The Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee (CPT), in a report published on July 11, praised certain improvements in the conditions and treatment of foreigners detained under aliens legislation in establishments in Bulgaria visited in December 2018, but called for urgent measures to improve the poor state of healthcare services and to facilitate effective communication of detainees within the establishments and with the outside world.
The response of Bulgarian authorities outlining the measures taken to implement the CPT recommendations has been published together with the report.
The CPT delegation visited Border Police detention facilities in Elhovo, Sofia Airport and Svilengrad (Kapitan Andreevo) and carried out follow-up visits to the Special Homes for Temporary Accommodation of Foreigners in Busmantsi and Lyubimets. In Busmantsi, the delegation also paid a visit to the Closed-Type Premises run by the State Agency for Refugees (SAR).
“The delegation received no credible allegations of ill-treatment of detainees in the Border Police establishments; the persons detained were generally provided information on their rights in several languages and granted access to a lawyer; material conditions could be considered acceptable for the maximum period of 24 hours of custody.”
The CPT emphasised as a positive fact that, with very rare exceptions, no violations of the 24-hour time limit have been observed.
The committee recommended, however, that all detained persons be provided with feedback from border police officers on whether it was possible to notify a close relative or another person of the fact of their detention. Some detainees thought it had not been done due to the absence of feedback.
“No allegations of ill-treatment were received, and general improvement in detainee-staff relations, activities provided, as well as in material conditions in the immigration detention facilities was observed.
“The Committee recommended, however, ensuring that the 12 sq m cells in the SAR Unit were not used to accommodate more than three detainees, offering more activities to the persons detained and reviewing food arrangements.”
There had been hardly any change in the provision of health care to detained foreign nationals at Busmantsi and Lyubimets Homes; the situation was characterized as “highly unsatisfactory”.
Despite the 24/7 staff presence in both homes, the medical equipment was very scant, access to specialist care (dentists, gynaecologists, paediatricians) restricted, the range of free medication extremely limited, and some of it, including antibiotics, had expired long ago.
The delegation was particularly concerned by the very poor access to psychiatric care, limited in fact to emergencies. The situation was compounded by the lack of interpretation arrangements, and by the fact that the detained foreign nationals had no health insurance, which meant further barriers and delays in accessing specialist care.
The committee called on the Bulgarian authorities to urgently provide both Homes with adequate equipment, ensure appropriate supplies of free-of-charge medication, provide qualified interpretation, improve medical screening upon arrival and level of psychological assistance, and ensure confidentiality and quality of medical consultations and documentation.
The committee also emphasised the persistent problem of communication between staff and detained foreign nationals, as well as of the detainees with the outside world.
It recommended improving staff training in most commonly spoken languages and in intercultural communication, ensuring that the detainees receive a written translation of important decisions of their detention/removal in the language they understand, and avoiding using fellow detainees as interpreters.
The system of legal aid run by the National Legal Aid Bureau should be extended to detained foreigners.
The Bulgarian authorities should provide the possibility of unsupervised visits for detainees in the immigration detention facilities and allow them to use the VoIP technologies on a free-of-charge basis to communicate with the outside world.
“The complaints procedures should also be reviewed, to enable detainees send complaints in a confidential manner.”
The response of the Bulgarian government, in English and in Bulgarian, has been posted on the Council of Europe’s website.
(Photo: Council of Europe)