For details of the 6 February protest, please see the foot of the page.
For one month – since 6 January – 58 Somali asylum seekers, amongst them 11 women and 24 minors, have been on hunger strike in Lutsk detention centre in Ukraine. They have no other way of bringing their situation to the attention of the world.
The hunger strikers demand their release from detention. They also call on Ukraine to grant them either refugee status or ‘humanitarian protection’. They ask the European Union to resettle them in Western Europe if Ukraine will not give them protection.
The European Court of Human Rights has laid down that Somalis cannot be returned to Somalia. In a decision in 2011, the Court found that forcibly returning a Somali to that country would breach his human rights under Article 3 – which prohibits ‘torture or inhuman or degrading treatment’. If they cannot be deported, then they cannot be detained. UNHCR, in an unusually strong statement, says that the detention of these Somali asylum seekers ‘serves no legitimate purpose, [it is] a violation of Art. 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights’.
The hunger strikers also want all asylum seekers to have residence documents so they cannot be arrested by police. Currently, temporary residence permits, which are valid for only two months, are often not extended; this means the asylum seekers become illegal and open to arrest by corrupt and badly-paid Ukraine police.
The hunger strikers want an end to the extortion and harassment that asylum seekers suffer. The police say to asylum seekers: ‘No document? No money? Then you go to prison!’
Detainees lack medical care (several suffer from skin diseases, others from kidney disease) and a total lack of any educational or other activities in detention. Some are showing signs of mental problems due to prolonged and repeated detention.
In Ukraine, asylum seekers can be detained for 12 months for no reason. And they can be re-detained immediately after release, for no reason. Men and women, whole families including pregnant women or those with children, and unaccompanied minors are detained, mostly with a view to extortion by the police. Once arrested, the police offer to release them if they are paid bribes ($800 is the going rate at present).
Access to the asylum procedure is a lottery. The asylum system is in chaos as the old refugee department was dismantled and the new one is not in place. Recognition rates for Somalis is almost zero. It is also very difficult for asylum seekers to get a lawyer for the appeal process which is lengthy, complex and very rarely successful.
There has been widespread international publicity about the hunger strike; on Monday armed riot police entered the detention centre to threaten and beat the hunger strikers, forcing them to eat. When terrified and beaten hunger strikers were herded into the dining room, video and cameras were already set up to film them eating.
On Thursday there were reports that the riot police were in another detention centre called Chernigiv. They were carrying out the same threats and beatings to another group of Somali hunger strikers.
The UNHCR, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all issued statements supporting the hunger strikers. They all say that Ukraine is not a safe country for refugees. The detainees must be released and granted international protection.
Picket the Ukrainian embassy in London.
Monday 6 February 2:00pm
60 Holland Park London W11 3SJ (Just opposite Holland Park Tube station)
Those who cannot attend the demonstration, can send protest email/faxes to the Ukrainian Embassy. See http://www.mfa.gov.ua/mfa/en/publication/content/1525.htm
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further questions or with details of your activities.
For further information see http://bordermonitoring-ukraine.eu/
The Committee to Support the Somalian Hunger Strikers in Lutsk Detention Centre.
UPDATE, 11 APRIL 2012
The Somalis detained in Ukraine stopped their hunger strike in February without any gains.