Turkish lawyers slam ill-treatment at immigration detention center

The Izmir Bar Association has condemned officials of the Harmandali Immigration Removal Center for keeping lawyers visiting detained immigrants for two hours behind locked doors and for human rights violations at the center, critical news portal Gazete Duvar reported on Monday.

Speaking to reporters in front of the removal center, the head of the association, Ozkan Yucel, slammed the illegal treatment imposed on eight lawyers from the Migration and Asylum Commission of the association and an interpreter on May 14.

Yucel claimed the center’s authorities had kept the lawyers and the interpreter behind locked doors for more than two hours, ignoring their calls for release and humanitarian needs.

“These actions [towards our colleagues] are considered torture according to the law. This is not a unique case [there have been many right violation cases]. The violations towards the lawyers are not different from those exposed to detained immigrants.

“In essence, this is a systematic practice of concealing the violations of rights towards foreigners held at the center and preventing them from accessing asylum and legal services,” Yucel said.

In 2017, the association’s commission published a 30-page report on conditions at the Harmandali center.

The report stated the difficulties experienced by lawyers in accessing foreigners under administrative detention as well as difficulties in entering the center.

The lawyers have allegedly been subjected to long delays and security checks, including X-ray bodily searches before being able to conduct interviews with their clients.

The attorneys were only granted access to the center on the basis of written requests, while they, in practice, continue to report difficult and arbitrary access which can vary depending on relations between the management of the center and the individual lawyer.

According to the commission, refugees who were stuck in the center had not had access to a fair trial. The lawyers could only request a copy of documents deemed not to be confidential, provided they have a power of attorney, according to the report. The detainees also had no access to a phone.

Complaints against security guards have also been reported by the lawyers.

Immigration removal centers are used for holding foreigners awaiting decisions on their asylum claims or awaiting deportation following a failed application.

Immigration removal centers or detention centers are a source of ongoing controversies not only in Turkey but also around the world. The conditions and treatment at the removal centers have been frequently criticized and questioned by human rights organizations, NGOs and associations.

Some immigrants including children are held in detention centers whilst awaiting the immigration authorities’ decision on whether they are eligible for a visa or entitled to asylum in the country.

According to the Directorate General for Migration Management (DGMM) established under the Turkish Interior Ministry, as of December 2018 there were 24 active removal centers in Turkey with a total detention capacity of 16,116 places. Another 11 removal centers are being planned, totaling a capacity of 5,350 detention places.

Despite the increase in detention capacity, overcrowding has been reported in the Harmandali center in the course of 2018, according to a report released at asylumineurope.org.

The center officials reportedly used a sports hall to detain persons for periods reaching one month. Men and women were held together without privacy, under substandard hygienic conditions. Security guards were also affected by health risks such as hepatitis in the facilities.

In 2018, the center’s authority allegedly introduced a further requirement for lawyers seeking to access the center, as they now require the presence of interpreters under oath for meetings with clients.

If the lawyer does not provide a sworn interpreter the center’s management usually relies on other detainees to provide interpretation, a practice which raises questions vis-à-vis the confidentiality of interviews.

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