17.2.2012: Somalis detained at Lutsk and Chernigiv end their hunger strike after nearly six weeks. Find more information below!
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Statement by Rebecca Harms (Member of the European Parliament)
2. What has happend so far
3. Background Information
- 17.2.2012: Somalis detained at Lutsk and Chernigiv end their hunger strike. The international campaign to obtain international protection and release continues! Somali hunger strikers at two detention centres in Ukraine announced the end of their hunger strike through a statement from the Ukrainian Refugee Council (URC) on 17th February. The URC stated that both the Ukrainian Government and the judiciary are failing to apply international human rights law in relation to the hunger strikers. The URC called for the granting of either refugee status or complementary protection to the Somali hunger strikers and their immediate release.The international campaign supporting the hunger strikers asks you to continue the support that you have been giving. The campaign carries on until the detainees are released and granted international protection.The Hunger Striker Statement: “We, the Somali hunger strikers in Lutsk and Chernigiv detention centres have decided to end our hunger strike today after nearly 6 weeks.We have decided to fill in the application forms for international protection as we understand that the Government has now agreed that no Somali who claims asylum will be treated as ‘manifestly unfounded’ and rejected without proper consideration of their application – as has been the case up to now. The Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian State Migration Service know that Somalis should be granted refugee status under the Refugee Convention or complementary protection under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We will also be lodging appeals against our detention in the Ukrainian courts. The Government of Ukraine and Ukrainian State Migration Service are well aware that our detention is illegal on the basis of the legal arguments laid out in statements from the Ukrainian Refugee Council, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. We expect the Ukrainian courts to overturn the decisions to detain us and that the Government provide us with documentation to prevent further police harassment and extortion.We thank all those who have supported our hunger strike from Ukraine and across the world. We ask for your continued support for all asylum seekers in Ukraine who are struggling to end the violation of human rights in this country.”
- 10.2.2012: Latest news from the hunger strikers: „Lots of people are sick. One guy has TB and he was with us. Other people from ex Soviet Union countries have a disease which effects the liver. Probably hepatitis. The guy with TB has been taken to hospital. The three guys with hepatitis have been kept here. We are all saying they should not be left here. The heating is the same. We have ice inside the windows. We have one blanket, one mattress and one sheet each. We sleep with trousers and jacket on. None of the people have appeals in court against detention. Some have not actually been in a court. They remain outside the court and they are told that they have been given 12 months. Some have no idea what a lawyer is. Everybody says they have no lawyer.“ Concering continuning the hunger strike, they said: „We are not giving up. Ukraine is violating international law. Maybe the police will come and force us to eat. But this is something from out of our hearts and we are just waiting until we get something better.“
- 9.2.2012: Hunger strikers said: „We are OK. Only those who are sick are not. One of them is serious. Throat and mouth problem. He has fever. No doctor has seen him. No one is in isolation today. We spoke to the women yesterday and they were OK. The two women are out of isolation. 8 people on hunger strike were deported from Slovakia. The rest was arrested in Vinnitsya, Lyviv, Ternobil and Ushgorod. Some from Mukachevo camp. In one case, the police caught a Somali and took him to Chop. They took pictures of him and said ‘You have crossed the border’. They then asked for money. We have heard that the border guards get bonuses if they catch people at the border. Now they say ‘We can’t deport you so we detain you for 12 months instead.’
- 3.2.2012: Apart from Lutski detention centre, there are 25 Somalis (24 men / 1 woman) on hunger strike in Chernigiv detention centre [the second EU-funded detention centre in Ukraine]. All together, there are 44 migrants detained in Chernigiv rigth now. Other detainees are from Cameron, Sudan, Nigeria and Guinea. 13 of the hunger strikers were arrested in Vinnitsya, 12 close to the border to Slovakia. Chernigiv hunger strikers reported, that some of them were arrested in Uzhgorod and then brought to the border by police. Then police took photos to „prove“ that they have tried to cross the border informally. All of the hunger strikers have to stay in Chernigiv for 12 month. There are 5 Somalian minors in Chernigiv detetnion centre, the rest is around 20 years old. Asked about the reasons for being detained, Chernigiv hunger strikers said, that hey don´t know. Detainees from Vinnitsya told, that they went to migration office, were arrested there by police and then taken to Chernigiv detention centre. Till now, they were not visitied by Ukrainian authorities or representatives of international organizations. One of the hunger strikers explained: „We will continue until we die or our situation changes.“
- 3.2.2012: Women in Lutski detention centre explained, that 11 Somalian women are still on hunger strike, 2 of them are seriously ill. They do not work outside anymore, they have to clean inside the detention centre. If they refuse, they are threaten with being taken to an isolation cell. Furthermore they said, that administration switched of the heaters and they are not allowed to use the washing-machine anymore and have to wash their clothes by hand. Furthermore they are threatened with being taken to Chernigiv detention centre.
