Campaign of visits 2012: Don’t come in, rights are being violated!

The practice of detaining migrants is growing dramatically, and has become a prime political tool in the management of immigration and asylum. This is not only true in Europe. Recent events in Greece, Canada and Israel (see attached analysis) show the evolution of the excessive use of detention by governments. The resulting sidelining of people considered undesirable remains largely hidden from civil society and the media. Yet, access to information is an inalienable right of European citizens.

As part of the joint campaign "Open Access: Open the doors! We have the right to know!", Migreurop and European Alternatives launched a series of visits to detention centres for migrants throughout Europe and beyond, which took place from 26 March to 26 April 2012. The aim was to test the possibility of civil society and the media to access these centres, as well as to gather information on the way in which they function and whether people inside can exercise their rights. Members of Parliament joined the initiative.

Sixteen detention centres were visited in Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Italy, Mauritania, Romania and Serbia, whilst access was refused to centres in Belgium, Spain and Poland. The campaign highlighted the attempt by the authorities to regulate, or even prevent, the entry of external observers. It was clear from the dubious and at times laughable justifications given for refusing access that the authorities were concerned about receiving visitors.

We noted that the situation in the detention centres remains largely unchanged since the visits organised by Migreurop in 2009 and 2011, with conditions of detention reminiscent of those in the prison system and regular abuses of human rights (regarding access to care, asylum claims, legal assistance, having a judge rule on deprivation of liberty decisions). Police violence is frequently reported. Confinement, which can last several months, puts migrants in a situation of psychological distress. Feelings of disorientation, despair and anger are palpable.

The campaign of visits that has just ended shows that, beyond the conditions of detention, the very existence of these camps, where thousands of migrants are imprisoned, represents an unacceptable violation of the most fundamental of human rights. Only their closure can remedy this. But, while they exist, we must claim the right to unrestricted access to these centres for representatives of civil society and the media. Ending the opacity that surrounds them is the only way to ensure that fundamental rights are not violated daily, and that the procedural guarantees which normally surround any deprivation of liberty are not systematically violated. The mobilisation of Members of Parliament, activists and the media must continue.

The campaign "Open Access" has been launched: other actions and visits will be organised in the coming months.

14 June 2012

Please find attached an analysis of the key findings of the campaign and country reports.