Spain: Scathing attack on detention conditions and the violation of migrants' and asylum seekers' rights in the Canary Islands

In a lengthy report dated 21 February 2002 and entitled "The Other Face of the Canary Islands: Rights Violations Against Migrants and Asylum Seekers" based on a six-week research mission to Spain in October and November 2001 Human Rights Watch criticises "substandard detention conditions" and "inadequate procedural rights afforded [to] immigrants and asylum seekers upon their arrival to the Spanish islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote".

The report includes recommendations to the Spanish government, the UN, the Council of Europe, the EU and OSCE (the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe). Highlighting the "appalling treatment" reserved to immigrants arriving illegally in the Canary Islands, they call on Spanish authorities to address issues such as detention conditions which violate the basic human rights of migrants (including overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, inadequate medical care, no access to visitors and telephones, and the detention of asylum seekers and families with children), and the lack of access to judicial remedy against detention, lawyers, information on their rights, monitoring by lawyers, NGOs or families, interpretation and translation facilities and adequately trained staff, among other concerns. The EU is invited to ensure whether its common policy on immigration pursued following the Tampere Summit in October 1999 complies with the obligation of the community and individual member states to protect human rights.

The report describes conditions in the airport detention facilities in Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, mainly used to detain North African and sub-Saharan Africans arriving in the Canaries in pateras (4,035 in 2001). In Fuerteventura there have been occasions when almost 400 migrants have been detained in a space deemed to be large enough to accommodate 50 by the Red Cross. The report is littered with quotations drawn from interviews with migrants, lawyers, doctors, migrant aid organisations and government authorities. Testimonies from migrants, doctors and Red Cross staff provide the most damning indictment of conditions in the detention facilities. One migrant from Guinea Bissau stated "I entered the Fuerteventura camp on September 12, 2001. ... It's a prison. We don't even see the sun. For twenty-four days I did not see the sun". Chronically unhygienic conditions, a lack of facilities for medical staff, the deprivation of all communication with the outside world and the detention of children, are only part of the problems for detainees. Authorities interviewed by HRW justify such conditions by claiming that it is an "emergency procedure", and that it should be thought of as "temporary".

With regards to the process leading to detention, the report documents the failure to provide migrants with information regarding their rights, adequate translation or interpretation, or legal representation. The process of getting migrants to sign papers which they don't understand appears widespread, and a man from the Ivory Coast claimed that "They hit me at the police station because there was a misunderstanding with the interpretation. I got hit in the back with a baton." The report also tackles issues of deportation/repatriation, judicial oversight, difficulties in applying for asylum, arbitrary detention, providing some background on international and regional human rights standards which should be applicable. It concludes that "the Spanish authorities routinely violate the human rights of migrants enshrined in domestic , regional and international law". Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of HRW recognises that in the Canary Islands Spain faces a "challenge", "But locking people up under such appalling conditions isn't the solution. immigration controls have to go hand-in-hand with protection for migrants' basic rights".

Sources: Human Rights Watch press release Human Rights Watch report


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