In Ukraine, 61 Somalians have been on hunger strike since 6 January in the Lutsk detention centre with another 15 reportedly on hunger strike in another detention centre at Chernigiv. 13 of the hunger strikers are women (seven of whom are under the age of 18). 17 of the men are also under 18
"Either they recognise us as refugees - or they say 'no' and then tell the whole world what they are doing here" said one of the hunger strikers, Sultan Haibe, speaking from the detention centre. He continues "We are not murderers. We left Somalia just to save our life."The hunger strikers say that one 17 year old, Abdul Karim Siyad is very ill and in a separate room. He had not been examined by a doctor until recently, but Sultan Haibe said on Sunday 15January that a doctor has now finally seen him.
The hunger strikers say they are detained in an asylum system which is profoundly unjust. They say that Somalians are always refused asylum in Ukraine, but Sultan Haibe points out that if they try to cross into the EU they are bounced back into Ukraine and detained. Only about 12 of the hunger strikers had attempted this.
The hunger strikers say that they are subject to police harassment and corruption and can be detained by the authorities for periods of 12 months if they don't have a temporary permit to stay legally in Ukraine. They say that an asylum seeker can be re-detained within a short period after release and then faces another 12 months in detention. Some of the hunger strikers have been in Ukraine for 5 or 6 years before they were detained. Some have been detained more then once.
Their demands to the Ukrainian Government are:
1) Somalian asylum seekers are granted asylum status in Ukraine.Ukraine's asylum procedure is in chaos. The arbitrary detention of the hunger strikers is just one more way in which the rule of law is ignored in Ukraine.
2) They are released from detention.
3) Asylum seekers are to be provided with documents so they cannot be arrested.
4) There is an end to the police harassment of asylum seekers.
5) No asylum seeker is to face re-arrest after a period of detention.
Recent asylum laws created a new Government department to examine asylum applications, but failed to give it authority to act, while the old department was dismantled. As a result, asylum seekers cannot make asylum applications so they cannot get temporary residence permits and so become illegal.
Asylum seekers who were already in the system often cannot obtain an extension of their temporary permits and are therefore subject to arrest as they become illegal. No decisions on refugee status are being made and asylum appeals are postponed as the new Government department is not recognised by judges.
Even those who have been granted refugee status in the past are often not receiving their residence permits – re-issued each year - and so become illegal.
The Government has increased the penalty for being without temporary residence documents from 6 to 12 months detention. Asylum seekers in Ukraine cannot work and do not receive financial support while they await the decision on their application.
The hunger strikers ask everyone to publicise and raise support for their demands as widely and as quickly as possible. If you are in the EU, please raise this with your parliamentary representative or Member of the European Parliament as Ukraine is sensitive to EU pressure.