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HomeLatest NewsNGOs call for the release of all migrants held in temporary detention...

NGOs call for the release of all migrants held in temporary detention centers in Ukraine

Several human rights organizations are demanding the urgent release of detainees in Ukraine’s immigration centers after receiving complaints of a serious deterioration in the conditions they are facing following the Russian invasion in February.

According to the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), at least 45 people remain in the EU-subsidized migrant reception center in Zuravichi, a former military barracks complex in a pine forest in Volhynia.

Nadya Hardman, researcher at HRW’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Unit, spoke on the phone with several men detained in Zuravichi. He says they are “stuck in a war zone (…), scared, and rightly so.”

“Sometimes on television they found out how the war was going, but, obviously, they did not have updated information. Then there were the sounds of war that they could hear without knowing how far away they were or what it meant.”

The center is an hour’s drive from Lutsk and two hours’ drive from the border with Belarus. On March 11, Russian aircraft attacked the airfield in Lutsk, as a result of which two servicemen were killed and six were injured, said the head of the Volyn regional administration, Yuriy Pogulyaiko.

All detainees at the center are injured, Hardman says. Some of them fled the war to their own countries. When HRW spoke to them, more than 100 people from 15 different countries were detained, including Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

“They laughed at us”

The Guardian spoke with Mohamed*, who was held at the center until his release on 18 March. “It’s terrible: it’s not for immigrants, it’s for prisoners. It kills you: all you do is sit, eat, sleep. You can’t think straight. It was hard for me to sleep, you were just awake,” he explains over the phone.

According to Mohamed, the situation worsened when the war broke out and conditions in the center began to deteriorate. “We were afraid to die,” says the 26-year-old, who prefers not to reveal his nationality. “All the immigrants gathered, and we asked the guards to call their chief, and someone came down, and we told him: “They are evacuating civilians from Ukraine; We must also be released. Let us go.” We were told no. They took away our cell phones, but we managed to hide one, and they beat us. They laughed at us.”

A video recorded by the detainees and viewed by The Guardian shows a man lying on the ground, allegedly after being beaten by a guard.

Mohamed says that during the arrest he heard explosions and there was nowhere to hide, since there is no bomb shelter in the center.

“When the war started, the military came and occupied one of the two buildings. [del centro]. The immigrants who lived there had to move to another building. We saw a lot of tanks, a lot of military equipment, a lot of soldiers. We were very scared. They were ten meters away from us,” he explains.

A piece of bread a day

Michael Flynn, director of the Global Detention Project (GDP), assures that “there is no reason to keep migrants and refugees in administrative detention during active hostilities.” He adds that international law clearly indicates the need for the release of detainees from these centres. “The laws of war, the Geneva Conventions require that all parties to a conflict take the necessary precautions to protect all civilians under their control from the dangers of the conflict.”

HRW is deeply concerned about the safety of those who remain in detention and believes they are in serious danger. Hardman explains that they are asking Ukraine and the European Union to release the detainees; and neighboring countries such as Poland to allow entry to all foreigners fleeing Ukraine and seeking asylum.

A volunteer from the Global Association of Tiger Scientists and Professionals (GSTS), who contacted a group of male detainees in March, says that – along with a hundred men – 30 women were also detained. children. The youngest was four years old. The men told him that at the beginning of the war they were given dirty water that made people sick and food was limited. He explains that most of the detainees survived on a piece of bread a day.

Passports in exchange for a fight

Mohamed was studying in Ukraine when immigration authorities caught him trying to work, which is forbidden, and threatened with deportation. “At that time, my country was at war, and it continues to this day. I couldn’t go back, so I decided to cross the border into Romania.” But the Romanian border guards caught him and sent him back to Ukraine.

The court sentenced him to six months of arrest and sent him to Zuravichi on November 2. He was released after the intervention of his embassy. Other embassies also helped release other detainees, including those from Bangladesh and India.

Mohamed assures that he is “100% sure” that there are still detainees. “Some people tried to contact their embassy on our phone, but now we are gone. They need help. I don’t know why they keep them there. If we are released without trial, then why not them?

He adds that the guards said they would give the detainees Ukrainian passports “right here and now” if they agreed to fight the Russians. “It wasn’t a joke, I’m serious. We said no, we’re refugees.”

The Guardian contacted the Zuravichy SIZO and the Ukrainian authorities to offer their version.

A SCTS volunteer says that some of those who were released from the center in the early days of the war are now being held in a temporary detention center in Poland after being detained while trying to cross the Polish border, but they have not been verified. these statements.

There are two other immigration detention centers in Ukraine, one in Chernihiv, which until recently was under siege, where, according to the GDPR, people have been released. The other is Nikolaevsky PTPI (or Nikolaevsky Temporary Stay) in the Voznesensky district in the south, not far from Odessa. At the end of March, the GDP managed to make sure that it was still working with the detainees.

* Fictitious name.

Translated by Maria Torrens Tillak.

Our news department has been covering the war and its consequences for the whole of Europe for several weeks now. We make special efforts to report, explain and verify available information in difficult circumstances and have deployed our reporters to Ukraine, Poland and Moldova, among other key locations. We tell you specific stories and try to give you an overview of the economic and political implications in the medium term, looking for the most experienced voices to interview in Ukraine, Russia, the US or China.

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