- 2.2.2012: UNO will check how Ukraine holds refugees.
- 2.2.2012: On Monday, the 6th of February a demonstration will take place in front of the Ukrainian embassy in London. Find the call here.
- 1.2.2012: Yesterday the hunger strikers were visited by the chief of Ukrainian Migration Service. He came from Kyiv. He told Somalis that as soon as they wrote the application on complementary protection they would be recognized as refugees. Application forms were distributed by the staff of detention centre. The chief told that he would come and take application in 10 days. In general, there are 23 applications have been accepted, but not only from Somalis. Persons of different nationalities applied. Hunger strikers think that they have a limit of submitted application. Furthermore one of the hunger strikers said: “And the reason that we are doing this is to return to our country or to get humanitarian aid. And the main problem is if you become free in here they will re-arrest you again because you are without document.”
- 31.1.2012: Latest report from the hunger strikers: “The police are here and are still carrying their guns. There are less of them. Some have left. About 10 of them have left. They don’t talk to us. They just looked at us today. We stayed in our rooms. We were told to get food or we would get beaten up and down if the remaining people didn’t go to food. It is just like a military camp here, not a detention centre.The young men and women went to food last night because of threats. One woman said a guard came to her and was very aggressive, using very abusive language. They didn’t go to food but 2 or 3 went today as they are very afraid. The problem is the police. They are big men with huge sticks.”
- 31.1.2012: Amnesty International: URGENT ACTION – Ukraine: Asylum-seekers detained and ill-treated.
- 31.1.2012: Latest press release from UNCHR – Situation of the asylum-seekers at the detention centres for foreign nationals in Volyn and Chernigiv regions.
- 31.1.2012: Human Rights Watch - Open Letter regarding the Arbitrary Detention of Somali Asylum Seekers.
- 30.1.2012: From the hunger strikers we have just had the following report: “We have had some problems today. At about 1:00pm about 20 policemen came into the detention centre. When the police came we were shocked and confused, we are not criminals. They wore masks and had teargas, guns and pistols. They led us out of our rooms and then searched the rooms. They collected some personal things. Some of us were punched by hand, others kicked by boots, and others hit by sticks. They threatened us saying that we have to go to the dining room and eat. They forced some of the boys to eat. The boys went to the dining room, saying “these people will kill us”. Ten of the boys went to the dining room and the police took some pictures of the boys eating. We think the Government want to use the pictures for propaganda. The Government also want to provoke us so we fight and they can see we are hooligans. The policemen are still here in Lutsk, and we don’t know if they are temporary or permanent.”
