The Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights (Ombudsman), published a report regarding a visit to the Reception and Accommodation Center in Kokkinotrimithia on 4 December 2020, which was made within the framework of her jurisdiction as National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) and National Preventive Mechanism (NPM).
Amid an increased flow of migrants, compounded by the coronavirus outbreak, Pournara reception centre for asylum seekers is bursting at the seams, and despite some improvement in living conditions, the facility is operating beyond its limits, the Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights (Ombudsman) Maria Stylianou-Lottides has warned.
In a 14-page report following an on-the-spot inspection, the Ombudsman painted a bleak picture and set out a number of recommendations – including allowing 200 residents who fulfill the criteria to leave to be allowed to do so.
After a visit to Pournara in April Ombudsman had submitted proposals to the government on a Report dated 24 April 2020.
However, on December 4, Ombudsman and her team went back to Pournara to review implementation of the proposals, and to determine whether living conditions there comply with international standards and safeguard human rights.
As it was noted in the new Report dated 9 December 2020 measures have been taken in the right direction, such as replacing a large number of tents with prefab houses, creating a safe zone for minors and speedier processing of applications, she noted.
Also it was acknowledged that the coronavirus outbreak has created unprecedented times for all, requiring the state to deal with a crucial public health issue. This however does not permit curbs on fundamental freedoms which are not essential to achieving this aim, and proportional for this purpose.
As a result of the increased migrant flows observed recently from areas not under the control of the Republic as well as the decree which for the time being prohibits leaving the Centre, the Centre is suffocating.
Overpopulation – there are currently 968 people at Pournara of whom 603 are in a special quarantine area – inevitably has an impact on residents and their full enjoyment of their human rights.
This is particularly the case for people who remain at the facility because of the decree, even though they fulfil the preconditions to leave.
Keeping individuals who have obtained a living address and have submitted their applications for asylum serves no purpose and cannot be judged on the basis of proportionality as was the case in April when these applications could not be submitted.
It also creates problems of hygiene for residents in the isolation/quarantine areas and risks further infections, as they remain in the same space after the conclusion of their 14-day quarantine because of lack of space in the main part of the facility.
The vast majority of the 968 people living at Pournara are men (755). There are 865 adults and 103 minors. Some 60 per cent are of African origin, 30 per cent of Syrian origin and 10 per cent of Asian origin (from Middle East countries and other Asian countries).
Other problems highlighted by the ombudswoman include:
- Delays in erecting pre-fab housing to replace the tents, even though the material is on site, is unjustifiable as people have had to live in tents because of a breakdown in communication among officials on how to proceed.
- Living conditions in section 8 of the quarantine area for people who have tested positive do not comply with international rules and health protocols, as 23 people have to make do with just one toilet and do not have access to a shower or bath.
- Inadequate or complete absence of electricity in the quarantine area only exacerbates their plight.
- Medical screening is needed on arrival to determine whether there are members of vulnerable groups, including pregnant women, living in the centre so that they can be taken to a safer area.
Ombudsman recommended that 200 Pournara residents who fulfill criteria be allowed to leave. Arrangements should be made for 13 unaccompanied minors – who only remain at Pournara because of the decree — to be taken to other facilities. Safe zones should be created in the quarantine zone for minors along the lines of those created in the non-quarantine area.
In addition, the interior ministry in coordination with the health ministry and social services should immediately assess the needs of all people accommodated at Pournara who belong to vulnerable groups. They and unaccompanied minors should be immediately transferred to appropriate facilities elsewhere in line with the decree which gives the interior minister the authority do so.
Work underway to create a second quarantine facility outside Pournara should be stepped up so that these people can be taken elsewhere for the protection of their own health and of the other residents.
People who complete 14 days in quarantine and test negative for the virus should be taken to the main area of the facility.
Ombudsman underlined the need for immediate action to ensure uninterrupted electricity supply throughout the centre and said the tents must be replaced with pre-fab homes within the next few days and all necessary work carried out to prevent the problems with mud created with heavy rain in parts of the quarantine section. Moreover, more hygiene facilities are needed, particularly in the quarantine area and the problem with lack of hot water must be resolved.
As regards medical care, Ombudsman reiterated her call from the previous report that a doctor visits every day and there is an increase in the number of nursing staff there. Problems with the shortage of medicine and delays in issuing health cards must be resolved.
Note that the abovementioned Report as well as all our Reports/Interventions related to COVID-19, are included in a special publication “COVID-19 and Human Rights” (in Greek with English summaries of the Reports/Interventions).
Source: Office of the Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights (Ombudsman)