing the maximum duration of detention to 12 months (Luxembourg Government 2009; Soric 2010).


Alternatives to detention. Asylum seekers deemed to have legitimate claims may find their own accommodation, but most often they stay in reception centres run by the Reception and Integration Office (Office luxembourgeois de l’accueil et de l’intégration) under the Ministry of Family and Integration (Ministère de la Famille et de l’Intégration). The NGO Caritas also runs the Foyer Saint Antoine, and the Luxembourg Red Cross runs the Don Bosco reception centre (Sehovic 2010; Soric 2010).


Detention Infrastructure

Luxembourg does not have a purpose-built immigration detention centre. Instead, it operates a special unit for immigration detainees inside the Centre Penitentiaire du Luxembourg (CPL). This centre de séjour, whose establishment was legally mandated by the Grand-Ducal Order in 2002, is located in Bloc P2 of the CPL and is reserved for male administrative detainees. It has a capacity of 24. The Jesuit Refugee Service recorded 18 immigration detainees during their last visit to the centre de séjour in August 2008 (JRS 2008).


Women were formerly detained in the women’s section of the prison, though they were basically in isolation so as to separate them from criminal detainees. The practice of detaining women is very rare and in the last couple of years women have been detained for 1-2 days in the AIDA centre at the airport (Luxembourg Government 2009; CPT 2004; JRS 2008; Hansen 2007; Soric 2010).


Three categories of foreign nationals can be held in this centre: 1) people who are found to be residing illegally in the country; 2) asylum seekers; 3) people refused asylum status awaiting deportation (Luxembourg Government 2009).

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration authorises immigration detention, but detention at the CPU is managed by the prison authority, which falls under the Ministry of Justice. A representative of the Immigration Department and a government social worker visit detainees in the centre once a week (Soric 2010).


In January 2006, a riot broke out in the CPL and prisoners set fire to their mattresses, leading to one death and several injuries (Thill 2007, Hansen 2007, Wagner 2006). Following public outcry, the government engaged in a series of meetings with the Luxembourg Refugee Council (Letzebuerger Flüchtlingsrôt, or LRF) in which it agreed to reduce the maximum number of administrative detainees from 50-60 to 24, with one person per room and regular LRF visits (JRS 2008).


The policy of mixing administrative and criminal detention together in the same institution of the CPL (which uses the same staff to treat both sets of detainees) has been widely criticised by observers (Hansen 2007; Luxembourg Government 2005). In August 2004, the government announced it would construct a new closed facility specifically designed for immigration detention to replace the special unit in the CPL. The law providing the legal basis for the construction was published on 24 August 2007 (MAE 2009, p. 57).


According to Caritas, the new facility will have a capacity of 80, though earlier reports claimed it would be 100 (Soric 2010; Luxembourg Government 2006). The facility is due to be completed in early 2011 (Sehovic 2010). It will be located near the Findel International Airport in Sandweiler (Luxembourg Government 2006; L’Essentiel 2009).


The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Nicolas Schmitt, stated in an interview in December 2008 that the policy of holding immigration detainees in the criminal penitentiary was unjust and that a separate dedicated immigration detention site was long overdue. The special section of the CPL is stretched—with just over 30 male detainees at the end of 2008 (over the maximum capacity) and no space for the women in the women’s section of the prison. He also stated that the detention conditions would improve in the new centre with a staff trained and dedicated to administrative detention (L’Essentiel 2008).


On a separate occasion, however, Mr. Schmitt stated that the number of detainees is rarely more than 20. The dramatic expansion planned for the new centre has raised questions about how the government envisages using the centre (L’Essentiel 2009). Caritas has confirmed that it will include family units, as well as women and children’s units.  

When the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited the centre de séjour at the Centre Penitentiaire du Luxembourg in 2003, it found the infrastructure “very good.” Outdoor sports and indoor activities were available, though they recommended that more be available, especially educational and remunerative opportunities (CPT 2004, pp 25-6). In response, the government agreed to improve conditions by allowing more outdoor activities, remunerative work, social, cultural and sport activities, visits from family members, lawyers and NGOs as well as better access to the telephone (CPT 2004 government response).

Medical and psychological treatment are available to detained migrants, and they are given a medical examination within the first 24 hours of their arrival. Upon their demands, detainees can receive visits from family and friends (Soric 2010). Lawyers may visit without restrictions. NGOs and church groups may visit with the consent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ranzenberger 2006; JSR 2008).

Representatives of Amnesty International, Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture (ACAT), the Association de Soutien aux Travailleurs Immigrés (ASTI), Caritas, and the Red Cross have been visiting the detention centre since January 2007, twice per week. Caritas coordinates these visits, and the visitors regularly report their findings during Luxembourg Refugee Council (LFR) meetings and meet with prison administration every three months as well as representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when necessary (Soric 2010).


Facts & Figures


During a visit to the centre de séjour at the Centre Penitentiaire du Luxembourg, the Jesuit Refugee Service found that 18 people were detained for immigration related reasons (JRS). According to the Luxembourg government, no more than two dozen people are detained at any one time (Luxembourg Government 2006). Some 233 people were deported or made to leave voluntarily in 2008 (MAE annual report 2008, p. 58).


Currently irregular non-citizens are detained in a separate section of the country’s main penitentiary institution. A dedicated immigration detention site with a capacity of some 80 people is due to be completed in 2011 (Soric 2010; Sehovic 2010; Luxembourg Government 2006; L’Essentiel 2009).


In the 1990s, most asylum seekers and irregular migrants were from ex-Yugoslavia. During the 2000s, there were an increasing number of people from African countries and China (MAE 2008). In 2009, the top 10 countries of origin of asylum seekers were Serbia, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Russia, Albania, Iran, Belarus, Afghanistan, Algeria, and Azerbaijan (UNHCR 2010, p. 34).


There were 3,109 refugees and 29 asylum seekers recorded in January 2009 residing in Luxembourg (UNHRC country profile). There are 5.6 asylum seekers per 1,000 inhabitants in Luxembourg—the tenth highest ranking country in receiving asylum seekers per population (UNHCR 2010, p. 9). However, since asylum seeker figures peaked at 3,000 in 1998 (MAE 2009, p. 61), numbers have significantly receded. After a peak of 1,577 in 2004 (MAE 2008), asylum application numbers dwindled to 510 in 2009 (UNHCR 2010, p. 13).