Hunger strike in Polish detention centres

Photo: People protersting in solidarity with the imprisoned refugees.

For almost a month, ten Kurdish asylum seekers detained in the Polish detention centre in Lesznowola have been on hunger strike. They refuse to eat until their demands are reached: Adequate medical and psychological care, independent monitoring of the asylum process and accommodation in an open reception centre. Some even were on a cold strike for several days. Four of the strikers are so exhausted after weeks without food that they cannot move. Activists report that detained asylum seekers from other centres joined the hunger strike on Monday, 30rd of May 2022.

The asylum seekers detained in Lesznowola have communicated their demands via SMS to solidarity activists and directly to the Polish border guards in charge of managing the centres. But according to local sources, the guards in the detention centre did not even take the protest seriously. For more than a week, the activists have attempted to contact the border guards and appoint an independent negotiator – without response. Again and again, supporters organize demonstrations, while Polish parliamentarians have sent official demands to the detention centre, urging them to negotiate with the detainees. Until now, all of this has been unsuccessful. The border guards remain unwilling to negotiate and ignore the protest of the affected people and supporters.

Torture conditions in Polish detention centres

A Polish psychologist and activist who has sporadic contact with internees reports that the conditions in the Lesznowola camp are particularly inhumane. Upon arrival at the detention centre protection seekers are subjected to humiliating body searches and the guards throw the detainee’s private things in the trash.  Among other things, the detainees’ access to the Internet has been radically restricted. The use of social media is denied, and the access to their email inboxes is limited to only half an hour per day.

Officially, the internment camps are called “guarded centres for foreigners”, which blatantly ignores the systematic violations of law and human rights by Polish officials inside the camps. The detained people fled war, persecution and poverty to the EU, only to be imprisoned in just two square meters per person. That’s only half the space an EU directive to prevent torture requires – for convicted prisoners and not for refugees. In addition, the detained protection seekers in the centres are not informed about their rights or the asylum procedure, contrary to EU-legal requirements.

These inhumane conditions do not only affect the ten hunger-striking people: Over 2000 people, including hundreds of women and children, are currently in detention in Poland.

The border starts here: German Federal Police’s involvement and the EU’s role

The responsibility for the inhumane condition in the Polish detention camps are outgrowths of the EU’s policy of sealing people off. It is the responsibility of the Polish police and government and the EU and their member states who are part of this one joint policy against illegalized migrants. The Union remains idle while the self-declared humanist values of the EU are disregarded. Meanwhile, refugees are continuously denied their right to seek asylum along the EU’s external border and inside. Brutal pushbacks at the EU’s external borders are a daily reality while the Union continues to fund border protection equipment and the militarization of FRONTEX. This all is part of the same racist and capitalist migration policy of the EU.

For instance, German police officers roam Polish forests to prevent protection seekers from crossing the border into Germany and are actively involved in the detention of protection seekers in Poland. Since 2015, a bilateral agreement between Poland and Germany has authorized German police, border, and customs authorities to take operational patrols on Polish territory. There, German officials have the right to initiate measures to establish identity and temporarily detain persons to hand them over to Polish officials. This way, the German state is directly complicit in the human rights violations that the ten strikers, and all other detainees in Polish camps, have been desperately fighting against with their hunger strike.

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