Czech Republic: Asylum-seekers on hunger strike, number of injured rising
The situation in a refugee facility in the Czech town of Drahonice (Louny district) escalated in the late afternoon today. The Czech Police report that two more asylum-seekers have injured themselves and another injured himself after attempting to attack a member of the security forces there.
One of the injured had to be transported to hospital. Kateřina Rendlová, spokesperson for the Czech Aliens Police, said at 18:15 CET that the facility is now calm.
Yesterday several refugees announced they were launching a protest hunger stroke over concerns they will be deported from the Czech Republic. Three detainees injured themselves yesterday evening, according to volunteers in contact with them.
They would rather commit suicide
According to Rendlová, the situation in the facility was comparatively dramatic all day today and the refugees have increased the intensity of their protests against being detained. "Besides continuing to not attend meals, another three men have now harmed themselves. Two of them sliced their arms, another attempted to assault a member of the security agency. Police immediately intervened and pacified the man. As they were taking him away, he head-butted the glass in the door and caused himself a lacerated skull," the spokesperson said.
According to volunteer Petra Dammsová, who works with refugees, the situation in the facility escalated during the late afternoon. "Even though we had scheduled a meeting with one of the refugees' spokespeople, we were not allowed into the facility," she told the Czech News Agency.
Dammsová said tensions among the asylum-seekers are escalating. "They are saying they would rather commit suicide. There was a brutal police intervention there, the refugees were forcibly attached to their beds. We saw the ambulances leaving," she said.
Czech Television has also reported staff at the refugee facility stating that some asylum-seekers were attached to their beds. One of those injured today ended up, according to police, in hospital, while the other two were treated at Drahonice itself.
Rendlová said similar protests against deportation or relocation are not one-off incidents and that foreign nationals rather frequently achieve release through them. At the Drahonice facility there are currently more than 100 asylum-seekers, according to Interior Ministry statistics.
The spokesperson said it is not possible to determine how many are on hunger strike. Around 40 people are not eating their meals, but she said they are alternating such that some don't eat lunch while others don't eat dinner, or they bring food to each other in their rooms.
"Now it's necessary to work out whether some are actually systematically not eating at all so we can arrange for medical treatment should the situation require it," she said. Reports that one asylum-seeker collapsed because of the hunger strike are untrue, she said.
"The ambulance was called to the Drahonice facility because a client lost consciousness. He collapsed and briefly lost consciousness. He was conscious when he was transported to hospital," she told the Czech News Agency.
Fear of deportation
Vymětal, who is working with the asylum-seekers. The foreign nationals claim they are being imprisoned at the facility and are concerned they will be deported to their countries of origin.
The asylum-seekers are also convinced they have been kept too long in the detention facility. "In most of our cases, we have withstood detention for the first 90 days, but we cannot take any further extension of our imprisonment here. We have already fled imprisonment, violence and war, and we have ended up in a new prison and a new war. Each of us has lost someone from our family in our homelands or someone close to us. By imprisoning us, you are treating us like monsters," the refugees' declaration reads (see below).
That statement, where the asylum-seekers say they have fled broken, destroyed countries, is signed with the initials of two refugees and was provided to the Czech News Agency by Vymětal. The clergyman says 44 people have joined the hunger strike.
The detention facility in Drahonice is located on the campus of a former prison, has a capacity of 240, and is exclusively intended for men. Czech Interior Ministry statistics state that 144 beds are currently occupied at the Drahonice facility.
On Saturday it was visited by Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán (ANO), who said he is satisfied with the conditions there. Howeve, the conditions in which refugees are accommodated in the Czech Republic have been criticized by several domestic and international NGOs.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently said the Czech Government is systematically violating migrants' rights. Vymětal says the refugees' fear stems from the fact that some have received decisions on their deportation and are concerned they will be returned to their countries of origin.
Most of the asylum-seekers so concerned are Iraqis. "We are fleeing the death in our countries. We will not return to our homelands to die. We can die here," the refugees say in their declaration.
Vymětal and representatives of various initiatives have long been in contact with the refugees, some of whom were originally detained at the Bělá-Jezová facility. "One of them has seriously harmed himself out of fear, he sliced his arm. They are afraid to go back. They claim they would rather die," Vymětal told the Czech News Agency, adding that he, too, is now beginning a chain hunger strike.
Lucie Nováková, a press spokesperson for the Czech Interior Ministry, has confirmed that the refugees began their hunger strike out of concern that the Czech Republic will deport them back to the countries they came from. She said 40 people did not come to breakfast today.
The criticism of the Czech Republic's handling of asylum-seekers was previously joined by the Czech Government's Committee for the Rights of Foreigners. Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) considers some of those reproaches justified, as does Czech MEP Pavel Telička (ANO).
Dienstbier asserts that it is illegal, for example, for the police to collect fees from the refugees for their accommodation and food. Detention facilities for foreign nationals are also being running in Bělá pod Bezdězem in the Mladá Boleslav district and in Vyšní Lhoty in the Frýdek-Místek area.
There is another reserve campus for such purposes at Balková in the Plzeň Region. Drahonice is located just a few kilometers away from there.
The refugees' protest declaration
"We have fled broken, destroyed countries. During our flight from death and war in our countries we endured the greatest danger traveling from Turkey to Greece.
We have fled to Europe - a country of freedom. What we have encountered in the Czech Republic is the opposite of our idea of Europe.
On our journey through Europe we were accompanied by police in some countries, and in some countries they even transported us by bus. In the Czech Republic they arrested us, searched us using police dogs, and imprisoned us.
Our hunger protest is against our imprisonment. We have no problem with police controlling us, but we do not want to be imprisoned any longer.
In most of our cases, we have withstood detention for the first 90 days, but we cannot take any further extension of our imprisonment here. We have already fled imprisonment, violence and war, and we have ended up in a new prison and a new war.
Each of us has lost someone from our family in our homelands or someone close to us. By imprisoning us, you are treating us like monsters.
We no longer have the strength to put up with this imprisonment. We are wasting our time here.
We are fleeing the death in our countries. We will not return to our homelands to die. We can die here."
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