Conditions in centres for foreigners inhumane, says Ombudsman and NGOs
The Ombudsman, humanitarian organizations and activists have raised their grave concerns about the very bad situation in guarded centres for foreigners. Prof. Marcin Wiącek, the Ombudsman, warns that foreigners - including families with children - are too often placed in closed centres, where conditions are sometimes worse than in prisons. Explanatory proceedings in cases of children whose mental health deteriorated sharply after being placed in guarded centres to such an extent that hospitalization was necessary are being carried out.
The Border Guard runs 6 guarded centres for foreigners in Biała Podlaska, Białystok, Kętrzyn, Krosno Odrzańskie, Lesznowola and Przemyśl. In 2021, due to the migratory crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border, three new places have been adapted to the needs of the guarded centres. Two facilities belong to the Office for Foreigners - centres in Biała Podlaska and Czerwony Bór, while in Wędrzyn, a former Military Training Centre, where soldiers of the Polish Army and NATO countries were previously quartered, has been transformed into a guarded centres for foreigners. According to the Border Guard, at the end of 2021, a total of 1,750 people were being detained in those facilities.
As of August 2021, the representatives of the Ombudsman's Office have been conducting unannounced visits to guarded centres for foreigners, including the three newly created ones. Their reports raise serious concerns - overcrowding, poor living and sanitary conditions, disclosed cases of lodging vulnerable foreigners who had experienced torture and trauma, as well as people in a poor psychophysical condition, are particularly alarming. The level of medical and psychological care is also insufficient, which can lead to a deterioration of health through revictimization, while psychological help is offered there merely in theory.
In November 2021 and January 2022, foreigners held hunger strikes against the scandalous conditions prevailing in the newly adapted temporary centre for adult men in Wędrzyn. Foreigners – men of different ethnic, cultural and religious groups - are accommodated in multi-person rooms, up to 24 people, which does not ensure even minimal privacy. They separate themselves from the rest of their fellow residents with blankets, sheets hung on bunk beds, which in turn prevents officers from exercising proper supervision. Foreigners have to keep their belongings on the floor or in plastic bags under the beds, as the only furniture provided are beds, tables and stools. The residential buildings are surrounded by razor wire, windows are barred, which creates the penitentiary image of the facility. There is also no offer of recreational and sports activities that could relieve some tensions in a safe manner both for the foreigners themselves and for the centre guards. In the temporary centre in Czerwony Bór, which is of family profile, the Ombudsman representatives reported no rooms tailored to the needs of children or rooms intended for common use. As a result, foreigners lodged there have to spend most of the day in the stairwell. In the Kętrzyn centre, the sanitary facilities are not only scarce but also located several hundred meters away from the container homes where foreigners are lodged. Sometimes one room has to be shared by two families, who, for the sake of privacy, separate their parts with partitions made of sheets and blankets.
There is no doubt that guarded centres are an inappropriate place for children. Their stay there may definitely have a negative impact on their development and psychophysical condition. Also, none of the guarded centers where minors can currently be lodged, can guarantee the proper implementation of their constitutional right to education, granted to everyone, regardless of citizenship or residence title in Poland.
Overcrowding, poor living and sanitary conditions and insufficient exercise of the rights of persons placed there may escalate towards cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, violating the principle of respect for human dignity, the prohibition of which is expressed the Polish Constitution and other international agreements. The Ombudsman calls for sensitizing judges to the possibility of imposing alternatives to detention, especially against families with children and unaccompanied minors, as well as adults who had experienced torture or trauma. He recommends that placement in a guarded centre should be treated as a last resort, since the current situation in guarded centres for foreigners is not conducive to the well-being of the indicated categories of foreigners, and perhaps even cause new and aggravate existing traumas.