- 28.1.2012: One of the hunger strikers explained: „Now we are in our rooms for three weeks. We just think and think. One guy has become abnormal just thinking all day. I think he has a problem. He gets angry easily and he talks to himself. He had nine months of detention now. There is absolutely nothing to do. We just sit and chat amongst the Somalians. We have 125 people here. The children here do not have any education. All the children came after me but they stay here for 12 months. Some mums are still breastfeeding. They say it is the decision of the court. They even detain pregnant women. Last year there was Kurdish woman. She was 8 months pregnant with her husband. The baby died. She finished the 6 months. She gave birth in the hospital - there the baby died. She came back after one night in the hospital.“ Concerning Chernigiv detention centre [the second long-term, EU-funded detention center in Ukraine] he said: „Four of the Somalis there had rejection and one said that he only applied three weeks ago. They are on hunger strike as well. The guards force them to go the dining room while the others are eating. There is 600 meters from the dormitory to the dining room. There is also a guy who is badly sick. He has liver and lung problem. He can’t stop when he goes to the toilet. They asked for him to go the hospital. We need a doctor for him. The women in Lutsk are OK except for the woman who as sick. In Chernigiv are 19 men from Somalia and one woman.“
- 27.1.2012: In Vinnitsya there are more people who are getting rejections under the new law. There are a large number of rejections being prepared for next week. One person who already got the rejection said there was a pile of 100 rejections. Concerning the Government allegation that the hunger strikers have stores of food hunger strikers explained: „As for the food, let the Government come to Lutsk. The URC has applied to enter Lutsk but no response. Somalians cannot send food without documents anyway.“ One guy with the spots (rash) was taken to hospital. He is now back. The women are OK but two of them are sick: „The woman who was returned is very sick and fell down. You have to pay for medicine. It is a village hospital here in Lutsk. There was a better doctor who was good but he was chased away after we started the hunger strike.“ Concering childreen hunger strikers said: „There are Afghan children here. Young kids. 3,4,5 years old. I don’t know how many. Some are as young as two months. The children are detained with their mothers and father for 12 months.“
- 26.1.2012: One person felt down today. They took him to the hospital and the doctor asked what happened to him. He told the problem to the doctor and she said [to the guards] unless you feed him then don’t bring him here. Concerning the Government claim that a new law is existing which has just come into effect, hunger strikers said, that they found out today that 24 people in Vinnitsya have got rejection after the new law is in place. Police is still arresting Somalians: Hunger strikers get the information, that a Somalian woman was taken to Chernigiv detention centre today. She was taken from her room and given 12 months. Already last week, another 8 Somalians were arrested and taken to Chernigiv detention centre. In Chernigiv detention centre there are bad communications as they take the phones after a few hours. There were problems with the guards last week in Chernigiv detention centre. Furthermore, hunger strikers explaind, that beside them, Eritreans, Libyans, Bangladeshis, Afghans and persons from Ex-Soviet-Union countries are detained in Lutsk detention centre.
- 25.1.2012: Hunger strikers said, that they will not give up. They didn´t see the TV crew, which was visiting Lutsk. They would have talked to them, so that they can explain why they are on hunger strike. Concerting the Government claim that they are all eating their own food in their rooms they answered: „How can you store food for 58 people on hunger strike? The Government is lying about us eating, everyone is weak and tired.“
- 24.1.2012: Hunger strikers say, that things are getting worse, they are lying on their beds. One person was taken to hospital today and they have brought him back. The woman who went to hospital has been brought back also. It is only a local hospital. The person who was taken and brought back today is with them again. They didn’t tell him anything. They gave him some tablets. Another person is urinating blood. They don’t know why this is. Asked about lawyers, hunger strikers say, that once you get in Lutsk detention centre you get no lawyer. If you do, it will not help you. Asked about complementary protection forms, hunger strikers say, that nothing has been given to them.
- 23.1.2012: Hunger strikers explained that most of them have state rejection and court rejection. The Vinnitsya detainees were arrested and taken to court. They could not contact anyone as they had their mobiles taken. 20 people were taken to court. There were no lawyers. They all got 12 months. One had just got out of detention 4 months before and the judge said you must go in for 12 months. Furthermore, the hunger strikers say, that if the administration says that they are buying food and living on it, that is not true. They don’t have money. When they arrive any money is kept by the administration.
- 23.1.2012: Rebecca Harms (member of the European Parliament) sent a letter to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine (Vitaly Yurievich Zkharchenko).
- 23.1.2012: The Border Monitoring Project Ukraine (Transnational), Pro Asyl (Germany) and the Helsinki Committee (Hungary) sent a common statement to Members of the European Parliament.
- 23.1.2012: Ukrainian TV – “57 Somalis went on hunger strike in Volyn Temporary Holding Facility”. Find the translated article here. The video in Ukrainian is available here.
