Politicians demand better conditions at immigrant detention center

Barcelona facility has seen deaths of three detainees but Popular Party praises the institution

All the Catalan parties save for the regional branch of Spain’s ruling Popular Party (PP) have demanded better conditions at the immigrant detention center in Barcelona’s Zona Franca, following three deaths there since 2010.

After meeting will all kinds of obstacles in their attempt to visit the facilities, 24 members of Spain’s Congress, the Catalan regional assembly and the Senate were last week finally allowed into the Internment Center for Foreigners (CIE), one of eight such facilities run by the Interior Ministry. The group was accompanied by the director general of the National Police, Ignacio Cosidó.

Criticism of these centers, where illegal migrants are detained while they await deportation, has grown in recent years in Spain and other countries that operate similar facilities, including the Netherlands and Britain. The secrecy surrounding these facilities and what often amount to poor living conditions have been denounced regularly in the media.

“Something smells rotten here, and it’s not because the detainees have no dignity, but because human rights are rotting away,” said Joan Tardà, of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), noting that many people are in what amounts to a prison simply because they lack residency or work papers.

Earlier this month, Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said that 44 percent of the people who were admitted into the Zona Franca CIE had no criminal record at all, while the remaining 56 percent did. This means that individuals who committed no crime are deprived of their freedom for up to 60 days — the maximum allowed by law — and held along with people who have committed crimes.

Legal limbo

“We want human rights to be respected,” said the spokesman for the CiU Catalan nationalist bloc in the Senate, Josep Lluís Cleries, underscoring that all the CIEs in Spain exist in a legal limbo due to a lack of regulations. A project to bring a set of rules to these centers has been making its way through the various institutions for the last four years, and now awaits a report by the State Council advisory body.

Only the PP representative had positive words for the CIE. “These facilities are magnificent, and we want to improve them,” said Antonio Gallego.

Since May 2010, three detainees have died at this particular CIE, where there have also been several reports of police brutality. Two of the deaths occurred inside the solitary confinement cell. The last person to die there was an Armenian citizen, Aramis Manukyan, 42, who was found dead on December 3, 2013 after allegedly committing suicide. This, combined with the secrecy with which the Interior Ministry has handled all criticism of the CIEs, increased pressure to let outside observers see what conditions are really like.

During their visit, elected officials spoke with a citizen of Georgia who has been on a hunger strike for over 31 days and faced deportation in order to serve a sentence back home.

Authorities have announced improvements to the center, including hot water for the detainees and an upgrade to the restroom area. It was precisely the lack of hot water that triggered a revolt here on New Year’s Eve, prompting the government to send in the riot police.

Ignacio Cosidó did not set a date for the renovation work, however, due to the lack of a budget allocation, the deputies explained. Even if the improvements are made, it will not be because the interior minister willed it so, but because the judge in charge of the center’s oversight demanded it.

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