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“Still Behind Bars” – report on monitoring of guarded centres for foreigners

Since 2012, guarded centres for foreigners have undergone visible changes, including the relaxation of the regime. Nevertheless, many things still need to be improved, reads the report “Still Behind Bars” published by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Association for Legal Intervention.

The published report is a summary of the second round of monitoring conducted in early 2014 by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Association for Legal Intervention at the request of the Minister of the Interior. The first report, “Migration is not a crime”, was issued in the wake of the 2012 protest of foreigners placed in guarded centres. This year’s monitoring aimed to check how the situation has improved and whether promises made by public authorities have been fulfilled.

Let us remind our readers that among the foreigners referred to guarded centres there are individuals who stay in Poland without a valid residence permit and persons applying for a refugee status. These people are no criminals.

The conducted monitoring showed that Polish authorities have taken a number of steps to reform the guarded centres. For instance, foreigners have been given more freedom to move within the centres, or a free access to mobile phones. Also, repressive practices, such as roll-calls, compulsory attendance at meals, personal and room searches, have partially been curtailed.

Still, what has not changed is the prison-like look of the centres and a limited access to psychological and legal counselling. On top of that, increasingly more children stay at the centres. Minors currently make up nearly a quarter of the centres’ population, as compared to 10 per cent recorded during the previous monitoring.

“It shall never be in the best interest of the child to be kept in detention due to reasons related to migration”, says Dr Witold Klaus, head of the Association for Legal Intervention. Children are kept in guarded centres surrounded by barbed wire fences, where playrooms have bars on the windows and access to education is not sufficient. “Certainly, these factors are not conducive to the child’s development”, adds Dr Klaus. Both the HFHR and the Association for Legal Intervention make the point that detention of children should be absolutely forbidden.

Another serious problem is the lack of a system for identification of violence and torture victims. “Such persons should be identified sufficiently in advance so that they never end up in guarded centres”, say Jacek Białas, HFHR. “Furthermore, it is important to provide foreigners placed in guarded centres with access to psychological and psychiatric assistance. Psychologists and psychiatrists employed in guarded centres have to be independent from the Border Guard and speak languages of foreigners”, adds Mr Białas.

The monitoring also revealed practices violating the dignity of foreigners. For instance, those who need to see a doctor are still transported handcuffed, in prison vans, which is a humiliating experience for them. They feel like criminals and are seen as such by the Polish people whom they meet. Regrettably, a practice of addressing foreigners by their identifications numbers has not been totally abandoned.

Another problem is that foreigners detained in the centres don’t have proper access to legal aid. “The question of creating a special system for financing legal aid for foreigners has been discussed and worked on for a long time now. However, this has not brought any visible development yet”. Not enough is done by NGOs in this regard”, stresses Dr Klaus.

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