Given that detention of asylum seekers in specially designed closed spaces of Regional Centres is not used in practice, the following section focuses on conditions in detention (“public custody”) centres.
Public custody centres are managed by the IGI Migration Directorate. According to the Aliens Ordinance, the centres are established, organised, sanitary authorised and equipped to provide adequate accommodation, food, medical care and personal hygiene.
The director of Arad emphasised the lack of interpreters and lack of nurses as an issue. At the time of the author’s visit there were only 2 nurses, one of which was on medical leave for more than 100 days. The Director mentioned that a new nurse will be hired in the coming period. In 2020 they managed to sign a service provider contract with a medical doctor. The doctor is present in the centre 3h/day on weekdays. The Ombudsman also reported the lack of personnel. The director further mentioned that they cannot communicate well with the detainees. Some of the interviewed detainees declared that they do not understand what the police officers are saying. The author noticed during the interviews that most of the foreigners detained in Arad had basic knowledge of English. The communication with them was difficult; it was hard for the foreigners to understand basic questions.
The Ombudsman’s report on Otopeni also mentions the existence of language barriers between IGI’s staff and detainees. The Ombudsman observed, after reading the medical records of the detainees, that the language barrier seemed to be one of the reasons why some of the detainees refused to see a specialist, a situation that might have put them in danger. Nevertheless, the JRS representative in Otopeni stated that even though there are no interpreters in the centre, IGI communicates with the detainees with the help of other detainees who are speaking more languages and are trustworthy.
The directors of Otopeni stated that they manage to communicate with the foreigners in English or in Romanian. The NGOs also provided them with leaflets in several languages. In 2020 no trainings for staff members working in Otopeni or in Arad were held by outside actors. The directors of Otopeni mentioned they are organising internal trainings on a (bi)weekly basis for their staff on how to fulfil their attributions and how to interact with the foreigners detained in the centre. The same was also reported by the director of Arad that they organise monthly internal trainings in the centre on different topics such as: return, asylum, stopping illegal stay in the country.
None of the foreigners detained in Arad or in Bucharest, interviewed by the author, reported that the police officers are ill-treating them. Nevertheless, 2 of the foreigners interviewed by the author in Otopeni, who were also detained in Arad stated that the police officers in Arad are “not good”, because they curse them and throw bad words at them, they do not respect them.
When transferred from the facility to court for hearings, detained foreigners are handcuffed and escorted. According to the director of Arad, the foreigners are not always handcuffed, only if there is a risk of absconding or the number of foreigners is higher than the number of police officers accompanying them. Asylum seekers detained in Arad are not handcuffed when they are taken to court hearings, reported the director of Arad.
According to the directors of Otopeni, foreigners are handcuffed and escorted to the court. The handcuffs are taken off once they entered the court. According to the foreigners interviewed by the author during the visit in Otopeni the handcuffs are taken off when they enter the courtroom, where the court hearing is held.
The JRS representative reported that only detainees with an uncooperative attitude are handcuffed in order to prevent absconding.
Regarding detainees’ right to information on their rights and obligations in detention in Arad all detainees receive written information about their rights and obligations in English, upon arrival, the director stated. The author noticed that posters in different languages were also displayed on the dormitory doors and dining room.
According to the JRS representative, in Otopeni and in Arad, the information on ROI and asylum procedure is provided by IGI. The detainees receive leaflets in A4 format with rights and obligations, in a language that IGI considers that the foreigners know. In addition, CNRR and JRS also provide information. CNRR has leaflets with the rights and obligations in the asylum procedure in different languages.
According to the directors of Otopeni, detainees are informed about their rights and obligations and reasons for their detention upon arrival in the centre in writing in English and Romanian. Posters with the rights and obligations and ROI are displayed on the hallways of the centre in several languages. During the visit in Otopeni the author saw the posters with ROI and rights and obligations in different languages displayed on the hallways and in the room used for videoconferences with the court.
Some of the foreigners interviewed by the author during the visit in Otopeni mentioned that they receive the decision in Romanian and short information in English.
