Mass hunger strike at Immigration Detention Centres
73 people detained at Immigration Detentions Centres in Bialystok, Biala Podlaska, Przemysl and Leszowola decided on beginning a hunger strike together. It is not the first protest of detained refugees, but for the first time information about a strike reaches the public. In the past, strikers had been put in isolation and punished in various ways, while the public knew nothing about it.
Detainees’ demands include: right to information in a language they comprehend, right to contact the outside world, right to proper healthcare, education for underage detainees, respect for children’s rights, improvement in social conditions within detention centres, end to abuse and to excessive violence, end to criminalizing detainees.
Refugees decided to strike together, in all Polish Detention Centres, wishing that their voice will not be ignored nor quenched by the centres’ authorities.
In August 2008, 21 Georgians in Biala Podlaska protested against lenghty procedures. In 2010, 37 refugees from the Immigration Detention Centre in Przemysl took a hunger strike demanding improvement in conditions within the centres as well as access to healthcare. In December 2009, a group of 200 Chechens and Georgians took a train to Strasbourg, home of the European Commission and the European Parliament. They wanted to protest against UE refugee policy. Banners they hung in the train’s windows indicated that the refugees were running away from “harassment”, they demand “help” and recognition that “we are human beings”. However, they were stopped on a Polish-German border. Apart from these instances, individual strikes
happen ceaselessly in the Polish immigration detention centres. They are left unsaid and they are brutally quenched by the centres’ guards.
When detainees decided to protest in a form of a hunger strike across Polish Immigration Detention Centres, they passed their demands to be announced, as they follow:
Right to information, in a language we comprehend and in a clear form, on actions being taken and decisions being made, throughout our detenention in a centre, including information on a possibility of appealing to lift a person’s detention in the centre. It is our right according to Articles 89b and 89c of the Foreigners Protection Act.
In reality, verdicts and instructions are translated, but the verdict’s argumentation is not, which in practice makes it highly difficult to make an appeal, and bars us from using law in our defence. Often, even the time to look through the centre’s regulations is limited. In addition, it is rare to receive aid of a professional interpreter while being received into the detention centre, visiting a physician or seeing a psychologist.
Right to contact outside world, either with private or official issues, and to contact non-governmental and international organizations helping foreigners (under Article 89a of the Foreingers Protection Act). In addition, Immigration Detention Centres lack access to telephone directories and to the Internet, which obstructs us from writing requests.
Right to proper healthcare, specialized examination, psychologic care, and interpreter’s presence during examinations and formalities in healthcare facilities.
Right to education, which the Article 70 of the Polish Constitution and the Article 1 of the Education System Act grant to everyone. All persons under 18 are obliged to learn at school. All children on the Polish territory are obliged to receive formal education until they graduate from a junior high school, whatever their legal status might be, including illegal immigrants. In reality, the right to education on the premises of Immigration Detention Centres is an illusion. These facilities do not provide education neither for adults nor for children as required by the Education System Act.
Respect for children’s rights. Detention works specially bad on children, and the Immigration Detention Centres are organized under prison-like rules: adults and children alike are being treated like sentenced criminals. Detainees can enjoy but a poor substitute of freedom, in a form of temporarily limited leaves to an enclosed yard. Conditions in which foreigners stay within the detention centres, break the Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights as regards children, as well as the rulings of Convention on the Rights of the Child as regards the right to development, the right to freedom, healthcare, rest and leasure. We demand to stop the practice of detaining children.
Improvement of social conditions in Immigrant Detention Centres. We require that our specific customs, beliefs and cultural identity be respected, and we demand conditions allowing us to avoid feeling downgraded and discriminated. We want recognition of our distinctness from the local community.
End to abuse. Every day abuses happen in almost every Immigration Detention Centre. Mental violence and blackmail against us is a usual procedure. There are cases of physical violence as well as of sexual harassment against women. Disproportional punishments are carried out whenever a rule is broken; it is easy to be sent to an isolated cell, even for a minor tort; other sanctions include having matresses taken away over a day, cell phone confiscation.
Even children are not spared from punishment. When children at one of the centres broke a toy, they were banned from using the playroom, the only friendly space for them, for a fortnight. The Immigrant Detention Centres’ staff exploit the fact, that no information about events taking place within are spread outside. Victims, silenced by anxiety from negative rulings and repressions, fear to speak loud about abuse they experienced.
End to criminalizing. According to the regulations, we are not detained as a punishment, but to have our location controlled. We did not commit a crime, nor do we pose a threat to the security of the state or its citizens.
