Iraqis at Czech detention camp go on hunger strike

AFP , Thursday 12 Nov 2015

Iraqis at a Czech detention centre for migrants have begun a hunger strike amid fears of being sent back home, police and a local priest said Thursday.

"The first 20 men started on Tuesday morning," and by mid-Thursday the number had grown to 60, said Mikulas Vymetal, an evangelical priest helping the migrants.

Protesters Razad Fazal and Yasin Beelhaadj vowed in a Thursday statement to continue their hunger strike, asking to be set free.

Around 100 people are detained at the centre, located in Drahonice, west of Prague, police said.

It is one of four facilities where migrants are detained to prevent them from running away before being returned to the EU state from which they arrived.

Some Afghanis, Pakistanis and Moroccans have joined the Iraqis in the protest, police said. Two protesters cut their hands on Wednesday evening, according to local media.

"They are afraid they will be deported to Iraq" after Czech authorities had extended their stay at the centre, said Vymetal.

The interior ministry said the fears were based on "untrue information".

In line with EU rules, the Czech Republic returns migrants who enter the country without first making an asylum request there to their first EU port of call.

Katerina Rendlova, spokeswoman for a Czech police unit in charge of foreigners, told AFP that the protesters had refused asylum in the Czech Republic.

Like many others, they would prefer to head to Germany and other western European countries.

"We are now trying to identify them, but they are being completely uncooperative, they don't want (to receive temporary) travel documents" as they fear this might lead to extradition, she added.

The UN slammed one of the centres -- Bela-Jezova northeast of Prague -- as "degrading" last month over poor living conditions.

Despite improvements, refugees said last week they still felt like prisoners there, complaining about police violence and a lack of information.

The refugees and migrants are charged for their stay -- the Czech rights watchdog said last month that a four-member family staying at Bela-Jezova had to pay the equivalent of 1,075 euros ($1,154) for 30 days.

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