Rights Groups Condemn Ukraine’s Treatment of Somali Refugees

February 1, 2012 Updated: February 1, 2012

Two prominent human rights groups have criticized Ukraine’s treatment of Somali and Eritrean refugees, who they say were illegally detained and later went on a hunger strike due to poor living conditions.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday that there are around 125 Somali nationals being held at the Zhuravychi Migrant Accommodation Center, citing reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an account that was corroborated in a report by Amnesty International a day earlier.

Of these migrants, “around 80 have told the UNHCR they want to apply for asylum in Ukraine, but have not been allowed to do so, and some have been on hunger strike in response,” according to HRW.

“Somali nationals who flee from violence and persecution in their own country … come to Ukraine seeking protection,” which has not been given to them, said HRW European regional director Hugh Williamson in a statement. “The Ukrainian authorities know they can’t deport Somalis, so keeping them locked up for months, with almost no chance of asylum, is extremely abusive.”

“The Ukrainian authorities must stop the practice of detaining Somali and Eritrean nationals when there is no prospect of deporting them,” said John Dalhuisen, the director for Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.

According to Amnesty, at least 60 of these Somalis and Eritreans have been on a hunger strike since early January, saying they were beaten and treated badly. Refugees also told the rights group that Ukrainian riot police recently forced them to eat and filmed the incident. Among the detainees there are also minors, some of which are unaccompanied.

Border guards in Ukraine’s Vinnytsia district on Tuesday told the Kyiv Post they found another six illegal immigrants from Somalia and will also send them to the Zhuravychi Migrant Accommodation Center. “The two holders of Somali passports will soon be deported from Ukraine,” reads a report from the State Border Service, reported the Post.