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U.N. Rights Commissioner Blasts Harsh Treatment of Refugees

Inter Press Service

As the flow of migrants continues to rise – from war-ravaged countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa to Europe – so do the horror stories of the harsh treatment meted out to these refugees.

The newspapers have dramatized some of the incidents, including food thrown at refugees, confined to cages like animals, and new fences on land borders preventing them from transiting from one country to another.

In Germany, despite its liberal open door policy, there was a call to reopen concentration camps at an anti-immigration rally attended by over 20,000 people, raising fears of hate speech, according to the New York Times.

Hungary is building a fence to ward off refugees. And Slovakia has said it will accept only Christian refugees, triggering a strong condemnation by the United Nations.

But the most severe condemnation has come from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein who singled out the Czech Republic for its brutal treatment of refugees.

Over the last two months, several European countries of transit have been employing restrictive policies against migrants and refugees who are trying to reach European countries further north.

“However, the Czech Republic is unique in routinely subjecting these migrants and refugees to detention for 40 days, and reportedly sometimes even longer — up to 90 days — in conditions which have been described as degrading,” he complained in the latest condemnation on Oct. 22.

According to credible reports from various sources, the violations of the human rights of migrants are neither isolated nor coincidental, but systematic: they appear to be an integral part of a policy by the Czech Government designed to deter migrants and refugees from entering the country or staying there, Zeid said.

“Many of these people are refugees who have suffered horrendously in their countries of origin as well as during their journey to the Czech Republic,” he said, adding: “International law is quite clear that immigration detention must be strictly a measure of last resort.”

And as for children, he said, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has emphasized that detention of children on the sole basis of their migration status, or that of their parents, is a violation, is never in their best interests, and is not justifiable.

With the oncoming winter weather, the flow of refugees has accelerated in recent days at even more rapid pace.

According to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 643,000 refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year and at least 3,135 have died enroute.

In a story, datelined Munich, the Times cited a Bavarian newspaper pointing an accusing finger at refugees and reporting over 1,000 criminal acts, 2,000 police interventions and 3,000 injuries over a two week period alone.

“In an age when one cannot pass through airport security with a bottle of water, tens of thousands arrive every day with little or no screening,” the newspaper said.

The EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “We want to stop the flow, but in order to stop it, we must also find a political solution to the situation in the Middle East, stop the war in Syria, see Libya becoming a state again.”

“I don’t want to be very optimistic. I believe this situation will last,” he warned Wednesday.

High Commissioner Zeid referred to credible reports that migrants arriving in the Czech Republic have been routinely strip-searched by the authorities looking to confiscate money in order to pay the 250 CZK (10 US$) per day each person is charged for their involuntary stay in the detention centers.

This payment is demanded by the authorities from all migrants, without clear legal grounds, leaving many of them destitute upon their release.

“The fact that people are being forced to pay for their own detention is particularly reprehensible,” Zeid said.

Zeid also expressed alarm that the detention policy is accompanied by an increasingly xenophobic public discourse, including repeated Islamophobic statements by President Miloš Zeman, and a public petition “Against Immigration” launched by former President Václav Klaus.

While noting that some material conditions in Bìlá-Jezová, including overcrowding, have reportedly improved in the last week, due mainly to the opening of other centres, the High Commissioner pointed out that the basic approach has not changed.

He urged the Government to take immediate steps to ensure respect for the human rights of migrants and refugees.

“These should include establishing alternatives to detention that are grounded in human rights, in line with the Czech Republic’s international human rights obligations, and with the recommendations of the Czech Ombudsperson,” Zeid said.

“The authorities should also take into account the concerns expressed by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, civil society organizations and even several representatives of the Government itself.”

Striking a more positive note, the High Commissioner welcomed the Oct. 13 report by Czech Ombudsperson Anna Šabatová, who spoke of parents being treated in a degrading way in front of their children, who are traumatized by the constant presence of heavily armed personnel.

At the time of her visit, there were 100 children detained in Bìlá-Jezová.

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