All the enclosed facilities do not differ from prisons in anything: barred windows, barbed wires, tall walls or the prison regime, limited access to therapy or education, all directly break our basic rights and deepen the trauma most of us experienced in our homelands. Under the Article 88 of the Foreigners Protection Act, a foreigner, whose mental and physical state indicate that they experienced violence, should not be kept in detention. In reality, the state of our mental health is never fairly verified, and every Imigrant Detention Centre holds people (including children) with post-traumatic stressed disorder.”
Last Friday, the Speaker of Seym (the Polish lower-house Parliament), Ms Wanda Nowicka, MP from the Palikot’s Movement party, issued a letter of alarm to the Commander in Chief of the Polish Border Guard, General Dominik Tracz, on the question of the situation in the Immigration Detention Centres, where she wrote: „We are preparing a proposal to nominate a parliamentary team for examining the aforementioned accusations”. Next Wednesday, at noon, October 17th, 2012, Ms Nowicka is going to host a press conference on this issue.
Refugee Protest’s Support Group
+48 506 778 918
Over seventy people continues hunger strike in polish detention centers . Part of the detainees claim they lack competent legal support or interpreting services, which seriously obstructs the process of claiming their rights in court. Others point to the fact of children not having their rights respected in the centres, of lack of proper education and healthcare, and they demand improvement in social conditions. Detainees indicate the problem of being isolated from the outside world, which provokes abuse on the side of the Polish border guard officers: mental and physical violence, sexual harassment against women, punishing and harassing without respect to the regulations. However, the worriment predominantly indicated by all is the experience of being second-class persons, marginalized by immigration regulations, totally excluded, bereft of even those rights, which they are supposed to enjoy because of being human.
In accordance with the non-refoulement principle, found in Geneva Conventions as well as in Polish Immigration and Immigrant Protection Acts (June 13th 2003), there is also a “category” of persons requesting a refugee status, which means people who seek asylum in Europe. In short, this implies that EU member states are obliged to consider those people’s requests. Therefore, regulations were introduced to legally allow such cases to end with a refusal.
An example of such is Dublin II, an ordinance declaring that asylum requests should be filed in the member state, in which the foreigner crossed the limits of the Schengen Zone. If someone seeks asylum in a different country, they are usually refused and deported to the primary country of arrival. There they seek asylum again, but they have to await the decision in a detention centre, which takes up to a year. In Poland, around 1.6% of claims from asylum seekers are successful, while around 18% receive only so called subsidiary protection for a period of two years. In effect, thus constructed regulations ensure nothing but an illusion of a right to asylum, and in many cases embody an abuse of non-refoulement.
Due to the lack of clarity of regulations, in case of the majority of persons rejected back to Poland on the basis of the Dublin ordinances, the court almost automatically requests to detain them in one of the immigrant detention centres. Notably, detention is designed to serve an ultimate measure, used only in cases of most serious breach against law and order. Immigrants did not commit a crime, nor do they threat the security of the state or its citizens; therefore there is no premise for bereaving immigrants of their freedom, to which they have an undeniable right as human beings. In no aspect do detention centres differ from prisons (barred windows, barbed wires, tall walls, limited access to therapies or education) and in some cases they are organized under harsher conditions than prison regime. Innocent people are detained in the centres, made to play the role of criminals serving punishment.
Strategy of dividing migrants between the wanted and the unwanted, based on economic and political demands of member states, allow to categorize human beings according to the current political and economic situation in a given country. Yet, the “luck” of finding oneself among the “wanted” immigrants does not equal legalization of residence. Illegal immigrants receive wages lower than minimum. Employers do not pay their employees’ insurance, and the lack of chance to claim workers’ rights compensates them any risks they might experience because of illegal employment.
EU’s official policy points to fighting “illegal migration”. Decisions categorizing persons between statuses are taken on artificial criteria, precariously changed to serve the current needs of the market. Morally, this is a totally objectifying way of treating people, who took a desperate step of fleeing their homes, abandoning everything they cared for, and seek security someplace else, because of war, harassment, catastrophes or a tragic economic situation. In their situation, the possibility of legal arrival in Europe is almost none. Therefore, the number of legal immigrants remain scarce, while the rest receive the status of illegals.
The outrageous abuse against immigrants in Europe, both free and detained, is only a secondary problem. The real cause of their personal grieves is the systemic segregation and dehumanization, legally referred to as EU’s migration policy.