The Ukrainian authorities should immediately stop police harassment and threats against Somali asylum seekers held at the Zhuravychi Migrant Accommodation Centre, Human Rights Watch said today. In a letter sent to the Ukrainian authorities, Human Rights Watch also called for the immediate release of all Somali asylum seekers who are being held in administrative detention pending deportation.
According to information from representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ukraine, 125 Somali nationals are being held at the Zhuravychi Migrant Accommodation Centre (MAC) in the Volyn region in northwestern Ukraine. Around 80 have told UNHCR they want to apply for asylum in Ukraine, but have not been allowed to do so, and some have been on hunger strike in response.
“Somali nationals who flee from violence and persecution in their own country are already extremely vulnerable,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “They come to Ukraine seeking protection. The Ukrainian authorities know they can’t deport Somalis, so keeping them locked up for months, with almost no chance of asylum, is extremely abusive.”
Fifty-eight Somali detainees went on hunger strike in early January to protest against the Ukrainian authorities having prevented them from lodging asylum claims or not having processed their claims fairly. They are also protesting against their arbitrary detention; since Ukraine cannot, without violating its international obligations, deport them back to Somalia where they would risk torture and mistreatment, their detention pending deportation is arbitrary.
The Somalis are among tens of thousands of asylum seekers and migrants in Ukraine, many of whom are attempting to eventually cross the border to the European Union.
On January 30, the situation at the Zhuravychi MAC deteriorated. One of the hunger strikers held at the center told Human Rights Watch that in the afternoon a group of approximately 21 police officers, masked and armed with batons and tear gas, came to the center. The police officers searched detainees’ rooms and confiscated some of their personal belongings.