Living conditions in detention centre for migrants under close scrutiny

Le camp de rétention de Bělá-Jezová, photo: ČT24

Interior Minister Milan Chovanec and Ombudswoman Anna Šabatová met on Tuesday to discuss ways of improving conditions for migrants in the detention centre in Bělá-Jezová north of Prague. The Ombudswoman last week severely criticised conditions in the facility, saying they were worse than in prison, and called on the interior minister to take immediate steps to correct the situation.

Bělá-Jezová detention centre, photo: Czech Television
After paying a visit to the detention centre in Bělá-Jezová last week, the Ombudswoman said the conditions were unacceptable, especially for families with children, arguing that the living and hygiene conditions in the centre violated the Convention on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms.

Minister Chovanec initially rejected the criticism, adding that the conditions have always been humane. At a press conference following Tuesday’s meeting with the public defender of human rights, however, he promised to address some of the issues she brought up, saying they would provide more social workers, psychologists, teachers as well as legal services to aid the detained foreigners:

“I think our meeting was very successful. We solved nearly all the problematic issues. We had already addressed some of them after receiving Mrs Šabatová’s criticism. However there are still some issues we don’t agree upon, namely the payment for accommodation we require from the detained foreigners or the presence of police in our facilities, so that will remain a subject for further debate.”

Milan Chovanec, photo: CTK
Among the issues that also divide the Ombudswoman and the interior minister is the strict immigration policy enforced by the Czech authorities, namely the practice of detaining foreigners who are only passing through the country on their way to Germany and other European countries.

But despite the disagreements, Ondřej Vala of the Ombudswoman’s Office says they are happy with the outcome of the meeting, adding that they will continue to closely monitor the situation at the detention facility:

“I think that it is a big step forward because it looks like the attitude of the Minister of Interior has changed and we hope that conditions especially for families with children will really be improved. During the next month there will be another meeting with the Interior Ministry and we will most likely visit the facility again to check the conditions and see if things have really changed for the better.”

Despite the progress made at Tuesday’s meeting with the interior minister the Ombudswoman insists that families with children should not be placed in detention centres in the first place, and, if necessary they should be sent to another centre in Zastávka u Brna which is better suited to their needs. Ondřej Vala again:

Bělá-Jezová detention centre, photo: Czech Television
“There is no question that the Bělá-Jezová detention centre is not appropriate for families with children because the facility looks like a prison. We would like to see some toys made available and a playground but with police and security guards present inside the facility, the place will still look like a prison, which is not good for the children. We think families with children should be placed in a different facility.”