The reality of administrative detention of foreigners, a familiar instrument of European migration policies, is hidden from civil society and to the media. Such secrecy makes abuses and attacks on human rights both more likely and harder to combat . European citizens have the right to know the consequences of the policies which are put in place in their names.
As part of the civil society campaign “Open Access: open the doors! We have the right to know!” , the networks of Migreurop and European Alternatives made demands to visit detention centres for foreigners in Europe and beyond between 26th March and 26th April 2012. Our purpose was to establish the conditions of access for civil society (notably associations and media) to locations of detention for foreigners. According to the European Treaties and texts, access to information is in inalienable right of European citizens, defended by all European institutions .
Reporters without borders, many journalists, associations and collectives of citizens have therefore made formal requests to visit detention centres to the competent authorities in their regions. National and European Parliamentarians, associations and in very rare cases journalists were able to visit 14 locations of detention, in Bulgaria, Spain, Italy, France, Mauritania, Serbia and Croatia.
The results of the campaign are particularly disquieting because they demonstrate a real determination to keep these centres invisible and inaccessible. Many visits could not be made by associations because either the authorities refused or simply did not respond. The access of journalists has clearly been denied. These results lead to the question “and now what do we do?”
A more detailed report of the visits will be made available soon and will give some details of the situations of detained foreigners. This will also be the moment to outline the future of this campaign. Knowing and making public the reality of the conditions of detention of foreigners in these establishments must be made possible. We have the right to know what happens there.
Access to the Bruges centre was twice refused to the Belgian Human Rights League and to five journalists on the basis that there are already sufficient internal and external organs of control, contributing to a humanisation of the centres. Demonstrative a strange interpretation of transparency and thereby showing that the authorities decide themselves who are appropriate people to access the centres, only some targeted journalists (none of whom participate in the campaign) were invited by the relevant ministry for a guided visit of a new centre called “Caricole” opened on the 25th April, even though it was still totally empty.
Only one of the four intended visits was authorised. Access was refused to Pastragor, and requests for access to the centres of Banya and Lyubimets had no respone. Although the parliamentarian Pavel Dimitrov was able to access the centre of Varna, civil society had to wait outside the doors.
Authorisation for a visit to the centre Prohvatni centar z astrance Jezevo was given for only one day. Four members of the Centre for Peace Studies and one journalists made the visit on 10th April.
Requests for visits to the centres of Zapadores and Murcia were sent conjointly by parliamentarians, associations and journalists.
Despite sending them several times, these requests solicited no response for a long time. Finally only the visit to the centre of Zapadores was possible for an Ombudsman and associations. Parallel to the refusal given to journalists to visit the centre, the Interior ministry organised a press conference at Barcelone. Journalists were able to gather images of the installations but did not have any possibility to speak with the detained persons.
Whilst transposing article 16 of the Returns direction on the access of associations to detention centres for foreigners, the French government made a decree on the 8th July 2011 which makes this ‘right to visit’ extremely restrictive and constraining. This decree was attacked by many associations. Accordingly, the visits of associations to centres of detention had to be carried out with the accompaniment of a parliamentarian. The journalists made their requests for visits either autonomously or described themselves as accompanying parliamentarians. No journalist nor member of an association was able to enter a centre (with the exception of members of those specific associations which have already have an authorisation). A large number of centres were the subject of requests: Administrative detention centres at Toulouse, Rennes, Bordeaux, Vincennes, Palaiseau, Rouen, Strasbourg, Mesnil-Amelot, Cergy and waiting zone at Roissy. Access was granted only when parliamentarians made the demand, but they had no right to be accompanied by civil society, journalists or others.Parliamentarians made visits in Toulouse, Rennes, Vincennes, Strasbourg, Bordeaux and Roissy.
Access was requested to four detention centres : the centres of identification and expulsion in Milan, Bologna and Trapani, and for the first time in Italy, the international zone of the airport Rome Fiumicino. Access for civil society was only granted in Bologna. In Trapani, associations were refused access orally “whilst waiting for the authorisation of the Interior Ministry” (even though this not foreseen in Italian law) and were only able to visit the centre with a parliamentary. In Milan, the lawyers of migrants accused of having provoked the revolts of January 2012, journalists, a regional councillor and journalists all had their requests for access refused for different reasons: security reasons for lawyers and journalists, the coincidence of the planned date with a national celebration for the associations. With regards to the regional councillor, it was a written response on the condition again of final authorisation of the Interior ministry. Same response with regards to Rome Fiumicino airport for civil society. Once again, the visit finally took place thanks to the presence of a senator.
Requests for visits were made for the centres of Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. Members of associations were only able to visit the Nouakchott camp.
The centres « Prihavtiliste z astrance » in Padiska Skela and Vranje and the prison of Subotica were all targets of the campaign. Access was granted only to the prison, only for members of associations. Journalists were not allowed to visit any of the centres or prison.
Migreurop has been in contact for several weeks with the detainees at the Centre of detention in Arad. They gave testimony of their situation on the 8th March 2012 Arad Camp (Romania): ‘We are in hell’. Following this, national mobilisations of associations, citizens and journalists have taken place. Members of the media went to the centre with the intention of entering to see the situation. Their access was refused. Finally, much later, on the 4th May, a visit was possible.
Requests were also made in Poland without any response.
The mobilisation and the campaign continues, other visits are planned for the coming weeks.
On the website of Open Access Now (www.openaccessnow.eu)
The Campaign Text: Detention centres for migrants: open the doors! We have the right to know!
Testimonies from Migrants in detention
You can sign the campaign : http://www.openaccessnow.eu/
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This article was written as part of the project Transnational Democracy Networked funded by the Youth in Action agency of the British Council.