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News 09 Mar 16

Bulgaria Evades Ban on Detaining Child Refugees

Ombudsman says police are registering young refugees with adults they do not know to skirt ban on detaining unaccompanied minors.

 

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Photo: Anadolu Agency

The Bulgarian police are illegally placing unaccompanied minors in detention centres by registering them together with adults who are not members of their families or authorized companions, Bulgarian ombudsman Maya Manolova warned on Tuesday.

The Ombudsman’s office has registered cases of refugee children who had even been “assigned” to adults of different nationalities, all for the authorities to avoid the legal ban on detaining unaccompanied minors.

As a result, instead of receiving specialized help and protection as members of a vulnerable group, they are put behind bars in adult facilities.

“Many children are being assigned to guardians only on paper, without even knowing them; we have encountered Afghans assigned to Pakistanis,” Manolova said on Tuesday, warning that these unaccompanied minors in Bulgaria are also at risk of human trafficking.

Lubomir Krilchev, director in the Ombudsman’s office, told BIRN that the practice of casually assigning refugee children to adults is clearly a way for the authorities to facilitate the administrative detention of unaccompanied minors.

The Ombudsman’s office presented its annual report under the mechanism for the prevention of cruel and degrading treatment in detention facilities in Bulgaria.

The monitoring covers not only prisons and detention centres but also state mental hospitals, childcare facilities and correctional facilities for juvenile offenders.

“In general, conditions in state prisons are tragic, even absurd,” the Ombudsman said.

She said that the sanitary conditions in prisons alone constitute degrading treatment.

In addition, prisoners are deprived of opportunities to work. Only 10 per cent of prisoners in Bulgaria are working actively.

Other reported problems in state detention facilities are the high prices of food and phone calls and poor medical and dental services.

A special focus was given to the 237 female prisoners, all of whom are placed in the only female prison in Bulgaria in the southeastern town Sliven.

The majority of the women, 82 per cent, are serving sentences for non-violent crimes, such as robberies, which are often a result of poverty. Around 50 per cent of them have children under 18.

Female prisoners also suffer from poor sanitary conditions and are victims of humiliating practices such as naked searches after returning from prison leave, which male prisoners are not subjected to.

There is a major problem with underfunding of state mental facilities, the Ombudsman pointed out.

Although about 50,000 people are hospitalized each year with mental problems, underfunding leads to miserable material and medical conditions and lack of staff in psychiatric facilities, where the average salary is 540 leva, around €270.

However, “lack of money cannot be a reason for the violation of human rights”, the Ombudsman commented. 

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