WRITTEN BY: Anna Malinovskaya
Earlier this year, leading international Human Rights organizations reported the purportedly illegal detention and mistreatment of a group of Somali asylum seekers in Ukraine. On January 19, 2012, Amnesty International (AI) announced that about 60 Somali nationals, including 20 children, went on a hunger strike to protest against their “pointless” detention, one of many in a row for some detainees, at the Zhuravichi Migrant Accommodation Centre in northwestern Ukraine. According to AI’s later reports, there were also 6 Eritreans among the protestors. The 60 Somalis are part of a larger group of 125 Somali citizens detained at the center since January 6th. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that around 80 of the Somalis notified UNHCR of their intention to apply for asylum in Ukraine and that the Somalis’ detention deprived them of the opportunity to file an application for a refugee status or appeal a rejection of their asylum applications by the State Migration Service.
AI believes that the detention of Somali nationals “for the purposes of deportation”, as stated in official papers, is pointless because according to records, no Somali or Eritrean citizens have ever been deported from Ukraine. AI stresses, “Everyone knows – the police, the ministry of internal affairs and the Somalis themselves – that they won’t ever be deported”. The reason is that Ukraine, as party to a few international conventions on human rights, is obliged not to return anyone to any country if there is a threat of serious human rights violations for the returnees. What usually happens to Somalis is that they are first detained for being illegally present in the country for up to a year, then released and given five days to reach the Somali embassy. Since there is no Somali embassy in the country, the former detainees are soon re-arrested and put in a detention center again for another year. HRW confirms this scenario for the majority of the detainees. AI concludes that since there is no prospect of deportation, detention “for the purposes of deportation” is “arbitrary and unlawful”.
What makes the situation even worse is that the Somali detainees maintain they were blatantly abused and tortured while at the detention facilities. For example, AI reports that some said “they had been placed in an isolation unit without a bed for several days, and that they received anonymous emails and phone calls containing death threats and racist abuse”. During the hunger strike, also according to AI, security forces attempted to end the strike by forcing the protesters to eat and filming them whilst eating. HRW points out that the Ukrainian authorities have previously been found responsible for torture under European human rights law by forcibly feeding detainees. It also adds that during the strike “a group of approximately 21 police officers, masked and armed with batons and tear gas,” came to the detention center to search detainees’ rooms and while searching hit some of the hunger strikers with batons. HRW sent a letter to the Ukrainian authorities urging immediate release of the detainees.
This case reveals a few of the many problems in the Ukraine’s legal framework and law enforcement. In a report in 2010, HRW found that “migration detention in Ukraine is often arbitrary and detainees do not enjoy reliable access to a judge or other authority, or access to legal representation to challenge their detention”. Besides, the report claimed that “asylum applications from detainees are frequently not processed”, “many claims are rejected as manifestly unfounded”, and that “a migrant or asylum seeker may be detained without any individual assessment of such necessity”.