- 22.1.2012: Hunger strikers reported, that the sick persons are still in the detention centre. The nurse just measures their blood pressure. Even the machine doesn’t work. The facilites are very poor. Three persons are having a rash on their bodies. Something is coming out of their thighs, neck and buttocks. It is like a pimple with water in it. There is infection and they are all in the same place.
- 21.1.2012: Volyn Post: Somalis´ hunger strike is “play to audience”. Find the translated ariticle here.
- 20.1.2012: Press release about the hunger strike published by UNHCR.
- 20.1.2012: Article published by the newspaper “Kyiv Post”: Ukraine urged to release Somali refugees.
- 20.1.2012: Open appeal concerning the situation of asylum seekers from Somalia published by the Ukrainian Refugee Council.
- 20.1.2012: Women in hunger stike say they have headaches and are having breathing problems. The woman who was taken to hospital was removed from Lutsk Detention Centre in the middle of the night while the women were asleep.
- 19.1.2012: Press release published by amnesty international: “Ukraine must release Somali asylum-seekers”
- 19.1.2012: The under-age Somali woman is still in hospital. Furthermore, detainees report that especially the health situation of the under-age detainees becomes more and more critical. Hunger strikers asked administration to take four persons to hospital, which was refused. In the opinion of the hunger strikers, administration is doing this because they don’t want the hunger strike to become public.
- 18.1.2012: Detainees continue the hunger strike. Today, an under-age Somali woman was taken to Lutsk hospital as she was weakened by the hunger strike. Detainees wrote a letter to the Ukrainian President two days ago and today, another one to explain their demands. Till now, neither the Ukrainian Government nor the International Organization for Migration (IOM) nor the Delegation of the European Commission to Ukraine contacted the hunger strikers to listen to them.
2. Summery of what has happened so far:
58 Somalians have been on hunger strike since 6th January in the Lutsk detention centre with another 15 reportedly on hunger strike in another detention centre at Chernigiv. 13 of the hunger strikers are women (7 of whom are under the age of 18). 17 of the men are also under 18.
The hunger strikers say that one 17 year old boy is very ill and in a separate room and had not been examined by a doctor. Furthermore the hunger strikers say they are detained in an asylum system which is profoundly unjust. They say that Somalians are always refused asylum in Ukraine and if they try to cross into the EU they are bounced back into Ukraine and detained. The hunger strikers say that they are subject to police harassment and corruption and can be detained by the authorities for periods of 12 months if they don’t have a temporary permit to stay legally in Ukraine. They say that an asylum seeker can be re-detained within a short period after release and then faces another 12 months in detention. Some of the hunger strikers have been in Ukraine for 5 or 6 years before they were detained. Some have been detained more then once.
Their demands to the Ukrainian Government are:
1) Somalian asylum seekers are granted asylum status in Ukraine.
2) They are released from detention.
3) Asylum seekers are to be provided with documents so they cannot be arrested.
4) There is an end to the police harassment of asylum seekers.
5) No asylum seeker is to face re-arrest after a period of detention.
Ukraine’s asylum procedure is in chaos. The arbitrary detention of the hunger strikers is just one more way in which the rule of law is ignored in Ukraine. Recent asylum laws created a new Government department to examine asylum applications, but failed to give it authority to act, while the old department was dismantled. As a result, asylum seekers cannot make asylum applications so they cannot get temporary residence permits and so become illegal.
Asylum seekers who were already in the system often cannot obtain an extension of their temporary permits and are therefore subject to arrest as they become illegal. No decisions on refugee status are being made and asylum appeals are postponed as the new Government department is not recognised by judges. Even those who have been granted refugee status in the past are often not receiving their residence permits – re-issued each year – and so become illegal.
The Government has increased the penalty for being without temporary residence documents from 6 to 12 months detention. Asylum seekers in Ukraine cannot work and do not receive financial support while they await the decision on their application.
The hunger strikers ask everyone to publicise and raise support for their demands as widely and as quickly as possible. If you are in the EU, please raise this with your parliamentary representative or Member of the European Parliament as Ukraine is sensitive to EU pressure.
