Ukraine: migrants locked up near the front lines

(Berlin) – Migrants and asylum seekers held in a migrant detention center in Mykolaiv, bordering frontlines in southern Ukraine, are at risk and should be released, Human Rights Watch said today. Ukraine should urgently release the dozens of migrants and asylum seekers arbitrarily detained in this and another detention center and allow them to reach safety in neighboring countries.

“Migrants and asylum seekers have been locked up on the edge of a war zone for almost two months,” said Nadia Hardman, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The detainees are terrified and in danger, and there is no justification for keeping them in immigration detention.”

In mid-April 2022, Human Rights Watch interviewed by telephone two men who are being held at the Temporary Detention Center for Foreigners and Stateless Persons in the Mykolaiv region, near the frontline hostilities. On April 4, Human Rights Watch released a report based on interviews with migrants and asylum seekers detained at the Zhuravychi Migrant Accommodation Center in Volyn Oblast, a former military barracks an hour from Lutsk, a city in northwestern Ukraine. Migrants and asylum seekers are also detained at the Zhuravychi centre.

Interviewees at both centers said they had been detained in the months before the Russian invasion for attempting to cross the Polish border illegally or for visa irregularities. Whatever the original reason for their detention, their continued detention is arbitrary and puts them at risk of harm from military hostilities, Human Rights Watch said. If they were administratively detained for deportation, since Ukraine is unable to deport anyone because of the conflict, the reason for their detention vanishes and any further detention becomes arbitrary .

Human Rights Watch wrote to Ukrainian authorities on March 9 and April 20 about the situation of those still held in immigration detention and asked for the reasons for their detention, but did not receive a response.

In March, the Global Detention Project reported that a third detention center, the Chernihiv Temporary Detention Center, had been emptied of migrants and asylum seekers. In early May, Borys Kryvov, deputy director of the Chernihiv center, told Human Rights Watch that the facility was hit by munitions he said were fired by a drone on March 30, after people were evacuated, breaking the windows of the dining hall and dormitory and damaging the roof. Although the damage was limited, this highlights the need to urgently evacuate the residents of Zhuravychi and Mykolaiv before these centers also come under attack.

Interviewees at both centers said the guards told them they could leave the Zhuravychi or Mykolaiv facilities if they joined the Ukrainian war effort, and that the guards promised them they would get the Ukrainian citizenship and documents if they joined. Interviewees said no one took up the offer.

Residents of both settlements said that since the Russian invasion they felt terrified of being locked in a war zone. The center of Zhuravychi is close to the Belarusian border and in March residents said they heard explosions and artillery fire. Mykolaiv center is extremely close to the front line and the men we interviewed said they could hear and see military planes flying over the detention center and sounds of explosions and artillery at regular intervals. In a text message to Human Rights Watch on April 28, a man said, “I’ve lost hope…I think death is very near. All the men interviewed said they wanted to leave as soon as possible and take refuge in neighboring countries with other civilians fleeing Ukraine.

Some people from Zhuravychi and Mykolaiv were released and evacuated to Poland with the help and assistance of their embassies in neighboring countries. Although the involvement of embassies of third country nationals may be necessary at some point to help obtain identity and travel documents, this should not be used as a reason to delay the emergency release of all people currently detained in the two centers so that they can get to safety. . Detainees at the Chernihiv Migrant Detention Center in Chernihiv Oblast were allowed to leave quickly after it became clear they were in danger. According to diplomatic sources, all released Chernihiv detainees crossed the Ukrainian border.

Two men from the Mykolaiv center received letters from their embassies, which were also sent to Ukrainian officials, asking the Ukrainian authorities to facilitate their release as a matter of urgency, but both remain in detention.

The European Union has long funded Ukraine’s border control and migration management programs and funded the International Center for Migration Policy Development to build the perimeter security systems of the Zhuravychi migrant detention center. The core of the EU strategy has been to stop the flow of migrants and asylum seekers to the EU by shifting the burden and responsibility of migrants and refugees to countries neighboring the EU, the Ukraine case.

“Now that Ukraine has become a war zone, the EU should do everything in its power to facilitate the release and safe passage of those detained by Ukraine on the basis, in part, of agreements and financial support from the EU,” Hardman said. “At a time when the EU is hosting Ukrainian refugees, the EU should throw a lifeline to migrants and asylum seekers still at risk in Ukraine.

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