Seminar „Detention of asylum seekers and alternatives to detention in Latvia”

On 21 October, the Latvian Centre for Human Rights (LCHR) in cooperation with the UNHCR organized a national seminar “Detention of asylum seekers and alternatives to detention in Latvia”. The seminar took place in the Hotel “Konventa seta”.

The seminar was organised in the framework of project “Steps to freedom. Monitoring detention and promoting alternatives to detention in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic”. The project was co-funded under the ERF.

The seminar brought together 30 participants, including the representatives of the State Border Guard, the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, the Ombudsperson’s Office, judicial authorities as well as representatives of NGOs.

Jean-Etienne Kautzmann of the UNHCR office in Strasbourg presented the UNHCR perspective on the case law of the European Court of Human Rights concerning the detention of asylum seekers. J-E. Kautzmann mentioned several judgements of the ECtHR concerning the detention of asylum seekers (Amuur v. France, Shamsa v. Poland, S.D. v. Greece, Tabesh v. Greece etc).

Samarie Wijekoon Löfvendahl of the UNHCR office in Stockholm made a presentation on good practices of alternatives to detention. S. Wijekoon Löfvendahl emphasized that detention should be applied only as the measure of last resort. The fact that an asylum seeker arrives without identity documents, should not be automatically considered as a criminal offence. If a person has a credible explanation on his or her identity, it should be taken into account. Alternatives to detention are often some sort of restriction of freedom of movement or liberty. There are several examples of alternatives to detention, including reporting or registration at the State Border Guard or the police, a financial deposit paid by an asylum seeker or another person or community-based supervised release which can implemented by a state authority or an non-state actors.

Stina Hafrén of the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre provided information on the legislation and practice concerning the detention of asylum seekers in Finland. Most common grounds for administrative detention in case of asylum seekers are:1) establishment of identity 2) ensuring the fulfilment of deportation order. The State Border Guard or the police have the right to detain an asylum seeker only if it is not possible to use the other interim measures (alternatives to detention). Persons deprived of their liberty must be brought before a judge within 96 hours of the moment of apprehension. Detention has to be reviewed every two weeks. In 2010, there were 551 detained asylum seekers and other foreign nationals in Metsälä detention unit. The average length of detention in was 26,5 days in 2010. There several alternatives to detention, e.g. the obligation to report or handing over travel document in Finland.

LCHR researcher Svetlana Djačkova made a presentation on the Latvian situation as concerns the application of the asylum seekers’ detention in practice. S. Djačkova pointed to the main conclusions from the analysis of 54 decisions of the courts concerning the detention of asylum seekers; the analysis was conducted by the LCHR. In 2010, the Latvian courts had an individual approach and better motivated their decisions to detain asylum seekers as compared to the previous years. The courts also referred to the 1951 Geneva Convention and the Asylum Law. However, there were also references to the Immigration Law (e.g. a lack of financial means) and other arguments which are not applicable to asylum seekers. The interpretation of the „use of the asylum procedure in bad faith” was overly broad. During the period from May until August, there were some positive trends. For example, the Daugavpils court indicated an exact time of detention, which was less than two months – the maximum term for postponing detention. However, the interpretation of the grounds of detention was still problematic.

During the panel discussion, Arvīds Ozerskis, a judge of the Daugavpils court, mentioned the court’s statistics. During the time period from the end of May until 20th of October 2011, the Daugavpils court reviewed 118 cases on detention of asylum seekers; in 108 cases, the court made a decision to detain or postpone detention; in 15 cases the court took a decision not to detain while in one case an application was recalled. A. Ozerskis pointed to the need to adopt appropriate legislation for application of the alternatives to detention.

Līga Vijupe of the Asylum Affairs Division of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs pointed to the need to include the provisions on alternatives to detention into the Asylum Law. According to L. Vijupe, the issue on the asylum seekers’ detention is currently not regulated in detail. However, Latvia will need to introduce the alternatives to detention in legislation in line with the Recast Reception Directive.

Mareks Hoņavko of the State Border Guard stressed the distinction between the Asylum Law (applicable to asylum seekers) and the Immigration Law (applicable to illegally staying foreign nationals). The court often makes decisions on the detention of asylum seekers on the grounds provided by the Immigration Law. However, the grounds of the asylum seekers’ detention are provided solely by the Asylum Law. According to M. Hoņavko, there are currently no appropriate legal provisions for application of the alternatives to detention for asylum seekers. However, the alternatives to detention can be applied to illegally staying foreign nationals, and there are already cases of application of the alternatives. M. Hoņavko believes that municipalities and NGOs should also be involved in asylum issues, e.g. in providing housing to persons who left the Reception centre for asylum seekers „Mucenieki”. There is also a lack of NGOs providing social assistance to asylum seekers in the detention centre „Daugavpils”


Publicēts: 2011-12-29