Geneva– Black and brown migrants still trapped in an immigration detention centre in Ukraine with no possibility of release are at grave risk of being attacked due to officials’ negligence, warned Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement today. This neglect is yet another reflection of the dreadful double standard with regard to the protection of civilians during war.
At least 45 people appear to remain confined in Zhuravychi Migrant Accommodation Centre, a former army barracks situated in a pine forest in Ukraine’s northwestern Volyn province. The barracks were converted into a migrant detention centre in 2007 with European Union funds.
Many of these people are migrants who attempted to cross the border into Poland, but were intercepted by Polish border guards and handed directly to Ukrainian authorities. After summary court proceedings without any legal counseling, nor the possibility to claim asylum, they were sentenced to between six and 18 months for irregular crossing.
For over a decade now, Ukraine has acted as a border guard for the rest of Europe, keeping migrants seeking safety out of the EU zone. Even now, amidst the current hostilities, it seems to continue to play this role.
Conditions in the Zhuravychi detention centre were already difficult before the conflict but have significantly worsened since 24 February. Following the full-scale Russian invasion of the country, all detained migrants were moved into one of the complex’s two buildings, freeing the second one for Ukrainian soldiers.
The centre has no air raid or bomb shelter, and the power outlets in its cells are no longer working, making communication with the outside world and the exchange of information increasingly difficult. At the same time, migrants in the detention facility could certainly hear the sounds of artillery fire and explosions, all while having no idea as to who the perpetrator was or how far away they were.
A few days after the start of Russia’s invasion, a group of detainees gathered in the centre’s yard to protest their living conditions and ask for release, but guards forcibly quelled the protest and even beat some detainees with batons.
According to several detainees, Ukrainian guards said that they could leave Zhuravychi if they joined the Ukrainian war effort. In this case, these detainees said, they would all have immediately been granted Ukrainian citizenship and documentation, but no one accepted the offer.
Up to now, it seems that five men and one woman have been released, and only thanks to officials from their embassy who intervened and facilitated their safe travel to the Polish border.
Though the detention centre is located near Lutsk—a city that was recently and repeatedly attacked—and is not far from the Belarusian border, the Zhuravychi facility appears to still be operating and detaining dozens of Afghan, Pakistani, Indian, Sudanese, and Bangladeshi people, solely because of irregular migration status.
“There is no justification whatsoever to keeping already displaced people trapped in a detention centre in the midst of a war zone”, said Michela Pugliese, Euro-Med Monitor’s Migration and Asylum Researcher. “We ask European and Ukrainian authorities to see them as the vulnerable civilians they are, to listen to their blind panic and allow their evacuation and safe passage to neighboring countries exactly like [they would allow] any Ukrainian fleeing the same bombs”.
Euro-Med Monitor urgently calls on Ukrainian authorities to immediately release the civilians still trapped in the Zhuravychi detention centre and allow them to contact their embassy or consulate.
Additionally, Euro-Med Monitor calls on the European Commission to support these migrants’ safe passage to Poland or elsewhere in Europe depending on individual preference, just like Ukrainian refugees protected under the Temporary Protection Directive; guarantee them the same reception and protection inside the EU; and extend the guarantees provided under the Temporary Protection Directive to all those fleeing the conflict, including undocumented migrants and people with uncertain legal status who are stuck in a dangerous limbo.