In 2019, over 9,000 people were put in immigration detention in Hong Kong.

Despite these high numbers, little is known about the workings of the immigration detention system.  

(Immigration Department, 2018)

What is immigration detention?

Immigration detention refers to the practice of detaining persons suspected of violating immigration rules and regulations in closed government facilities.

In Hong Kong, immigration detention is a form of administrative detention. The decision to deprive an individual of liberty for reasons related to their immigration status is made by government officials, not courts.

Hong Kong’s two main immigration detention facilities are Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre and Ma Tau Kok Detention Centre. Immigration detainees can also be held in prisons, police institutions, border facilities, and more. Anecdotal accounts indicate that individuals are detained anywhere between a few hours and a few years. However, public information about the immigration detention system is very scarce. 

Comparison to the criminal justice system

If someone is accused of committing a crime, the criminal charges against them ordinarily have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution in a court of law. A court decides whether and for how long an individual convicted of a crime should be sent to prison. By contrast, an immigration detainee loses their liberty without the check and balance of judicial scrutiny.

Global expansion of immigration detention

The use of immigration detention has expanded significantly in many parts of the world over the past twenty years. Experience in the United States, Europe, Australia, and Asia indicates that many detention systems suffer from procedural unfairness and poor access to legal advice.

The detainee experience

Comparative research shows that immigration detainees often endure harsh living conditions, and violations of their rights to healthcare, education, work, and due process. Separation from family, long waits for decisions, custodial neglect, and past trauma and violence all take a toll on mental health.

About the project

This project is a 3-year project at the Faculty of Law within the Chinese University of Hong Kong to evaluate the immigration detention system in Hong Kong in relation to vulnerable migrants. We aim to generate policy-oriented analysis that can help to improve the system and protect the rights and welfare of detainees and their families. 

Research findings

The project began in July 2020 and will run through June 2023. Research findings and summaries will be updated on this site as the project progresses.


For individuals seeking help, please see this non-exhaustive list for civil society organizations and other relevant resources.

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