Czech Public Defender of Rights says human rights are being violated at the Bělá-Jezová detention facility
Anna Šabatová, the Czech Public Defender of Rights, declared yesterday that the situation of children and families with children living in the Bělá-Jezová detention facility for refugees run by the Czech Interior Ministry near Mladá Boleslav is so serious that it amounts to a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights. Šabatová said children there are living in objectively worse conditions than Czech prisoners do.
"We're talking about a former military facility in which, in many respects, there are worse conditions than in Czech prisons. The persons we imprison have committed crimes and were ultimately convicted and sentenced, but in Bělá-Jezová there are people whom no one has convicted or sentenced for anything. The fact that hundreds of children have passed through this facility contravenes our notion of the Czech Republic as a civilized country," she said.
There are currently about 400 adults and around 100 children in the facility. Parents are being humiliated in front of their children there, being transported there in handcuffs, and being held behind a four-meter-high fence without being able to explain why to their children, Šabatová said.
Children at the facility do not have any warm clothing. Instead of warm shoes they are wearing plastic sandals.
The children are also terror-stricken by the omnipresent police officers and security guards at the facility. Their games include playing "police and prisoners", during which they attempt to dig a tunnel out of the facility.
The campus of the facility has no indoor amusements for children. The playground that does exist is small and absolutely substandard, Šabatová emphasized.
She also pointed out that the mattresses in the facility cannot be laundered and are in a state that does not meet hygiene standards. "Every evening the police drag the foreigners out of their beds to count them. Sometimes the police wear balaclavas and helmets while doing this. If the children are sleeping, their parents must wake them and get them on their feet," Šabatová's report on the conditions there reads.
"These people have not done anything and have not been convicted of any crime. Despite this, we are letting them suffer. Unnecessarily," she said, before going on to propose a package of measures to improve the living conditions of the detained asylum-seekers.
The main findings of her report are:
- Parents are humiliated in front of their children. They are transported to the facility in handcuffs. They are shut up behind a four-meter-high fence with barbed wire. They are unable to explain to their children what the reasons are for their situation.
- The children lack clothing and footwear. Instead of warm shoes they have only plastic sandals, so-called "Crocs".
- The children are terror-stricken by the omnipresent, uniformed police offices and security guards.
- For lack of other activities, the children living behind the barbed wire are playing "police and prisoners". Another "game" is to try to dig a tunnel under the fence to the outside world.
- The small children's playground is accessible to the children only at certain times. Some have never been there. By "playground" what is meant is one climbing structure and one slide.
- There is a playroom for children on the campus, but not all of the children can fit in it. Some children have had no access to recreational activities at all.
- The mattresses are frequently unable to be laundered and are in a state that contravenes basic hygiene standards. The windows have bars on them and no curtains.
- Every evening the foreigners are dragged out of bed by police who are sometimes wearing balaclavas and helmets in order to count them. If the children are asleep, their parents must wake them and get them to their feet.
- Some mothers have lost contact with their children who are with other family members in Germany. They have used up their telephone cards, which are good for two phone calls, and cannot do any more to reach them. Once they are released they do not know where to go to find their children.
- The foreigners in the facility are not sufficiently informed about their situation. They do not understand why they have been placed in this facility, which they consider a prison. They do not know why their belts, mobile telephones, money, shoelaces and watches have been confiscated.
- The language barrier between the foreigners and the physicians at the facility is a basic problem that has caused many misunderstandings and mutual distrust. The physicians are having a hard time diagnosing their patients and are "explaining" the nature of the procedures they intend to perform on them through gestures.
- This lack of information is also caused by a lack of legal aid. The foreigners who are accommodated in cells and in the gymnasium know nothing of the free legal aid that is on offer even though all detainees are supposed to have the right to such aid.
- In the Czech prisons everyone is entitled to chairs, a closet, direct access to a toilet, exercise and hot food. All of that is more than many of the foreigners detained at Bělá-Jezová currently have available to them.
- A four-member family who spends 30 days in the facility is obliged to pay a total of CZK 29 040 (EUR 1 100) for their stay.
Organization for Aid to Refugees: Czech detention facilities are inhumane
The director of the Organization for Aid to Refugees (Organizace pro pomoc uprchlíkům - OPU), Martin Rozumek, has also called the conditions in that detention facility for refugees humiliating and inhumane in an interview for Swiss Radio and Television (SRF). He referenced a lack of toilets and the fact that the asylum-seekers frequently do not know why they have been detained.
Rozumek believes the Czech Government's only aim in treating people this way is to deter any other eventual asylum-seekers from coming to the country. He said the Czech Police are intensively searching for Iraqi, Palestinian and Syrian asylum-seekers who have chosen to travel through the Czech Republic as a transit country.
Once police apprehend such persons, they place them in detention facilities, including children, entire families, and unaccompanied minors. "They are doing this for one reason: To deter the rest. All asylum-seekers are given the signal to find another route to their final destination. They want to transfer this burden to other countries," Rozumek said.
OPU volunteers allegedly have seen children in Czech detention facilities who were barefoot, insufficiently clothed, and whom they are convinced were also hungry. "The hygienic conditions are very bad. Roughly 70 men are sleeping on mats on the floor in the gymnasium. Detainees are only allowed to visit the few toilets that do exist when they are accompanied by a guard. Reportedly there have been cases of salmonella. These conditions, in my opinion, contravene Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, i.e., the ban on torture and degrading, inhuman treatment," the OPU director said.
Rozumek also confirmed allegations to SRF that the Czech Police are forcing migrants to strip naked. "That's true. They are having to strip. The detainees must pay for their stay in the detention facility according to Czech law and that is why the police are looking for money to confiscate from them in such an embarrassingly thorough way. In my opinion this is humiliating and inhumane," he said, adding that he does not believe anything will change as long as Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec is in office.
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