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The Seimas Ombudsman has paid attention to the detention conditions of refugees in Lithuania

25 February 2015

 MG 2625During the third quarter of the year, the Seimas Ombudsman Augustinas Normantas visited almost all the institutions that are responsible for the custody of aliens in Lithuania. By performing national prevention of torture under the Optional Protocol (OPCAT) to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Seimas Ombudsman Mr Normantas has monitored the Foreigners Registration Centre, the Refugees Reception Centre and the Frontier Stations of Vilnius and Ignalina Frontier Districts.

After visits to all the aforementioned institutions, the Seimas Ombudsman Mr Normantas invited Renata Kuleš,a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lithuania to discuss recommendations provided to monitored institutions and called for closer cooperation with Ms Kuleš in combating human rights violations regarding the custody of aliens in Lithuania.

The Seimas Ombudsman Mr Normantas introduced a national programme for the prevention of torture and discussed procedures for the implementation of recommendations submitted by the Seimas Ombudsman concerning the elimination of human rights violations. The meeting also served as a platform for a discussion concerning cooperation in performing human rights monitoring in different institutions. Furthermore, the representative of the UNHCR in Lithuania Ms Kuleš had an opportunity to introduce the Seimas Ombudsman Mr Normantas to the UN Detention Guidelines on the Applicable Criteria and Standards relating to the Detentions of Asylum Seekers and Alternatives to Detention.

Poor living conditions and personneltraining

In his report concerning the human rights situation, the Seimas Ombudsman observed several problems, including sanitary facilities, which did not meet the religious requirements of foreigners living in theRefugees Reception Centre. In the opinion of Mr Normantas, the accessibility of information was not properly ensured both in the Foreigners Registration Centre and in the Refugees Reception Centre.

“Clean and disinfected matresses should be provided for newly accommodated foreigners. Moreover, facilities should be accessible for the disabled”, noted the Seimas Ombudsman Mr Normantas in his human rights report concerning the Refugees Reception Centre.

The Seimas Ombudsman also identified poor implementation of requirements for living premises and hygiene norms in the Foreigners Registration Centre. “There are less than five square metres for each person in the Centre and the premises are not sufficiently heated. Moreover, the natural and artificial light does not meet the minimum requirements”, concluded the Seimas Ombudsman. The Seimas Ombudsman recommended the implementation of all required means to ensure the minimum living requirements for aliens in the Foreigners Registration Centre: “The officials of the Foreigners Registration Centre should consider the possibility of separating vulnerableand conflictual people and ensuring the heating and cleanliness of the premises”, noted Mr Normantas.

Furthermore, Mr Normantas encouraged the ensuring of the right of religion to refugees by providing meals that are in compliance with their religious and cultural beliefs. The Ombudsman noted that although the

Foreigners Registration Centre ensures the right to (free) movement and occupation of refugees, not all foreigners are involved in occupational programs. A general recommendation for both institutions was to improve the quality of services by organising training sessions for the personnel on human rights and the implementation of the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The vast majority of human right violation will be eliminated in Frontier Stations by the end of 2014

During the visit to the Švenčioniai, G. Žagunis, Dievenišikiai, Pavoverė, Adutiškis, Tverečius, and Puškai Frontier Stations of Vilnius and of the Ignalina Frontier Districts, the Seimas Ombudsman Augustinas Normantas identified a number of human rights violations. However, a Commander of the State Border Guard Service assured him that the vast majority of them will be eliminated by the end of 2014.

“Such good will by the Commander of the State Border Guard Service regarding the implementation of the recommendations of the Seimas Ombudsman could be a good example to other institutions which often violate human rights in the performance of their obligations”, pointed out the Seimas Ombudsman Mr Normantas.

The problems in the majority of Frontier Stations are similar, with, for example, detainees not being registered and not being informed about video surveillance, the main entrances not being accessible for disabled people, and detention rooms temporarily having no heating, no means of ventilation, or no natural lighting. The report of the Seimas Ombudsman also shows that in some Frontier Stations there is no video surveillance and conversation equipment, which would enable detainees to contact the security guards of the Frontier Station.

There are over 400 detention places in Lithuania, including correctional institutions, prisons, police stations, centres for foreigners, psychiatric institutions, institutions for communicable diseases, social care homes, and border checkpoints. The Law on the Seimas Ombudsmen allows the Seimas Ombudsmen to enter any social care or custodial institution at any time of the day in Lithuania. The Seimas Ombudsmen started implementing national prevention of torture in Lithuania at the beginning of 2014 when the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania adopted the Optional Protocol (OPCAT) to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Originally published in European Network of Ombudsmen Newsletter No. 22

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