Hunger strikers at Drahonice detention centre holding out for release

Drahonice detention centre, photo: CTK

The situation at the Drahonice detention centre for migrants, where a refugee protest reached a head on Wednesday, is gradually calming down. However several dozen migrants remain on hunger strike in protest of their lengthy detention and the authorities are on alert for further possible problems.

Drahonice detention centre,  photo: CTK
The Drahonice detention centre for men was in an uproar on Wednesday night as close to the 100 refugees housed there gave vent to their anger at being held captive and their desperation over not understanding what was happening to them. Tensions rose after 40 people were transported out of the centre overnight, triggering fears among those who remained that they would be sent back to their home countries. Over 60 people went on hunger strike and three others harmed themselves, smashing glass to be able to slash their wrists. One refugee attacked a guard and smashed through a glass pane in protest at being held captive. Police and paramedics were called in to help deal with the crisis while aid workers were ordered out of the facility. The head of the Organization for Aid to refugees says that by Thursday morning his workers were able to return.

Martin Rozumek,  photo: Czech Television
“You know the situation yesterday was full of tension so I understand that the ministry did not want to allow aid workers to come yesterday but we called the ministry in the morning whether we can access the centre today and they said it was possible so today we have two lawyers there for the refugees to explain the situation, appeal the decisions.”

While the Drahonice crisis appears to have been brought under control aid workers helping in the facility say this is not likely to be the end of it. Those still on hunger strike are protesting against lengthy detentions lasting for several months – which is something that has triggered strong, though less violent protests in other facilities around the country. Although the detentions are in line with Czech law Martin Rozumek says the government should re-think its policy or be prepared for ongoing problems.

“I think that it is fundamentally wrong because we are detaining people for the purpose of deportation that never takes place, or almost never takes place to the home country. And the people do not know about it, so they should be much better informed and the policy of widespread detention of people from countries producing refugees like Iraq, Afghanistan should be stopped.”

Drahonice detention centre,  photo: CTK
This is not likely to happen. Interior Minister Milan Chovanec defended the Czech policy line before the Senate on Wednesday saying the country would continue to adhere to Czech and European law in this crisis as it did in other matters and that the hunger strike would not change anything in this respect. While the majority of the Czech population back the governments line NGOs and human rights initiatives on Thursday held an open air meeting in Prague in support of a more benevolent policy on migrants.