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Two deaths in three weeks in Spain’s notorious detention centres

Europe

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Allegations of institutional neglect surround the deaths of two migrants within weeks of a report calling for the centres’ closure.

In the early hours of 5 January, a 21-year-old man from Guinea-Conraky, died in Barcelona’s immigration detention centre after complaining of chest pains or (according to another report) breathing problems. The age of the deceased, who has not been named, is enough to sound alarm bells. Friends who were with him allege that the guards delayed in seeking medical help for the young man. Police claim they were on hand immediately and that within fifteen minutes an ambulance had arrived and medical personnel were trying to revive him. Detainees staged a hunger strike to protest the death, pointing out that there are no 24-hour medical facilities at the centre and that doctors only visit twice a week. The authorities responded to the protest by deploying riot police.

The young man was the second person to die in a Spanish migrant detention centre in less than three weeks. On 19 December 2011, an unnamed woman, aged 41, believed to be from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, died of meningitis hours after her admission to hospital from the Aluche detention centre, in the suburbs of Madrid. A ruling on the death from the Madrid court which monitors the centre was highly critical of the ‘manifest overcrowding’ suffered by inmates, who are held six or eight to a cell, the lack of washing and toilet facilities or an infirmary, all of which facilitate the spread of infectious diseases. The court, which described conditions at Aluche as ‘particularly serious’, ordered the centre staff to segregate those who had had contact with the deceased and to ensure appropriate hospital treatment for anyone needing it. A month earlier, the court had to order centre staff to put a stop to the practice of locking cells and denying access to toilets (which are in the corridors), which was forcing women to relieve themselves in plastic bags, bottles or the small sinks in the cells.

The detention centres which house Spain’s undocumented migrants for up to two months pending their deportation were already attracting condemnation and demands for their closure before these latest events. A report by Migreurop released on 15 December, based on in-depth inspections of four centres (in Málaga, Algeciras, Madrid and Barcelona) documented ‘systematic violations of fundamental rights’ including rights to privacy, to legal help, to moral integrity and to dignity, and called for the centres’ urgent legal regulation, pending their eventual closure. Its campaign for regulation of the centres and the imposition of minimum standards has attracted 40,000 signatures and the support of 400 organisations.

Another report by the NGO Pueblos Unidos (Peoples Together), released the day after the death of the Congolese woman and based on over a thousand visits to the Aluche centre where she died, described ‘widespread ill-treatment’, including collective punishments and deprivation of access to fresh air as well as the ‘humiliating and degrading’ denial of access to toilets. This organisation, like the Episcopal Commission on Migrants in Spain, warns of migrants’ exclusion from the general body of legal rights and norms, in a state of ‘juridical exceptionality’ in the centres.

Source: Institute of Race Relations.


Japan’s immigration control – Gulag for gaijin

AN EXTRAORDINARY story is making the rounds among the hacks and other expats in Japan. A Canadian freelance journalist who has lived in Japan for years fell into the ugly whirlpool of Japan’s immigration-and-detention system. For years human-rights monitors have cited Japan’s responsible agencies for awful abuses; in their reports the system looks like something dark, chaotic and utterly incongruous with the country’s image of friendly lawfulness.

Still the case of Christopher Johnson beggars belief. Returning to Tokyo after a short trip on December 23rd he was ushered into an examination room, where his nightmare began. Over the next 24 hours he was imprisoned and harassed. Most of his requests to call a lawyer, the embassy or friends were denied, he says.

Officials falsified statements that he gave them and then insisted that he sign the erroneous testimony, he says. Guards tried to extort money from him and at one point even threatened to shoot him, he says—unless he purchased a wildly expensive ticket for his own deportation, including an overt kick-back for his tormentors. Once he was separated from his belongings, money was stolen from his wallet and other items removed from his baggage (as he has reported to the Tokyo police).

The problems to do with Japan’s immigration bureau have been known for years. Detainees regularly protest the poor conditions. They have staged hunger strikes and a few have committed suicide. A Ghanaian who overstayed his visa died in the custody of guards during a rough deportation in 2010. (In that case, the prosecutor has delayed deciding whether to press charges against the guards or to drop the case. A spokesperson refuses even to discuss the matter with media outlets that are not part of the prosecutor’s own “press club”.)

Mr Johnson’s ordeal closely matches the abuses exposed in a 22-page report by Amnesty International in 2002, “Welcome to Japan?”, suggesting that even the known problems have not been fixed. One reason why the practices may be tolerated is that the Japanese government apparently outsources its airport-detention operations to a private security firm.

It is a mystery to Mr Johnson why he was called aside for examination, but he suspects it is because of his critical coverage of Japan. (Mr Johnson’s visa status is unclear: in an interview, he said his lawyer advised him not to discuss it.)

Reached by The Economist, Japan’s immigration bureau said it cannot discuss individual cases, but that its detentions and deportations follow the law, records of hearings are archived and the cost of deportation is determined by the airline. The justice ministry declined to discuss the matter and referred all questions to the immigration bureau. Canada’s department of foreign affairs confirmed to The Economist that a citizen was detained and that it provided “consular assistance” and “liaised with local authorities”.

Mr Johnson’s own rambling account of his saga appeared on his blog, “Globalite Magazine”.

You can find the whole story in The Economist Benyan blog.


Immigrant Artist Project New York

Through the Immigrant Artist Project (IAP), the New York Foundation for the Arts is building and serving a community of artists with diverse backgrounds who share the experience of immigration. We connect artists with services and resources to foster their creative careers, gain support and exposure for their work, and integrate into the cultural world of New York and beyond while upholding their distinct identities.

The free Con Edison IAP Newsletter is sent out via email and posted online every month. The newsletter lists information on upcoming opportunities and events of particular interest to immigrant artists but open to all. We also feature an artist or an arts/immigrant services organization, and helpful tips for professional development. Additionally, there are new sections on helpful tips translated into different languages as well as the Mentoring Alumni Corner to highlight the achievements and activities of past mentees of our Mentoring Program for Immigrant Artists.

Cultural Community Events expand the accessibility of the Immigrant Artist Project by offering instructional workshops, seminars, and panels on themes responsive to the needs of immigrant artists. Some topics include grant writing, legal services and marketing. To present these programs, we partner with cultural, advocacy, social and immigrant service organizations throughout New York City. This approach cultivates and strengthens a network of advocates and service providers for immigrant artists.

The Individual Consultation Initiative provides immigrant artists with practical and professional advice from an arts professional who has extensive experience in supporting artists in the areas of visual and performing arts. Each in-person appointment is $30 for a 30-minute session.

The Mentoring Program for Immigrant Artists pairs emerging foreign-born artists with artists who have received a NYFA Fellowship. The mentors interact with their mentees one-on-one for a period of six months, guiding them in achieving specific goals and providing them with broader access to the New York cultural world through an exchange of ideas, resources and experiences. The program helps immigrant artists build some necessary skills to fairly compete as professional artists in New York.

The NYFA Folk Artist Development Program helps senior members of immigrant communities build professional skills and resources to carry forward their traditional art forms. It is open to traditional artists of the material and/or performing arts. We build the capacity of participants through seminars, workshops, and individual consultations. We also provide them with the opportunity to showcase their traditions in demonstrations and performances for diverse audiences at various sites in the NYC area. Artists are provided a $100 stipend for their participation in the program.

Email:
i.outreach@nyfa.org
Phone: 212-366-6900 x249
Address:
New York Foundation for the Arts
20 Jay St, Suite 740, Brooklyn NY 11201



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