Otopeni centre operates in Otopeni, Ilfov County, near the largest airport in Romania, Henri Coanda Airport, which facilitates the operative return of foreigners to their countries of origin. The centre was established in 1999 and renovated in 2004-2005 with PHARE funds of €1,500,000, including Romania’s own contribution. Otopeni centre has two buildings. In November 2020 renovation works started for one of the buildings of the detention centre, with AMIF funds. The building, which has around 60 places of accommodation, will be renovated completely on the interior and exterior- the water pipes and tiles are changed, bathrooms are completely refurbished. Next to this building there is a small football field and a small park, which are also under renovation works. The directors said that the constructions may be finalised in April 2021. The centre has a capacity of 114, with the possibility of extension at 132 places. The majority of the rooms have 4 beds each, but there are also rooms with 6, 8 and one room with 12 beds.
Arad is located in Horia, a village in Arad County. It has a capacity of 160 places. There are two buildings: one (building B) hosting the administrative offices and 52 places of accommodation and another building (building C) designated for accommodation with 108 places, administration purposes and other activities, inaugurated in 2015. Each room is designed to accommodate 4 people and has 4.5 to 6m2per person.
According to the directors of the two centres, both Otopeni and Arad have reached maximum capacity in the past. In 2020, in Otopeni the highest number of detainees was 96. In February/ March 2020 the number of detainees was around 30. A total of 1,164 persons were detained in Arad in 2020, recording an increase of 435% in comparison with the previous year. The JRS representative reported a 40% occupancy rate in both centres.
During the visit carried out to Otopeni on 5 February 2021, the detention conditions in the building which is not under renovation were satisfactory. The hallways and other shared spaces were clean. The dining room which is in the other building was also clean. The outside space cannot be used by the detainees due to the renovation works as of November 2020. However, one of the foreigners interviewed by the author mentioned that they are not allowed to go outside since June 2020. Instead, detainees have access to a spacious but otherwise a closed terrace.
During the visits carried out to Arad on 9 February 2020, the detention conditions in the public custody centre were decent, but not as satisfactory as in the last years. The walls in the rooms were scribbled, the shower curtains were worn down; the ping pong table from the common room was broken in half and left there; it was noticed that a mattress was placed on the floor in one of the rooms; in one of the common spaces there was only one chair and a TV, in another common room the detainees placed a mattress on the floor in order to watch the TV. In Arad both buildings were visited, except the second floor of the building C, where detainees are accommodated. Hygienic conditions and overall cleanliness of the centre were good. The empty rooms which were visited had bunk beds, a shower separated by a wall and with a curtain and a toilet near the shower, not separated from the rest of the room. The room for mother and children was not visited. The windows of the building where people were accommodated during the visit were opaque, so there is no possibility to look outside. The persons interviewed by the author in 2018 also mentioned this issue.
In Otopeni, the rooms are equipped with their own bathroom, individual beds with mattresses in good condition, table, chairs, closet, and television. During the author’s visit in Otopeni an empty room was also visited. The room has 4 metallic bunk beds, a table, a wardrobe, a TV, a separated bathroom with shower, sink and a Turkish style toilet. The bed linen is changed every week, according to the director of Otopeni. In order to wash their clothes, the detainees have access to a washing machine, which is placed on the same floor with their rooms. The windows are not opaque, but they are covered with bars. One of the foreigners interviewed by the author said that for 2, 3 weeks there was an issue with bed bugs, but it was solved.
Each detainee has his or her own bed and there is sufficient space. Detainees are required to clean their own rooms and the common spaces in both centres. They receive cleaning products from CNRR, according to the Director of Otopeni.
Detainees are accommodated in separate rooms on the basis of gender. Family members are accommodated in the same room, separately from other people, ensuring an appropriate level of privacy.
In Arad, authorities are planning to build another facility; this is still in the project phase. The director stated that in 2021 they would start the constructions.
CNRR provides material assistance through the project “Counselling and Material Assistance in Public Custody Centres”, funded by the AMIF national programme. The main objective of the project is to provide information and counselling to migrants about return operations and rules that must be respected during these operations; the rights, obligations and rules of the Public Custody Centres Arad and Otopeni; and to provide services and specific assistance (including material assistance) complementary to the one granted by the Romanian government during their detention in the Public Custody Centres and during their return under escort in the country of origin or other country of destination. According to the Ombudsman, CNRR provides complementary food, footwear and clothes to detainees. The interviewed detainees from both centres declared that they receive hygienic products once a month (shampoo, soap, toothpaste), one trouser and one jumper upon arrival and once in a while they receive sweets and juice. Some of the interviewed detainees in both Arad and Otopeni declared that they receive 1 toilet paper roll per month or twice per month.
