Conditions in Czech detention centers for migrants under fire

Migrants in Zastávka u Brna detention center, photo: CTK

The conditions in detention facilities for migrants not only in the Czech Republic but neighbouring Slovakia and Hungary which serve as transit counties are now under close scrutiny. The migrants who are forced to spend several weeks in detention under tight security accuse the authorities of imprisonment, while the authorities claim all is according to the law. Over the weekend Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka visited one of the country’s three asylum centers, Zastávka u Brna in Moravia to check-up on the conditions in which refugees are held.

Migrants in Zastávka u Brna detention center, photo: CTK
The country’s three detention centers, one north of Prague and two in Moravia, are filled to 90 percent of their capacity, which is 1,100 beds. They house migrants from Syria, who are now being released in groups and allowed to continue on their way to Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. When the Czech government delegation arrived on the grounds of the fenced-off detention center near Brno, the mood was stormy and the prime minister faced a volley of complaints.

“No mobile, no internet, no anything. I am a human being, not an animal! We want to go to Germany. For the last two months we are here like prisoners. FREEDOM! FREEDOM! FREEDOM!”

Migrants who cross the country’s border illegally are detained here for several weeks before being returned to the country from which they entered the Czech Republic on the basis of readmission agreements or the country where they have requested political asylum. Many have no IDs in which case the Czech foreign police needs to ascertain their identity and question them before deciding how to proceed in line with the law. Families are kept together, but they have their mobiles confiscated and –unlike those who file for asylum in the Czech Republic – illegal migrants waiting to be extradited do not have access to the Internet. After getting a tour of the facilities, Prime Minister Sobotka said he saw no reason for complaints.

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: CTK
“Admittedly tension is high and the people who are here are not here of their own free will. They are here because they have violated Czech law.”

However, while the Interior Ministry and the foreign police claim that all is as it should be, the Prague-based Organization for Aid to Refugees claims otherwise. Its director Martin Rozumek says the prime minister was taken to a model facility.

“You cannot compare the conditions in Běla and in Zastávka u Brna and I know for a fact that if the Interior Ministry wants to receive a good assessment or make an impression they always send visitors to Zastávka u Brna. But I think that people should come to Běla because what we could see in the detention center in Běla was a disaster –hungry children, bad food, no access to mobile phones and they have to pay for these services, even kids, so monthly the bill could be 7,200 Czech crowns per person. It is a shame.”

Martin Rozumek, photo: Czech Television
Illegal migrants are not given access to the Internet and have their mobile phones taken away. Why is that?

“I do not understand why the government and police do not allow them access to mobile phones and the Internet. I don’t see any problem with that and we have trouble with it because people are unable to call their relatives and family at home. I don’t know the reason. We were always told it was for security reasons – but what does that mean? I think it is bad behavior to deter all immigrants from coming to the Czech Republic, I think that is the main purpose of the harsh conditions in detention –to deter all the others from coming.”