Spain/France: The ongoing disgrace of detention centres

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Two reports on detention centres have been published in Spain and France that highlight a situation in which foreigners are experiencing conditions that are often worse than those in prisons as a result of administrative offences (irregular residence) and an aim to maximise the rates of detention and returns. This has led to large-scale violations of human rights and to policies that reduce judicial oversight and the possibility of detained foreigners to effectively exercise their rights through judicial proceedings and access to effective remedies.

The Spanish organisations that are part of the Migreurop network have published a report on centres for the detention of migrants (Centros de Internamiento de Extranjeros, CIE) entitled "CIE, Derechos vulnerados". It includes in-depth reports on the fact-finding visits carried out in four of Spain's nine detention centres, in Algeciras, Barcelona, Madrid and Málaga (the others are in Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tarifa, Tenerife and Valencia).

This is a translation of the "final conclusions" of the report that highlights the violation of rights in CIEs.

"Final conclusions"

The analysis on the detention centres for foreigners that were visited concludes that they are veritable prisons, in form and substance alike, in spite of their regulation establishing that these facilities cannot have the character of a prison facility because they hold people who have not committed a crime, but rather, an administrative offence, as applies to not possessing regular documentation. In the four cases that are reported, the facilities in which they are placed formerly belonged to imprisonment centres for convicts, and their prison-like imprint is notorious.

This penitentiary character is something that goes beyond the architecture and physionomy of CIEs, spreading to the deprivation of the rights of the people detained in these centres, which is sometimes greater than that applied in prisons. The denial in legislation of the prison-like character of detention centres for foreigners presumes that the quality of the stay of detained people must be higher than that which exists in prisons, that is, it must entail a privileged regime (Constitutional Court sentence, 115/87), and this does not reflect the truth.

The law establishes that people who are placed in CIEs only face a restriction of their freedom of movement. For this reason, as a rule, the rest of their rights should be respected, whereas they are often violated so that, without being criminals, they are condemned to conditions that are far worse than those to which people who have committed crimes are subjected. This is the sense of Migreurop's demand that these centres be equipped with social, legal, cultural and health services.

Many of the issues that are detailed in the report result from the absence of a specific law to regulate the legal regime of these centres, which leads to the consequence of a discretionality and arbitrariness that it is urgent to put an end to. For this reason, the organisations that are members of the Migreurop network have repeatedly called for legislation to regulate the operation of these centres, in order to prevent abuses of people's fundamental rights. The organisations deem that it is urgent to approve a norm with the status of an organic law, rather than a regulation as is envisaged. This law should be drafted following a procedure of social dialogue.

The absence of a law worsens the situation, especially when it can be noticed that there is scarce or non-existent control over these places by the judicial authorities that are competent. This gives rise to serious legal insecurity and an evident lack of safeguards for people who are confined there, granting the centres' management a practically unquestionable authority.
Furthermore, the members of associations who have visited the CIEs appreciated defects in the setting up of fire prevention systems and evacuation plans that may result in tragic events, as happened during the fire in the cells of Málaga police station in 2002, in which seven people died.

The visit in CIEs emphatically revealed that fundamental rights that are included in legislation on prison facilities are not guaranteed, like the lack of interpreters that renders effective communication impossible and leads to the misinformation of internees; access to legal defence is not guaranteed, resulting in a lack of safeguards; the impossibility of staying with their families; the absence of cameras in parts of the facilities, which makes it impossible to verify its correct functioning, the behaviour of officers and the prevention of illegal activities - which has been reported on several occasions to social organisations by those who have suffered attacks. Moreover, it has been noted that there are protocols and administrative procedures that are unsuitable for the purpose of allowing detainees to file complaints in a safe and confidential manner concerning violations of their rights.

Another important aspect is the violation of the right to intimacy in conversations through the use of screens during visits, which prevents physical contact with relatives and friends, or of the right to moral integrity that sharing a room of just a few square metres with several people entails.

A particularly relevant matter in this context is the practice of stripping people naked upon admission into the Algeciras CIE, which is absolutely intolerable and represents a clear and authentic attack against human rights. In addition, it is surprising that in most CIEs people are not identified by their name and surname, but rather, by a number, a fact that entails a serious dehumanisation and devaluation of detainees in a CIE.