3. Background Information:
The role of the European Union
Following the introduction of a readmission agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, two detention centres were built in 2008 with financial support of the European Union. The project under which this was done was implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and was called “Capacity Building in Migration Management” (CBMM). The total budget of the project was EUR 7,2 million, provided by the EU-program “TACIS”. The CBMM follow-up project was called “GUMIRA” and was implemented from January 2009 till March 2011 by IOM as well. The budget of this project was EUR 2,5 million spent by the European Union and another EUR 100.000 spent by the German Government. One of the objectives of the GUMIRA project was, according to the IOM,
to safeguard human rights of irregular migrants detained in Ukraine and Moldova and
to improve to quality of and access to medical, legal and social services detained at MACs [Migrant Accommodation Centres] and THFs [Temporary Holding Facilities] in Ukraine (source). Currently, the IOM is implementing the project “SIREADA” (total budget EUR 2,377,205). As explained by the IOM, one aim of this project is
humanitarian assistance for migrant detainees in Moldova and Ukraine. Obviously, all these efforts failed.
Beside IOM the “International Centre for Migration Policy Development” (ICMPD) implemented the so called “ERIT“-project (Effectively Respond to Irregular Transit-Migration). The total budget of this project was EUR 1.745.174,69, provided by the EU’s AENEAS programme. Project module 4 of the ERIT-project focused on detention centres. Inter alia,
Technical support in the amount of 140 thousand Euro has been recently provided to two detention centres in Rozsudiv (Chernigov oblast) and Zhuravichi (Volyn oblast) [Lutsk detention centre] under the GDISC ERIT project. That was in addition to substantial financial assistance of the EU to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine for actual establishment of those facilities in 2008. (Source)
In addition to the workshop in Zhuravichi detention centre, the Czech experts met with the local technical consultant contracted by GDISC ERIT to elaborate a comprehensive plan for a security perimeter protection system for the Zhuravichi centre (…). During the workshops conducted in Rozsudiv and Zhuravichi the experts built on the experience shared during the previous activities. More attention was given to specific situations in detention centres such as handling problematic groups of migrants, crisis situations and their prevention. (Source)
The reasons for being detained in Ukraine
As described in the BMPU report, a lot of the detainees were refouled [returned illegally] from Hungary or Slovakia within 24 hours before they were imprisoned in the detention centres. These findings were confirmed in reports published by other organizations like Human Rights Watch. Furthermore, 30 Somalis were arrested in Vinnytza in December 2011 and taken to detention. Ignoring the fact that there is no functioning asylum system in Ukraine and even that Ukraine (like all the EU-Countries) is not able to deport to Somalia, Somalis (and others) are kept in detention for twelve months and are then released without any legal status.
Zhuravychi [Lutsk] Detention Centre
The Zhuravychi detention centre [migrants call it "Lutsk detention centre"] is located here. Zhuravychi detention centre has a total capacity of 181 places and was established in September 2008. The Jesuit Refugee Service states in its report “No other option – Testimonies from asylum seekers living in Ukraine“:
When irregular migrants are apprehended in Ukraine, Zhuravychi Detention Centre is where they stay for up to six months [recently prolonged to 12 month]. Located 45 km outside of Lutsk, its lack of accessibility becomes a deterrent to visitors – the major highway reaching Lutsk is laden with potholes, and the centre is in the middle of a forest that is far away from anything. This makes it difficult for lawyers, interpreters and officials to get there, which limits the amount of help that people seeking protection can receive. The buildings are new and in good condition, thanks to EU funding, but barbed wire fencing reminds you that this is a detention centre. Most of the persons detained at Zhuravychi are from Afghanistan and Somalia, but there are multiple nationalities represented there as well. (…). The EU, in their bilateral agreements with Ukraine, pays for the construction of the detention centres that are in line with EU standards, while Ukraine pays for all of the operational costs. However, as observed by those interviewed, the state has neglected its responsibility to maintain the centres. As a consequence there is a lack of food and basic items for detainees. The government allocated money for food only in 2010, but even this does not necessarily guarantee sufficient funding. “Zhuravychi can hold up to 150 people, but because we can only afford to feed 40 people, we can never reach full capacity here,” a Zhuravychi spokesman said. IOM has provided supplemental funding for food, but this funding will not last more than a few years. Another consequence is the lack of social services for those who are detained. There is nothing to provide them with the necessary mental, social and medical support that they need after having left their homeland and endured time in detention.