The Public Custody Centres Regulation prescribes that food is provided three times a day, in the form of hot or cold meal, depending on the situation of the detainees during accommodation or transport. For sick people, pregnant women and other categories of persons, food provision follows the number of meals and the diet prescribed by the doctor of the centre. At the request of detainees, religious diet is respected.
In Otopeni the food (3 meals/day) is provided by the gendarmerie. According to the Director of Otopeni the quality of the food is pretty good; once in a while he tastes the food to check its quality. Some of the interviewed detainees stated that the food is good, some of them said that is not that good, because it is not like the food they are used to in their country of origin or it is not sufficient; other foreigner said that even though the food is not that good he is grateful that he receives it. They also mentioned that they receive a juice and chocolate bar every 2 or 3 weeks from CNRR.
In Arad the food is provided by the Arad penitentiary facility. The foreigners interviewed by the author in Arad did not complain about the food quality. The nutritional value of food provided to persons suffering from medical conditions and requiring specific diets is ensured, as reported by the two centres’ directors. Nevertheless, it was reported by the director of Arad that they have no special menus for children as meals are provided by the Arad penitentiary. Persons suffering from diabetes received special diet, according to the Ombudsman.
The Public Custody Centres Regulation provides that every foreigner is entitled to an hour of recreational outdoor activities per day, depending on the weather conditions and the possibilities of surveillance. Recreational outdoor activities usually take place between 13:30 and 17:00. The director of the centre or his or her legal substitute may increase the duration of outdoor recreational activities.
Arad has two courtyards of 120m2 each for walking, with lawns and concrete surfaces, each equipped with a goalpost and basketball hoop with backboard and tables with benches. According to the director of Arad, between meals, people are let outside in the courtyard for an hour, under the police officers’ supervision. There is a workout room in Arad with only 2 fitness machines, functional at the time of the author’s visit. There is no library in Arad; the books are stored in the psychologist’s office, and detainees may borrow them.
In Otopeni people are allowed outside after meals under supervision or depending on IGI missions. According to the directors of Otopeni until November 2020 detainees were allowed to go outside in the courtyard after lunch, but at their request they were also allowed outside in the morning. Since the renovation works started detainees are allowed to use the closed terrace. The centre has a functional gym, but it only has 2 appliances, which according to some of the interviewed foreigners are not enough. According to the Director of Otopeni, they are planning to bring other appliances, because they were destroyed. The prayer room is in the building, which is currently under renovation. According to the directors at the request of the detainees they may arrange a room for prayers, but until now there was no such request, they usually pray in their rooms.
Televisions in Otopeni are functional and available in every room, while in Arad, during the author’s visit, there were only two televisions, one in each common room, with channels provided by the Romanian cable company. The director of Arad mentioned that they would like to install a TV in each room in 2021.
According to JRS and the directors of the two centres, detainees have no internet access in detention.
As for social activities, in Otopeni, the directors stated that CNRR with support from IGI, organised several competitions with the detainees, such as domino, chess and ping pong. However, the interviewed foreigners complained about the lack of any kind of activities; they cannot play sports outside, the gym is not well equipped, all they do is “sleep and eat, sleep and eat”. Some of them prefer to stay the whole day in their rooms, they don’t even go on the terrace.
The need for social workers in detention centres was emphasised by the Ombudsman since 2016. This was still relevant in 2020.
The director of Arad stated that there are no social, cultural or educational activities organised in the centre, neither for adults nor for children. He mentioned as activities: the possibility to borrow books from the psychologist and the ping pong table and books from the common room. Nonetheless, the ping pong table is broken and no books were seen by the author during the visit. The persons interviewed by the author in Arad and Otopeni confirmed that there are no activities organised for them. The detainees in Arad appreciate that the doors of their rooms are open and they can socialise with the other detainees. The same was echoed by the JRS representative in Arad and Otopeni. According to the JRS representative, detainees complain about the lack of educational and recreational activities in the centre. They can only play football when the weather allows it, go to the gym or stay in the library. Access to these facilities is allowed only during the schedule established by IGI. The library in Otopeni is properly equipped with books in different languages.