Moreover, it still happens frequently that people who have health problems, particularly psychiatric ones, and pregnant women are detained in a centre that has deficiencies that are more than evident, which lack the resources to be able to give these people adequate care.

Finally, some of the facilities that we visited, especially those in Málaga and Algeciras, display a noteworthy deterioration of their facilities that led to them being considered inadequate in the past as prisons due to the risks for the health and safety of detainees but which, coversely, are deemed appropriate for foreigners in a detention regime.

For all these reasons, the organisations that are part of the Migreurop network call for the closure of detention centres for foreigners, which they consider facilities for the ill-treatment of people that cannot continue to exist. In the meantime, they demand the approval of an organic law on CIEs to regulate the functioning of these centres and to guarantee respect for the rights of the people who are held there."

Translation by Statewatch, emphases in the original text "CIE, Derechos vulnerados" and
Executive summary

The five associations that operate in French detention centres (centres de rétention administrative, CRAs), Assfam, Cimade, Forum Réfugiés, France Terre d'Asile and Ordre de Malte France, have jointly produced an in-depth report on detention centres and facilities in which foreigners are held as a result of irregular status in France. It brings together exhaustive statistical data, analysis of themes including "Detention: a place of distress governed by arbitrariness", "The uncertain fate of ill foreigners in detention", "The family, disrupted by detention", "Applying for asylum in detention: a regime of exception", "Undermining freedom of movement", "The injustifiable criminalisation of migrants in an irregular situation", "A policy that is clearly aimed at removing Roma people", "Detention of unaccompanied minors" and "Overseas territories: rights sold cheaply in a context of mass detention and returns", and analysis of each of France's CRAs that includes a wealth of official data, personal observations and the stories of detainees, which are often tragic.

The following is the translation of an extract from the report's introduction:

"In a field as sensitive as administrative detention, it is essential to have an overall view of the truth about the detention of foreigners in France: it is the only way to enable a description of the entire system that has been drawn up, developed and reinforced in France over the years, and to take stock of human rights violations.

This annual report is a testimony of life in French administrative detention centres. What have we noticed that is most striking?

First of all, the deterioration caused by the "policy of figures" that was established in 2002 and by a regime of exception that is strengthened year after year. In 2010, over 60,000 people have passed through a centre on the mainland or in overseas territories. The number of families and children who are detained in the centres has grown. The same applies to numerous Romanian nationals -mainly Roma people- in the context of a repressive escalation that drawn criticisism from the European Union.

In this place for the denial of freedom that administrative detention represents, the slightest negligence regarding the law can take on an entirely different dimension. The reality of the centres, which is soon raised when serious events make the news, is that of a daily tension, of a violence that is expressed in many ways, of a distress that is too often confronted by arbitrary practices.

This regime of exception is far worse in the centres in overseas territories, where the state tolerates that three people should share the space for one and that, in order to enact a swift removal, the administration may not wait for the administrative judge's decisions, thus paying scant attention to the lawfulness of a return that is often irreversible.

These administrative and police practices, these conditions for stopping people and denying them freedom, for readmission at borders, are something that we note and cannot fail to draw a damning conclusion on: that of an obsession with statistics at the expense of the law. In other terms, it is a matter of a policy that, far too often, pushes the authorities into expelling more foreigners at any cost, while disregarding procedures and the most basic rights, while it implements a removal policy that displays its ineffectiveness and injustice.

The year 2010 and the first months of 2011 were marked by the discussion and subsequent adoption of a new law on foreigners against which our associations mobilised. It set the extension of the maximum length of detention at 45 days and the limiting of the intervention of the juge des libertés [judge tasked with ruling on the lawfulness of detention] to controlling procedural matters. It confirmed that detention has become a routine means of managing the removal of foreigners in an irregular situation, and considerably reduced control over police and administrative practices by the judicial power.

Finally, it is this turning of administrative detention into routine, contrary to the spirit of European law, that we criticise together, as we do with regards to the absurd situations and attacks on people's rights and dignity that a policy marked by the obsession of attaining targets involving figures gives rise to."

Translation by Statewatch


- The report "Centres et locaux de rétention administrative. Rapport 2010."
- Summary for the press

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