About the Global Detention Project

Around the world every day, thousands of people are detained because they fled their countries, were trafficked overseas, or sought better lives abroad. Although typically not charged with crimes, detained migrants and asylum seekers may be locked up indefinitely, often without access to legal assistance or any means to communicate with the outside world. While criminal prisons are intended to prepare people to re-entry society, immigration detention has no such reform agenda; instead it is a tool whose core purpose is to ensure that a person is permanently removed from a society. These inherent aspects of immigration detention dramatically increase people’s vulnerability to harm.

Headquartered in Geneva, the capital of the international human rights system, the Global Detention Project (GDP) is committed to ending arbitrary and harmful migration-related detention practices around the world, and to ensure respect for the fundamental human rights of all migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. To achieve this, we seek to:

  • Increase public knowledge and awareness of immigration detention policies.
  • Expand coverage of immigration detention by monitoring bodies and international agencies.
  • Expand partnerships with civil society organisations working to end arbitrary and harmful immigration detention practices.
  • Strategically target research and advocacy so that it effectively challenges arbitrary and harmful detention laws and policies.

Our Areas of Work

Investigating Immigration Detention Practices

We investigate where, and in what conditions, countries detain refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers. We document this information here on our website so that anyone can access our findings – helping to ensure greater transparency surrounding immigration detention policies and practices worldwide.

Explore our research

Advocating for Reform

We seek to ensure that abusive detention practices and trends receive international attention; that national policies and laws respect international human rights principles; that global initiatives and agendas respond to on-the-ground needs; and that international human rights mechanisms have domestic impact.

Read our latest advocacy reports

Protecting Vulnerable Groups

Immigration detention causes enduring harm, particularly for vulnerable groups like children, the elderly, pregnant and nursing women, trafficking victims, and stateless persons. We campaign to ensure that groups like these are protected from detention by providing advice and input to global discussions and reports, collaborating with international partners to produce hard-hitting advocacy reports, and hosting training events.

Read about our latest events

Supporting Local Voices

We work with local NGOs around the world to develop evidence and strengthen their campaigns to improve the treatment of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers. Our training sessions for NGO partners, Geneva Advocacy Weeks, and public webinars brief activists on how to harness the UN human rights system to challenge abusive and arbitrary migration-related detention in their countries.

Learn about our work supporting local advocates


The Global Detention Project (GDP) was initially established in 2006 by students at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. Seeking to improve transparency of detention regimes, they began systematically documenting where and in what conditions migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are detained. 

Over the next nine years, the project–with support from the Geneva International Academic Network, Zennström Philanthropies, and the Swiss Network for International Studies–grew from a small academic research project within the Graduate Institute’s Programme for the Study of Global Migration into an important source of information and analysis on detention regimes across the globe. 

In 2014, the GDP launched as an independent nonprofit research centre to enable deeper interaction with advocacy organisations and international human rights mechanisms. Since then, the GDP has grown to become a leading body investigating and challenging the world’s immigration detention systems: we have investigated and documented more than 2,200 detention centres; created, trained, and expanded a network of partner organisations across the world uncovering detention operations and advocating for reform; spurred human rights mechanisms to challenge detention systems and protect vulnerable detainees; shaped narratives surrounding detention; and developed a leading online data resource receiving more than 28,000 views a month.* (March 2022) 

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