Time to close prisons for migrants

Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Spanish Detention Centres for Foreigners, “Centros de Internamiento de Estranjeros” (CIEs), are prisons for people whose principal crime is being born in a wrong country. Conditions in many of those places are so precarious that even the police, an institution usually on the side of the authorities in such matters, has called for their closure.

Amended Law on Foreigners 2/2009 envisions detention for up to 60 days for individuals found to be in the country illegally. That, for people who for the most part have no criminal history, their only offence being not having documents. The CIE inmates usually have no access to legal counsel. Often, they do not have  means even to make or receive a phone call (due to “high costs” for the system), and are effectively kept incommunicado. Some do not know if they see their families, or will be deported straight away. Needless to say they are not advised of their right to ask for asylum, to which according to NGO estimates more than 1 in 4 may be entitled, see: http://www.cear.es/informes/Informe-CEAR-situacion-CIE.pdf .

Human rights NGOs, visiting the detention centres in Madrid, Malaga and Valencia, reported that CIE inmates were routinely subjected to racial harassment and even physical abuse. Guards allegedly tried to intimidate them and make an example of their situation to deter other illegal migrants, see: http://www.antifeixistes.org/3469_tortures-immigrants-valEncia-comissio-dajuda-refugiat-cear-destapa-abusos-contra-estrangers-reclosos-centres-dinternament.htm. Pushing, hitting, and insulting is allegedly very common. However, inmates are overwhelmingly unaware of their rights and procedures to complain about maltreatment. In some centres the guards allegedly do not wear any badges and cannot be identified by name in complaints.

Inmates of the CIE in Valencia related to CEAR – Comision Española de Ayuda al refugiado – instances of physical and psychological abuse on the part of the guards.  Thus, one guard allegedly entered, intoxicated, in the middle of the night into a cell and challenged the inmates to wrestle him, taunting and racially abusing them. When nobody moved, he started battering everybody with a police bat during approximately 10 minutes, inflicting injuries on several inmates. CIE inmates maintain that they could not get medical attention to treat or ascertain their injuries. See: http://www.levante-emv.com/comunitat-valenciana/2009/12/10/comision-refugiado-destapa-casos-torturas-centro-extranjeros-valencia/659447.html

Even those with serious  health problems reported not getting any medical assistance or relief. CEAR estimates that 97% of detainees do not receive medical examination within the first 24 hours of arrival, as stipulated in the law. That can pose life threatening risks for persons with chronic conditions, see: http://www.cear.es/informes/Informe-CEAR-situacion-CIE.pdf .

After these events came to light, CEAR reports, inmates who talked to NGOs and whose testimonies were particularly damning, were quickly expelled from the country, and NGOs did not get another opportunity to interview them or initiate proceedings on their behalf.

Physical conditions in many detention centres are deplorable. Thus, CIE in Malaga is deemed to be in a state of complete “ruin,” lacking elementary hygiene or safety, infested with fleas, and posing health risks for those who are detained there, as well as for those working there.

Inmates in CIE in Valencia stated that because there are no toilets in the cells and no intercom through which they could request to be taken to the centre´s bathroom, they were forced to use empty water bottles. In some cases, inmates had no change of clothes and had to wear what they had on at the moment of arrest for the duration of their detention (it usually takes between 20 and 40 days to process deportation).

Despite months of advocacy by NGOs and even recommendations by state inspectors, these detention centres are still being used. Not only that, their use is about to become even more intensive, unless the Independent Police Syndicate manages to get the Circular 1/2010 of the Spanish Ministry of Interior annulled though the courts. That Circular essentially orders the police to round-up and detain “preventively” anyone who cannot on spot show the proof of his or her lawful presence in Spain (see an earlier post by CIDH ProIgual: https://centrodeinvestigacionesenderechoshumanos.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/can-a-democratic-state%c2%b4s-institution-be-responsible-for-encouraging-hate-crimes/).

Sadly, judging by conditions in various CIEs , the degree of Spanish civilisation appears to be declining rapidly.