Worldwide more than 10 million people are imprisoned. This group includes foreign national prisoners (FNPs), these are persons who are detained in a country of which they do not have the nationality. The actual number of FNPs is around 460,000. It is likely that this considerable number will rise in the future due to globalisation. In the European Union around one in every six prisoners is a foreigner and in the Middle East one in two prisoners is a foreigner.
Studies show that FNPs face difficulties during their detention as a result of language barriers, distance from their families and their foreign origin. It seems that prison authorities do not recognise their particular situation and do not address their special needs adequately. As a result, FNPs feel often discriminated against and they have fewer opportunities to exercise their rights. States have however the ´positive obligation´ to secure the effective enjoyment of fundamental rights. States are required to ensure for example that prisoners are informed of the reason for their detention in a language they can understand; that prisoners receive access to (free) legal support and the free assistance of an interpreter in court and that prisoners are treated humanely and with respect for their inherent dignity. One distinctive right of FNPs is to have contact with their diplomatic mission and to receive assistance from their authorities. Yet diplomatic missions are often not able or willing to provide consular assistance to their nationals in foreign detention. Furthermore, ’home countries’ are often not aware about nationals who return from detention abroad and have therefore no adequate aftercare facilities available once they return. This situation can hamper resettlement and can therefore have negative and costly consequences for the ex-prisoner and society as a whole.
Worldwide more than 2,300 Dutch nationals are detained abroad but these Dutch FNPs are not a neglected group. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the International Office of the Dutch Probation Service and the religious foundation Epafras, are actively involved in providing consular assistance. For the past three decades Dutch FNPs have been visited by representatives of these organisations on a voluntary basis. This Dutch approach is regarded in studies as a good practice and the way it is organised is unique in the world. It has, however, never been evaluated or studied closely. Nor has the actual detention experience of (Dutch) FNPs and the impact of assistance on their detention experience, their distinctive needs and their resettlement. See here the outcome of this Phd-thesis.