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Journalists regularly barred from immigrant detention centres, campaign shows

(RSF/IFEX) - 17 April 2012 - As part of the campaign "Open Access: Open the doors! We have the right to know", Migreurop, European Alternatives and Reporters without Borders have asked for authorization to visit detention centres for migrants from March 26 to April 26, 2012. In order to make an inventory of access of civil society and media to detention centers, many journalists, associations and citizens' groups have addressed requests for authorization for visits to the competent authorities in their region.

The initial responses of the administrative authorities stress many refusals that now tend to accumulate. The situation of access is very problematic:

In France, access to administrative detention centers (CRA) in Mesnil-Amelot, Palaiseau, Vincennes, Rennes, Toulouse and Strasbourg Cornebarrieu and waiting area at Roissy was systematically denied to journalists even when they accompanied a member of parliament (MPs and Senators enjoy an unconditional right of access). For other centres (as Cergy), applications are still unanswered. In Belgium, the authorities refused the request made by the League of Human Rights to visit the detention center in Bruges with five journalists. In Italy, a request by several local players to visit the detention centre for migrants (CIE) in Milan was rejected, as were the defense lawyers of detainees, who were accused of being behind riots that broke out last January. In the case of Spain, it is silence: there is no answer.

In addition of not allowing members of civil society to enter the detention centres for migrants, the authorities rarely expose the motives for such refusal. In denying access to the journalists, officials at the closed center of Bruges referred to Article 40 of the Royal Decree of 2 August 2002 which states that "residents cannot be exposed to public curiosity." However, the second paragraph of that article states that "they cannot be exposed without their consent to the questions of journalists [...] or filmed." Therefore, if detainees consent, journalists should be able to interview them. For centres of Vincennes and Palaiseau it was the "election period" and "reserve duty" that served as pretexts to make the visit impossible! Finally, it was the "risk of revolt" that justified the refusal opposed to the visit of the CIE in Milan via Corelli. For other requests, refusals are not explained. It is indicated only that "Your request cannot be granted".

Invisible, inaccessible, impenetrable, how can one explain the determination of making these places to become "non places"? What is there to hide? In March 2012, a detainee set fire to his room and tried to commit suicide at the Palaiseau centre. While tensions and the number of dramas are increasing, access is becoming more difficult. This opacity that may give space to excesses and abuses against detainees is a violation of the right to information.

Under European law, the legality of such refusal is questionable. Access to information is an inalienable right of European citizens defended by all European institutions. Section 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights refers to "the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority". These principles must be respected.

Detention centre for migrants are marked by numerous violations of human rights. To publicize the reality of conditions of detention of migrants in these facilities, we require open access for civil society and the press. We have the right to know what happens there.

Signatory organizations:

Alternatives Européennes
Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF)

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