We strongly oppose all detentions, especially the detention of undocumented migrants. However, in view of the ever more worrying situation that authorities at all levels and responsible officials trivialise, we would like to make some updates. The situation which has been brought to our attention, lead us to raise awareness on certain aspects and unacceptable facts in the detention of undocumented migrants.
The law on the detention of migrants, who do not have, or no longer have documents allowing them to stay in a European Member State which has a closed border policy, stipulates that the migrant can be detained with a view to her/his removal from the territory. This is strictly limited to the time necessary for the execution of the measure, without the detention period exceeding two months.
A two-month extension of the initial period of detention is possible in certain situations, for example:
• if the steps for removal have been taken within seven days after the decision becomes enforceable;
• whether these procedures are pursued with the required diligence, and;
• if there is still a possibility of effectively removing the undocumented migrant in a reasonable time frame.
In fact, a systematic extension seems to be the rule! The exception becomes the rule when if it is politically convenient for the authorities. This is happening far from the public gaze, without many people being alerted!
After a first extension, a new extension decision can be taken by the Minister. After five months of detention, the migrant must be released. However, if “the safeguard of public order so requires”, the detention is extended month by month after the expiration of the five-month period with a maximum of eight months of detention in total. It is important to appreciate the term “safeguard” of public order here!! How could these people, imprisoned and detained in scandalous conditions, endanger public order? But regardless, what public order are we referring to here?
Note also this outrageous possibility with regard to the time limit: if a person of migrant origin refuses to board the plane, which will take him to a destination that he fears, the Immigration Office (Office des Etrangés) can notify him of a new decision to detain her/him, and the two-months detention period starts again!
This, although this scenario does not comply with what is stated in the so-called EC Return Directive1 and certainly contravenes the right to liberty provided for by article 5, §1 of the European Convention on Human Rights2.
In the testimony below we see that the staff of the detention centre, including the management and the social worker, who are disrespectful, speaking in a familiar manner to the inmate ‘M’ abuse their power over her. For example, by saying that if she does not collaborate “we will turn our backs on you”, or that she risks being forcibly expulsed, which is usually brutally executed by the police.
However, according to the European Court of Human Rights, “any conduct by the police against a person which violates human dignity” constitutes a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human rights, in particular “the use (…) of physical force against an individual when this is not strictly necessary by his behaviour. In addition, the Council of Europe, specifies that this must be assessed with regard to “the real or reasonably expected resistance on the part of the person to be expulsed.”
If we oppose the very principle of the use of force stated here, we stress that the police and the administration, which are tasked with implementing such practices are, apart from all human consideration, outside the law.
In detention centres the roles are well defined: the management is there to ensure the proper functioning of the centre. There is no question of getting together with other members of the staff in order to threaten and put pressure on the detainees. This is neither the job nor the role of the management.
The medical and psychological service is responsible for the medical and psychological monitoring of detainees at the centre. However, it is well known that the medical profession, including nurses, are complicit in the administration of medications to the detainees, of which, they are unaware of the real effects and risks, are sometimes forced to do so by the order of the guards.
Is there a follow-up, either medical or psychological, to the side-effects of the sedatives administered in these detention centres? Some detainees cry for help but what is the follow-up? Solitary confinement, hidden from the public gaze, isolated from everyone, seems to be the only answer to their distress. This is also the fate reserved for detainees who have attempted suicide, which is unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence. This is a double punishment for people who are already in serious distress.
With regard to social services: social assistants officially accompany the “residents” during their detention in the centre. They ensure the follow-up of administrative files. They also ensure the preparation of “residents” on their return. A DVD, in several languages, which provides information about returns and removals, is made available to detainees in order to help them to accept voluntary return. The detainees testify that it is rather a matter of putting pressure on them, generating fear and anguish, and the violent consequences of a refusal to cooperate. Politicians then exploit the return figures in their reports to increase public support.
This is an overview of the main issues encountered in the detention centres. However, there is still the issue of the airlines which are profiting from these expulsions. For example, Brussels Airlines, owned by the German company Lufthansa, prides itself on being “an airline with the human touch, close to our passengers of whom we take the greatest care.”
Since when does its staff replace the officials of the Immigration Office, when the regulations stipulate that the person to be deported will be notified? It is difficult to understand the hidden agenda behind this unhealthy relationship.
We can compare the treatment endured by M and many others locked up in detention centres to torture. This treatment is often repetitive, imposed on detainees, in all discretion and with peace of mind by the civil servants, which exposes its systemic nature.
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment3 defines torture in article 1 as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person. “. However, threats, intimidation, humiliation, and imprisonment can also be included in the above definition.