As for the children detained in Arad, the psychologist said that CNRR bought a toy for each of them and in the beginning when they were leaving the centre, the toy had to be return. Now the children are allowed to keep the toy. Also it was mentioned that there is a room for the mother and child and play ground in the courtyard. During the visit the author did not see any playground outside and the room was not visited.
It was emphasised by one of the detainees that because of the lack of activities, sports, football they are bored and they only sleep and think about their problems.
Otopeni has a small playground which is under renovation since November 2020. The children’s room is under renovation. At the time of the Ombudsman’s visit in Otopeni the children’s room was closed because there were no children detained at that time in the centre. At the request of the Ombudsman the room was opened and it was found that there was a limited number of toys and games for children.
The Aliens Ordinance provides for the right to access to education for children detained in public custody centres accompanied by at least one parent or by their legal representative; children have free access to the compulsory education system. Nevertheless, according to the directors of both Arad and Otopeni, none of the children detained in public custody centres were enrolled or attended school. The children detained in Otopeni stayed in the centre only for 2 days, according to the directors, therefore their enrolment at school was impossible.
Health care and special needs in detention
Foreigners detained in public custody centres have the right to legal, medical and social assistance and the right to have their own opinion, religious, philosophical and cultural matters respected.
Otopeni has a general practitioner, a full-time psychologist and only 3 nurses. Until November 2020 there were 4 nurses, but one of them retired. The doctor’s schedule is 7 hours per day on weekdays, while the medical staff works in 24h shifts.
Arad has a psychologist. In 2020 they managed to sign a service provider contract with a medical doctor. The doctor is present in the centre 3h/day, during the weekdays. During the author’s visit on 9 February 2021, there were only 2 nurses. As a consequence, the shifts are not fully covered. When new persons arrive in the centre, a visual medical screening is conducted by the medical staff, who also take their pulse, temperature and blood pressure. The screening is conducted without an interpreter. The doctor mentioned that he speaks English and German and he manages to communicate with the detainees; if they do not speak any of the languages he uses sign language. In comparison with 2019, when the medical office in Arad did perform medical tests for the diagnosis of infectious / contagious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis and drug tests, in 2020 they performed only hepatitis tests. The medical office provides oral treatment and injections in the centre. If there is a need for specialist consultations and medical prescriptions from specialist doctors, foreigners are taken to public health care institutions in Arad County. In 2019 IGI signed a contract with the Arad county hospital that now covers all the examinations.
In Otopeni, the medical doctor reported that the medical staff prepares a medical file (after the body search), which contains the medical history and a clinical check-up of the foreigner. This procedure is done without an interpreter. The doctor stated that he does not encounter difficulties in communicating with the foreigners, because he speaks English, French, a little bit of Russian and Italian and if these languages are not of help, he is requesting the help of other detainees. The medical office in Otopeni performs HIV, hepatitis B and C and drug test to all of the detainees. The medical doctor stated that maybe in 2021 COVID-19 PCR test would also be approved. He also mentioned that they have rapid COVID-19 tests, which they bought from pharmacies. In 2019 and 2020 Otopeni had a collaboration contract with a private clinic for specialist consultations. In 2021 if there is a need for specialist consultations the detainees are taken to the Clinic or Hospital of MAI.
Once the state of emergency has been declared the new detainees were isolated for 14 days in separate rooms and they were under medical observation. According to the directors, the newly arrived detainees are allowed to go out of their rooms and to go outside. According to the directors, before they are returned to the country of origin the foreigners are required to have a negative COVID-19 test; the cost of the test is ensured by the Public Health Directorate (Directia de Sanatate Publica- hereinafter “DSP”).
In 2020 there were no detainees released from Arad due to their medical conditions. In Otopeni 3 foreigners were released due to their medical conditions, according to the medical doctor. The decision to release them is taken when their stay in detention is aggravating their medical condition.
