The Hungarian Helsinki Committee earlier this month published a concerning new report looking at how EU countries are undermining the right to liberty by expanding the use of detention of asylum seekers upon entry.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee explains: “The objective of this research was to explore how Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary and Italy undermine the right to liberty of asylum seekers upon entry. Besides thoroughly documenting the worrisome trend towards de factodetention, this study aims to provide EU organs with the necessary knowledge to tackle attempts at weakening the fundamental rights of a group of people seeking refuge in Europe as a result of violence and turmoil in their home countries. Furthermore, it aims to raise awareness within the international community about the rampant use of de facto detention on the EU’s external borders, and the grave human rights violations which this entails.”
While migrant arrivals in Europe peaked in 2015 following the Arab Spring uprisings of 2010-2011, the report finds that the use of detention upon entry still continues despite a significant decrease in asylum applications in Bulgaria, Hungary and Italy.
The report notes: “Although the number of both irregular entrants and asylum seekers in Bulgaria and Hungary fell sharply in 2017, the use of detention increased significantly in Hungary – where 73.5% of asylum seekers were detained over the course of the year – and it remains the main tool of migration management in Bulgaria. The main nationalities of detained asylum seekers in both countries are Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis.”
In 2017, the use of migrant detention increased in Italy by 25% and in Greece by 75%.
On Greece, the report notes: “Under pressure from other EU member states and the European Agenda on Migration, the use of immigration detention in Greece has been steadily increasing. Between 2016 and 2017, the population of detained immigrants increased by 73%. De facto detention of migrants has been a common practice in Greece since the number of migrant arrivals began to increase.”
Section 5 of the report looks at concerns over conditions in migrant detention centres in each of the four countries.
The report states: “The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture found during its recent visit to Greece that material conditions at Fylakio Pre-departure Centre were unacceptable. In one of the cells, the delegation met 95 foreign nationals, including families with young children, unaccompanied minors, pregnant women and single adult men, who were detained in cells with about 1m² of living-space per person. These cell was severely overcrowded (many persons were required to share mattresses), filthy and malodorous. Hygiene was extremely poor, hygiene items were not distributed, and the provisions for children were insufficient. The other cells showed similarly poor material conditions. Access to outdoor exercise was only granted for ten to twenty minutes per day.”
In Italy, the report notes that on the island of Lampedusa, migrants were housed in rooms that were “in a clear state of neglect” and in 2016/2017 “the hygienic conditions of the centre were barely acceptable”.
In Hungary “accommodation is provided in shipping containers measuring approximately 13 square metres in size (circa. 4×3 metres), each fitted with five beds. When five people occupy one of these containers, there is no space left to move around, therefore the containers are overcrowded. Five interviewed detainees mentioned that they did not have enough space to move around in the container. The interviewees also complained about the hygiene of the sanitary facilities.”
The report notes that the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has found conditions in Bulgarian immigration detention centres are generally poor.
Section 6 of the report looks at case law. It states: “Litigation has successfully contributed to tackling problematic forms of detention upon arrival. In Bulgaria, the breakthrough came in January 2018, when the Supreme Court ruled that the submission of an international protection claim is a statutory fact that puts an end to immigration detention. Some milestone ECtHR judgments support systemic changes in the long run. Litigation, however, proved to be insufficient to balance out the strong political will to limit asylum seekers’ right to liberty in certain countries. The re-imposed geographical restriction on the Greek islands just after its judicial annulment, the non-respect of domestic court decisions or ECtHR interim measures in Hungary and de facto detention in Diciotti case in Italy, despite the Khlaifia judgment finding confinement on the boat unlawful detention, exemplify this challenge.”
In conclusion, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee says de factodetention should be abolished: “As the ECtHR’s Khlaifia judgement confirms, the need to defend state borders in case of a massive arrival of migrants cannot count as justification for de facto detention in breach of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. When resorting to the detention of irregular migrants and/or asylum seekers, states should observe all their human rights obligations, which go beyond the simple issuance of a detention order, and include, among other safeguards, the mandatory consideration of less coercive alternatives.”