14 September 2015

The detention conditions are terrible, and in no-way comply with international standards and EU regulations.

Many refugees are trying to get from Hungary through Slovakia and the Czech Republic to Germany, but now many of them fail on the way. The Czech police are currently checking trains for irregular travellers passing through the country without a Czech visa. On the night of the 31th of August 260 refugees, of mainly Syrian background, were taken out of trains and cars. Afterwards the refugees were brought to detention centres pending deportation. Until now there were two such detention centres in the Czech Republic. One is in Běla-Jezova (about 60km away from Prague) and the other is in Vyšni Lhoty (about 400km away from Prague). However, a further reception centre in Zastávka (about 19km from Brno) is now detaining refugees because of the current lack of room in the regular detention centres. The detention centre Běla-Jezova was originally planned for 260 people. Last week, they were housing more than 700 refugees, predominantly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The detention conditions are terrible, and in no-way comply with international standards and EU regulations. Only one doctor is available to all detainees. Beyond that, there are only two social workers looking after several hundred refugees. The whole complex is surrounded by a wire-netting fence, and the refugees have no possibility to move freely at all. Not even the volunteers from the Organisation for Aid to Refugees (OPU), who come to offer services such as legal advice and legal representation, are able to enter the detention centres unhindered. In some cases, they have to wait for hours at the entrance to the Bela detention centre to finally be led by an armed guard into a small room where they communicate with refugees through a window. At the end of June, the government cancelled the funds for legal advice and legal representation for detained asylum seekers in breach of the existing EU Asylum Procedures and Return Directives, as well as in breach of the Dublin III Regulation. Yet, jurists still come to the detention centre exclusively in a voluntary capacity using small donations from the Czech public. These lawyers get even less information from the security personnel than the voluntary social workers receive. The jurists not only receive incomplete information, but also inaccurate information. Recently, a group of volunteers had been on site and reported that there were currently at least 60 children present in the detention centre in Bela Jezova. Many children were not been wearing shoes, were not dressed sufficiently, and were visibly hungry. The next day, two jurists visited and were told by the security guards that only about 10 children were being held in the detention centre. This clearly contradicts the observations the volunteers had made the day before on site.

Any person coming from the outside does not have access to the premises where the refugees are. Because of that, the conditions of the accommodation are examined inadequately. Tents that have been erected on site to house more people have further exacerbated the lack of available space for the detained refugees to move in. Sometimes the refugees are forced to stay in their rooms for days, deprived of access to natural light or air. Furthermore, according to refugees, the nutritional standards are very poor on site. Owing to several incidents, people held in the detention centres are guarded by armed policeman throughout meal times. For these inhumane conditions the asylum seekers have to pay 7200 Czech koruna per person per month. Converted into euro, that is about €266. A lot of refugees cannot raise this enormous amount of money and are issued with a debt note upon release. They have to hand over all of their money, with which they are going to pay the stay, and their mobile phones are also taken away, so they have trouble in informing their families of their whereabouts.

According to Article 5§1(f) of the European Convention on Human Rights, detention is only permissible for the purpose of deportation if the state has a clear perspective of deporting a person. According to the Dublin Regulation, the receiving country has six weeks to make such a transfer. Substantially, all refugees get arrested during the transit, having travelled through Hungary beforehand and Hungary is officially responsible for the asylum procedure of these people. However, Hungary has no capacity to take back any more refugees from the Czech Republic, which was confirmed openly by the Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec and the spokeswoman of the Czech Police, Ms. Rendlova. Due to the difficult situation in Hungary, almost all refugees are released after 6 to 8 weeks, having been stripped of their remaining money, and given an order to leave the country within 7 to 10 days. Following release, they can cross the Czech borders without hindrance and continue their journey towards their original final destination.

In addition, the requirement of Article 28 of the Dublin III Regulation, in case of detention of “Dubliners”, of setting the objective criteria in the law defining the risk of absconding, has not been transposed into the Czech legislation and there have been already judgments in Czech courts confirming the unlawfulness of such detention.

This all raises the question of why the refugees get arrested at all. Since the recent announcement by the German Government to allow Syrians to complete their asylum applications in Germany, the Czech police started to release Syrians from detention centres. However, Iraqis, Afghans and other nationalities have continued to be detained.

In the meantime, the Czech Ministry of the Interior is negotiating with the municipalities across the Czech Republic to open further detention centres for refugees transiting to Western Europe.

By Martin Rozumek, Executive Director

Organization for Aid to Refugees (OPU)

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