Greece speeds up creation of migrant holding centers to ease tension

By Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece plans to accelerate the creation of detention centers on its outlying islands in the Aegean Sea after a backlash against overcrowded camps by some migrants and nearby residents.

Authorities said on Monday they would proceed with the purchase of land on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos, and press ahead with plans to create holding facilities on state-owned land on Kos and Leros.

Thousands of migrants are waiting on the islands for their asylum applications to be processed, most of them in overcrowded camps known as reception centers.

Migrants on Lesbos protested last week against poor living conditions and residents of the island took to the streets demanding the reception facilities close.

“The government has decided to close today’s anarchic facilities and create controlled, closed facilities,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said in a statement.

Hundreds of thousands of people crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece in 2015 and 2016 before a deal brokered by the European Union limited the flow. There has been a resurgence in arrivals since around September 2019.

Last year, more than 74,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Greece, according to the United Nations refugees agency UNHCR. Most of them arrived on Lesbos, Chios and Samos after crossing from Turkey and about 40,000 are now in effect trapped on the islands.

AID GROUPS SAY ACTION NEEDED

Aid groups have described living conditions in some of the island camps as appalling.

“We need 20,000 people to be transferred from the islands to the mainland in the next weeks and months to come,” Philippe Leclerc, UNCHR’s head in Greece, told journalists after a meeting with Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi.

Greece’s conservative New Democracy government, elected last July, has taken a tougher stance toward migration than Syriza, the leftist party that led the previous government.

The government has introduced new regulations which it says will simplify the asylum process and launched a tender for a floating fence in the Aegean which it hopes will deter migrants arriving from Turkey on rafts.

The new detention centers would house new arrivals until their asylum processes were underway, as well as others showing “delinquent behavior” or not entitled to asylum, Petsas said.

Entering and leaving the facilities would be strictly regulated and they would be closed at night, he added.

(Additional reporting by Michele Kambas, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

China says most people in Xinjiang camps have ‘returned to society’

A perimeter fence is constructed around what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Pete

By Michael Martina

BEIJING (Reuters) – Most people sent to mass detention centers in China’s Xinjiang region have “returned to society”, a senior official from the region said on Tuesday, but he declined to give an estimate of for many have been held in recent years.

U.N. experts and activists say at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs, and members of other largely Muslim minority groups, have been detained in camps in the western region.

China describes the camps as vocational training centers to help stamp out religious extremism and teach new work skills.

Xinjiang vice chairman Alken Tuniaz, asked at a briefing in Beijing for an account of how many people had been put in the facilities, said the number was “dynamic”, and that most had “successfully achieved employment”.

“Currently, most people who have received training have already returned to society, returned home,” Tuniaz said.

A transcript of the briefing emailed to reporters had been edited to read “most have already graduated”, using the word for students who finish a course or graduate from high school.

“Individual countries and news media have ulterior motives, have inverted right and wrong, and slandered and smeared (China)” over the centers, he said.

China has not issued any detailed figures for how many people have been sent to the camps and authorities limit access for independent investigators.

Researchers have made estimates through various methods such as analyzing government procurement documents and satellite imagery of the facilities.

Foreign journalists have reported personal accounts of some former internees and photographed sprawling prison-like facilities surrounded by razor wire and watchtowers.

As Western countries have mounted more strident criticism of the camps, China has not backed down on what it says is a highly successful de-radicalization program in a region that has been plagued with intermittent ethnic violence.

Officials have arranged highly choreographed visits for journalists and diplomats to some of the facilities, where the government says the rights of the “trainees” are fully guaranteed.

It has also suggested that fewer people would be sent through the centers over time.

The government rejects any suggestion that it abuses religious and human rights.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this month called China’s treatment of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang the “stain of the century”, and the Trump administration has been weighing sanctions against Chinese officials over their policies there.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Closing private detention centers for migrants would pose problems

U.S. migrant detention center bracelets and rosaries hang from a religious statue at a migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico,

By Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal immigration agents have raised concerns about the U.S. government possibly ending its use of private detention centers used to detain undocumented migrants, a potential policy shift that some say could damage the United States’ capacity to enforce its immigration laws.

In line with a Justice Department move to phase out privately managed federal prisons, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said last month it would consider a similar change for the centers where thousands of migrants are detained, including those who have entered the country illegally and those seeking asylum or some other protected status.

There are more than 180 migrant detention centers in the United States, ranging from Pennsylvania to California, housing more than 33,000 people per day. Almost three-quarters of those detained are housed in centers that are run by or in conjunction with private contractors. (http://bit.ly/2clLZuP)

Overcrowding and impaired border security could result from closures, said recent internal memos seen by Reuters, written by agents at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), both DHS agencies.

Debate within the DHS over the matter comes amid criticism of privately run prisons and migrant detention centers for being less safe than government-run facilities. Citing such concerns, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Aug. 18 it would phase out its use of private prisons.

That announcement hammered the stock prices of the companies that dominate the for-profit prison business. Shares of Corrections Corporation of America <CXW.N> and GEO Group Inc <GEO.N> have fallen 41 percent and 25 percent respectively since the start of this year.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told an advisory council on Aug. 29 to review whether ICE should follow the Justice Department’s lead and phase out private facilities.

The Homeland Security Advisory Council is expected to make a recommendation on whether ICE should end its use of private migrant detention centers to Johnson by Nov. 30.

BIG IMPACT

The impact of such a step could be much more marked for migrant detention centers than for prisons, given that a much greater proportion of migrants are detained in private facilities.

The Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons holds 16 percent of federal inmates in private penitentiaries, while that figure is 73 percent for migrants in detention.

As of August, there were 182 adult migrant detention facilities. Many are in the border states of Texas and Arizona, though others are in the interior of the country, in states like Indiana and Pennsylvania. Most people they hold are originally from Central America and other countries with land access to the U.S. southern border.

CBP arrests and holds migrants temporarily before they are transferred to ICE custody for a court hearing to determine whether they should be deported. CBP is not considering ending private contracts at its facilities, but some of its agents have warned of delays if ICE has less space available to take migrants.

One DHS official who asked to speak on the condition of anonymity because of the divisive nature of the topic, said ending private detention for migrants would require Congress to spend millions more dollars because government-run operations are more costly.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has said she would end all private detention facilities if elected. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he would enforce the U.S. border with Mexico by building a wall.

FLUCTUATING MIGRANT FLOWS

Unlike federal prisoners who may be locked up for many years, migrants are typically detained for short periods, about 27 days on average. After that, they are either deported or released to await trial.

Rehabilitation is a key goal in the prison system, but it is not a feature in migrant detention centers, an ICE official said.

Before Johnson’s announcement on private prisons, ICE had defended its decision to continue using private centers. A spokeswoman for ICE told Reuters that they allow the agency to adjust quickly to fluctuating trends in migrant flows.

For example, Corrections Corporation of America was able to build a center in Dilley, Texas, within four months in 2014 to hold Central American women and children who began coming across the border by the thousands in an unforeseen surge.

Immigrant rights advocates have criticized private detention facilities for years, saying they hold people in inhumane conditions and restrict their access to lawyers.

“Private detention facilities often hold immigrants in well-documented appalling and inhumane conditions where abuse and neglect are rampant,” said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, in a statement after Johnson’s announcement.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bill Rigby)