After being released from detention
There is even the risk that former detainees are detained again shortly after they have been released. The administrator of Lutsk Detention Centere – cited in the above mentioned Human Rights Watch report – explains:
The papers we give have no legal power. They are informative documents that tell the person who reads it that the person holding the paper is on the way to his embassy. If that person is caught three days later in Chop, we will know that he is not trying to get to his embassy, and we can arrest him again.
Furthermore a Somali man – cited in the recently published BMPU report on corruption – describes:
In Lutsk there is no way to pay, when you have finished your six months they release [you] without documents, they give you little paper but if the police controls you, you will be arrested, police will arrest you in Lutsk city. It is like this: you have to talk to soldiers, ›tomorrow I will be free‹, you must pay at least $ 300, the soldier then drives you wherever you want, they drive in their uniform, so that the police does not stop them, but they drive with their private car, not in an official car. To Vinnitsa it is 350 kilometres, so that takes about 7, 8 hours, the bus [to Lutsk and on to Vinnitsa] is only $ 20 or so but it is not safe.
Violation of International Human Rights Law
According to international law, a refugee must be given the opportunity that his claim is proven under fair and comprehensible conditions. In addition, detention of a migrant because of his foreseen deportation is only legal if it is generally possible to deport him and if serious efforts are made by the state to organise the deportation. In the case of deportations to Somalia, this is obviously not possible. De facto, the European Union helped to establish Detention Centres in Ukraine which are used to treat migrants in a way that is not in line with international human rights laws like the European Convention on Human Rights. This assessment is shared by the UNHCR:
Many of the persons on hunger strike are from Somalia. The vast majority of these persons should not be in detention for purposes of deportation, as the European Court of Human Rights has held that deportation to Mogadishu would expose a person to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, in violation of Art. 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, with only very limited exceptions (see the decision in Sufi and Elmi v. UK). These persons should receive refugee status or complementary protection in Ukraine. Their detention serves no legitimate purpose, a violation of Art. 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Dysfunctional Asylum System
Out of the BMPU report on corruption:
From 1997 to 2007, 17,245 applications for asylum were filed in Ukraine. Applications peaked in 1997, dropped to 457 in 2002, increased to 2,237 in 2008 and dropped again to 1,500 asylum-seekers in 2010. From 2001, recognition rates dropped and are now very low; since 2002, only 285 or 3 percent of all applicants were granted refugee status (…). For several long periods, in 2001/2, 2006/7 and more recently from July 2009 to July 2010, the migration service was dysfunctional and no decisions on asylum claims were made. During these periods there was no regular access to RSD procedures and applicants where left in limbo.
UNHCR recently states:
UNHCR notes an increase in of appeals for protection from asylum-seekers who are effectively denied access to international protection in Ukraine and who have no remedies to their legitimate claims. This directs many to attempt to cross borders into countries where they hope to find more respect for internationally recognized human rights.
New detention centres planned
Official numbers on migrants in detention in Ukraine and statistics about their countries of origin can be found in this report. Scandalously it is even planned to construct two new long-term detention centres in Ukraine with EU funds (euphemistically called “Migrant Accomodation Centres”) at the moment. Already in 2007, the European Commission has allocated EUR 30 million under its ENPI national program for Ukraine, amongst other to build up new detention centres.
Going to EU-member states
Because of the overall situation in Ukraine, a big part of the Somalis Community (and also other groups) see their only chance in trying to reach EU countries and to apply for asylum there. The BMPU was informed about the case of a Somali who is — for the sixth time now — in detention because he tried to cross the border to the European Union.
Ukraine as a buffer zone
This example clearly shows the main interest behind the “support” of Ukraine by the European Union. Ukraine should become an increasingly efficient buffer zone for EU borders to prevent refugees and migrants from entering EU member states. Finally it must be stated clearly that the detention centres in Ukraine funded by the European Union are used to punish those who try to reach the European Union informally or even before, ignoring their rights guaranteed under the Geneva Convention and other International Human Rights Laws like the European Convention on Human Rights.