According to the law, the psychologist of the centre makes the psychological evaluation of persons detained in the centre, drafts psychological observation sheets and provides specialist assistance throughout their stay. For foreigners with psychological or psychiatric problems, the psychologist of the centre informs immediately the Director of the centre or his or her legal substitute and, where appropriate, makes proposals for specialist consultations to hospital departments.
The psychologist in Arad stated that she provides primary psychological assistance to all detainees, if they agree to it. She said that it is more difficult to provide assistance to those in quarantine, because they can only talk through the door. They have the opportunity to have a longer consultation after the quarantine. The psychological assistance is provided without an interpreter. It was mentioned that many of them speak English or Romanian and if they do not speak these languages she solicits the assistance of another detainee, who may interpret for them but only if the foreigner agrees to it.
The psychologist said there were 15-20 foreigners who were diagnosed by a psychiatrist with adjustment disorder.
According to the psychologist there were no real suicide attempts. 23 foreigners participated in hunger strikes, 4 of them have been on hunger strike for 7 days and the rest of them only for a few days.
In Otopeni, the psychologist stated that all the detainees are registered and counseled. If necessary, the counseling is provided with the help of another trustworthy detainee. However, he said that he manages to discuss with the foreigners, because the majority of them speak English or Romanian. Therefore, there is no need for an interpreter. In 2020, due to the special circumstances the psychologist organized meetings with the foreigners in order to explain them why they cannot go back to their country of origin.
According to him 8 persons had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. There were no suicide attempts in 2020. As for hunger strikes, there were persons who stated their intention to go on hunger strike, but in 2-3 days they were renouncing.
The Asylum Act provides that vulnerable asylum seekers detained in specially designed closed spaces within the Regional Centres are regularly monitored and benefit from adequate support, according to their individual situation, including their health situation. The Aliens Ordinance also provides for appropriate medical care and treatment for vulnerable persons in detention centres.
According to UNHCR Romania, there is a lack of an established identification mechanism of vulnerable persons in public custody centres unlike the mechanisms used for reception centres, including specially arranged closed areas.
According to the directors of Otopeni there is no identification mechanism of vulnerable persons.
According to the director of Arad, vulnerable foreigners are identified by the psychologist, doctor or the officers with whom the person interacts. The director disseminated with the staff members a method of how the vulnerable persons should be identified. The director stated that this method consists of: medical screening, and psychological evaluation. It was emphasized that the psychological evaluation is done without an interpreter.
On the other hand, the JRS representative reported that IGI has an internal identification program established jointly with UNHCR. No further details could be provided. On the other hand JRS reported that the NGOs have their own mechanism (UNHCR standard and Romanian legislation). They were trained by UNHCR and they have identification tools. They collaborate with IGI for the identification of vulnerable cases, in the sense that they are informing IGI about the vulnerable persons identified by them.
The authorities try to ensure assistance for this category of persons, but if the needs in question cannot be satisfied, the person is released. In rare cases, groups such as families with children have been released from detention.
 Article 103(3) Aliens Ordinance.
 Ombudsman, Report 52/2019.
 Ombudsman, Report 68/2018.
 Ibid, 10.
 Information provided by CNRR, 9 December 2019.
 Ombudsman, Report 68/2018, available in Romanian at: https://bit.ly/2veebdY.
 Article 30(1)-(4) Public Custody Centres Regulation.
 Ombudsman, Report 68/2018; Report 52/2019.
 Article 26(1)-(2) Public Custody Centres Regulation.
 Ombudsman, Report of the visit to the Accommodation Centre for Aliens Taken in Public Custody Otopeni, 70/2016, The Ombudsman had also observed in 2016 that there was no social worker in Otopeni, as the management of the centre stated that there was no need for such a position. The report details that: “Despite the language difficulties and the short period of detention in the centre, there were no socio-cultural-educational activities, Romanian language courses or other types of information-education sessions for the beneficiaries. There is no hired person to provide social counselling to residents or to provide other information of interest responding to the needs of cultural adaptation or other needs of detainees”.
 Ombudsman, Report 68/2018.
 Article 104(6) Aliens Ordinance.
 Article 104(2) Aliens Ordinance.
 Article 38 Public Custody Centres Regulation.
 Article 19^11(3) Asylum Act.
 Article 104(7) Aliens Ordinance.