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- 20.1.2012: Press release about the hunger strike published by UNHCR.
- 20.1.2012: Article published by the newspaper “Kyiv Post”: Ukraine urged to release Somali refugees.
- 20.1.2012: Open appeal concerning the situation of asylum seekers from Somalia published by the Ukrainian Refugee Council.
- 20.1.2012: Women in hunger stike say they have headaches and are having breathing problems. The woman who was taken to hospital was removed from Lutsk Detention Centre in the middle of the night while the women were asleep.
- 19.1.2012: Press release published by amnesty international: “Ukraine must release Somali asylum-seekers”
- 19.1.2012: The under-age Somali woman is still in hospital. Furthermore, detainees report that especially the health situation of the under-age detainees becomes more and more critical. Hunger strikers asked administration to take four persons to hospital, which was refused. In the opinion of the hunger strikers, administration is doing this because they don’t want the hunger strike to become public.
- 18.1.2012: Detainees continue the hunger strike. Today, an under-age Somali woman was taken to Lutsk hospital as she was weakened by the hunger strike. Detainees wrote a letter to the Ukrainian President two days ago and today, another one to explain their demands. Till now, neither the Ukrainian Government nor the International Organization for Migration (IOM) nor the Delegation of the European Commission to Ukraine contacted the hunger strikers to listen to them.
61 Somalians have been on hunger strike since 6th January in the Lutsk detention centre with another 15 reportedly on hunger strike in another detention centre at Chernigiv. 13 of the hunger strikers are women (7 of whom are under the age of 18). 17 of the men are also under 18.
The hunger strikers say that one 17 year old boy is very ill and in a separate room and had not been examined by a doctor. Furthermore the hunger strikers say they are detained in an asylum system which is profoundly unjust. They say that Somalians are always refused asylum in Ukraine and if they try to cross into the EU they are bounced back into Ukraine and detained. The hunger strikers say that they are subject to police harassment and corruption and can be detained by the authorities for periods of 12 months if they don’t have a temporary permit to stay legally in Ukraine. They say that an asylum seeker can be re-detained within a short period after release and then faces another 12 months in detention. Some of the hunger strikers have been in Ukraine for 5 or 6 years before they were detained. Some have been detained more then once.
Their demands to the Ukrainian Government are:
1) Somalian asylum seekers are granted asylum status in Ukraine.
2) They are released from detention.
3) Asylum seekers are to be provided with documents so they cannot be arrested.
4) There is an end to the police harassment of asylum seekers.
5) No asylum seeker is to face re-arrest after a period of detention.
Ukraine’s asylum procedure is in chaos. The arbitrary detention of the hunger strikers is just one more way in which the rule of law is ignored in Ukraine. Recent asylum laws created a new Government department to examine asylum applications, but failed to give it authority to act, while the old department was dismantled. As a result, asylum seekers cannot make asylum applications so they cannot get temporary residence permits and so become illegal.
Asylum seekers who were already in the system often cannot obtain an extension of their temporary permits and are therefore subject to arrest as they become illegal. No decisions on refugee status are being made and asylum appeals are postponed as the new Government department is not recognised by judges. Even those who have been granted refugee status in the past are often not receiving their residence permits – re-issued each year – and so become illegal.
The Government has increased the penalty for being without temporary residence documents from 6 to 12 months detention. Asylum seekers in Ukraine cannot work and do not receive financial support while they await the decision on their application.
The hunger strikers ask everyone to publicise and raise support for their demands as widely and as quickly as possible. If you are in the EU, please raise this with your parliamentary representative or Member of the European Parliament as Ukraine is sensitive to EU pressure.
Following the introduction of a readmission agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, two Detention Centres were built in 2008 with financial support of the European Union. As described in the BMPU report, a lot of the detainees were refould from Hungary or Slovakia before they were imprisoned in the Detention Centres. These findings were confirmed in reports published by other organizations like Human Rights Watch. Furthermore, 30 Somalis were arrested in Vinnytza in December 2011 and taken to detention. Ignoring the fact, that there is no functioning asylum system in Ukraine and even that Ukraine (like all the EU-Countries) is not able to deport to Somalia, Somalis (and others) are kept in detention for twelve month and are then released without any status.
After being released from detention
There is even the risk, that former detainees are detained again shortly after they have been released. The administrator of Lutsk Detention Centere – cited in the above mentioned Human Rights Watch report – explains:
The papers we give have no legal power. They are informative documents that tell the person who reads it that the person holding the paper is on the way to his embassy. If that person is caught three days later in Chop, we will know that he is not trying to get to his embassy, and we can arrest him again.
Furthermore a Somali man – cited in the recently published BMPU report on corruption – describes:
In Lutsk there is no way to pay, when you have finished your six months they release [you] without documents, they give you little paper but if the police controls you, you will be arrested, police will arrest you in Lutsk city. It is like this: you have to talk to soldiers, ›tomorrow I will be free‹, you must pay at least $ 300, the soldier then drives you wherever you want, they drive in their uniform, so that the police does not stop them, but they drive with their private car, not in an official car. To Vinnitsa it is 350 kilometres, so that takes about 7, 8 hours, the bus [to Lutsk and on to Vinnitsa] is only $ 20 or so but it is not safe.
Violation of International Human Rights Law
According to international law, a refugee must be given the possibility that his claim is proven under fair and comprehensible conditions. In addition, detention of a migrant because of his foreseen deportation is only legal, if it is generally possible to deport him and if serious efforts are made by the state to realize this. In the case of deportations to Somalia, this is obviously not possible. So de facto, the European Union helped to establish Detention Centres in Ukraine, which are used to treat migrants in a way that is not in line with international human rights laws like the European Convention on Human Rights.
Official numbers on migrants in detention in Ukraine and statistics about their countries of origin can be found in this report. Scandalously it is even planned to build up two new long-term detention centres in Ukraine with EU-funds (euphemistically called “Migrant Accomodation Centres”) in the moment. Already in 2007, the European Commission has allocated 30 million Euros under its ENPI national program for Ukraine, inter alia to build up new detention centres.
Because of the situation in Ukraine, a big part of the Somalis Community (and also other groups) see their only chance in trying to come to EU-countries and to apply for asylum there. The BMPU was informed about the case of a Somali who is now the six time in detention because he tried to cross the border to the European Union. This example clearly shows, what is the main interest behind the “support” of Ukraine by the European Union. Ukraine should become an increasingly efficient buffer-zone for EU borders to prevent that refugees and migrants mange to enter EU-member states.
Finally it must be said clearly, that the detention centres in Ukraine funded by the European Union are used to punish those persons, who are trying to reach the European Union informally or even before, ignoring their rights guaranteed under the Geneva Convention and other international human rights laws.