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European Union: Return of Illegal Immigrants Directive

(July 2, 2008) There are approximately eight million illegal immigrants in the European Union. These immigrants can be held for a certain period of time until their final status is determined by the immigration authorities of the EU Member States. Thousands of illegal immigrants have reached the southern region of the EU by boat. A year ago, several countries, including Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain experienced a tremendous influx of illegal immigrants from northern Africa. Currently, EU Members apply their own rules to govern detention. Consequently, there is great disparity in the duration of detention, with limits ranging from 32 days in France, to 20 months in Latvia, and up to a year in Hungary. Some EU Members do not even impose a limit on detention. (New EU Plan for Illegal Migrants, BBC NEWS, June 17, 2008, available at

On June 5, 2008, the Council and the Parliament of the European Union approved the European Commission's proposed directive on return of illegal immigrants. The directive is designed to harmonize the standards on detention of illegal immigrants across the European Community.

The Directive provides that the maximum detention period is six months, which can be extended for an additional 12-month period. . It also contains provisions on voluntary departure prior to expulsion and a prohibition on re-entry into EU territory prior to the elapse of a five-year period.

The Directive drew criticism from human rights groups and from the Socialist, and Green parties. In particular, Amnesty International's secretary general Irene Khan stated that the directive was “unacceptable,” because it does not prohibit detention of unaccompanied children. (Id.)