Conditions in detention facilities


Country Report: Conditions in detention facilities Last updated: 30/11/20


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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.[1]


The director of Arad emphasised the lack of interpreters and lack of staff of medical staff as an issue. The lack of personnel was also reported by the Ombudsman.[2] The director further mentioned that they cannot communicate well with the detainees.


The Ombudsman’s report on Otopeni also mentions the existence of language barriers between IGI’s staff and detainees.[3] 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.[4] 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.


According to the director of Arad, NGOs and UNHCR do not hold trainings for staff working in detention centres. The director of Arad only participated to a seminar on statelessness organised by UNHCR and training on human trafficking organised by the National Authority against Human Trafficking, in which 13 other staff members of the centre participated. The director reported that in 2019 he did not participate to the monthly internal trainings in the centre on subjects recommended by the IGI Migration Directorate, held by the coordinator on duty. The director stressed that there is still a need for staff trainings on practical aspects of their day-to-day activities, which could be held by trainers or practitioners from abroad, to share their knowledge.


None of the foreigners detained in Arad, interviewed by the author, reported that the police officers are ill-treating them. One of the foreigners detained in Arad stated during the interview with the author that a police officer woke him up by kicking against his bed.


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.


Regarding detainees’ right to information on their rights and obligations in detention in Arad, the author noticed, in one of the rooms where foreigners are taken upon arrival in the centre, leaflets on rights and obligations drafted by CNRR, the daily schedule and prohibitions in the centre. The director of the centre mentioned that every person placed in detention receives leaflets in English or Romanian from IGI upon arrival. Posters in different languages were also displayed on the dormitory doors and dining room.


According to the JRS representative, in Otopeni, 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. It was reported by the Ombudsman that, according to the staff of Otopeni Centre, detainees are informed about their rights and obligations and reasons for their detention upon arrival in the centre. The information was provided by signing a document in a language that they speak or understand. However, it was also reported that a detainee stated that their rights are not explained and another detainee mentioned that he was not informed about the right to use the phone.[5]


Overall conditions


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.[6] At the time of the Ombudsman’s visit in 2018, Otopeni had two buildings, with 21 accommodation rooms with a maximum of 12 beds each. The centre had a capacity of 114 places, with the possibility of extension in times of crisis up to 140 places.[7]


Arad is located in Horia, a village in Arad County. It has a capacity of 160 places. There are two buildings: one hosting the administrative offices and 52 places of accommodation and another building designated for accommodation with 108 places, administration purposes and other activities, inaugurated in 2015.[8] Each room is designed to accommodate 4 people and has 4.5 to 6m2 per person.[9]


According to the directors of the two centres, both Otopeni and Arad have reached maximum capacity in the past. Arad had an occupancy rate of 108.5% in September/October 2017, with 174 persons detained. During that period, staff members were transferred from other authorities of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to Arad due to staff shortages. In 2019 this was not the case as the highest number of persons detained in Arad was 40. According to JRS representative, in Otopeni the occupancy rate in 2019 was 50-60%.


During the visits carried out to Arad in 21 October 2019, the detention conditions in the public custody centre were satisfactory. The same was echoed by the Ombudsman, who reported proper hygienic and cleanliness conditions of the rooms.[10] In Arad the entire facility was visited, except the rooms were people sleep. Hygienic conditions and overall cleanliness of the centre were very good. The empty rooms which were visited had four 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. Next to the medical offices there is a room for mother and children, which includes a baby crib and a colourful carpet. The windows of the building where people were accommodated during the visit were opaque, so there was 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, television. It was found that in some of the rooms the furniture was missing. The bathrooms are equipped with toilet, sink and shower. However, none of the bathrooms were equipped for persons with physical or mobility impairment.[11]


During the short visit to the premises in Otopeni in June 2018, the author noticed that it was clean and people detained had clean clothes. In Arad some of the foreigners interviewed by the author complained that, even though it is cold outside, they received from CNRR a pair of shorts and a T-shirt but no winter clothes. Another person declared that, a month before the author visit, he received shorts, a T-shirt and a shampoo; when he used all his shampoo, he asked for another one, but he did not receive one. 


According to the people interviewed by the author in Arad, who were also previously detained in Otopeni, the conditions were better in Otopeni because they have a TV in their room and they had access to the phone. The windows are not opaque and people can see outside; the food was described as better in Otopeni. Each asylum seeker 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.


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 a facility for families with children; this is still in the project phase.


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.[12] According to the Ombudsman, CNRR provides complementary food, footwear and clothes to detainees.[13]


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.[14]


In Arad the food is provided by the Arad penitentiary facility. All of the foreigners interviewed by the author in Arad complained about the food quality. They mentioned that every day they have the same menu, the food is tasteless and no rice is served. 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.[15]




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.[16]


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. In Otopeni people are also allowed outside after meals under supervision or depending on IGI missions.


There is a workout room with a few fitness machines in Arad that, at the time of the author’s visit, was functional. Otopeni also has a functioning gym room.


Televisions in Otopeni are functional and available in every room, while in Arad, during the author’s visit in October 2019, there were only two televisions, one in each common room, with channels provided by the Romanian cable company. The foreigners interviewed complained about the fact that they do not have a television in their rooms. Although every room can support a television and televisions were bought, they cannot install them as they cannot connect them to a cable television network.


According to JRS and the directors of the two centres, detainees have no internet access in detention.


As regards the social activities, according to the Ombudsman’s report on Otopeni, “even though the centre has facilities for social, cultural and recreational activities, even outdoors, no such activities were organised for the detainees due to the lack of qualified staff”.[17] The need for social workers in detention centres was emphasised by the Ombudsman since 2016.[18]


The directors of both Arad and Otopeni stated in 2018 that there are no social, cultural or educational activities organised in the centre, neither for adults nor for children. The persons interviewed by the author in Arad confirmed that there are no activities organised for them. The same was echoed by the JRS representative in Arad and Otopeni. According to the JRS representative in Otopeni, 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.[19] According to the Ombudsman, the library in Otopeni is properly equipped with books.[20]


The foreigners interviewed by the author in Arad complained about the fact that they do not even have a ball to play football and they have requested one several times to the CNRR’s representative. Another detainee interviewed by the author described his time in Arad centre as being more difficult than in Timișoara’s prison, because at least there he could go to work outside the penitentiary. 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. It was reported by the JRS representative in Arad that the lack of activities affects the detainees, especially those who are detained for longer periods of time.


Otopeni has a small playground. According to the director, there is also a children’s room with toys. 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.[21]


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.[22] 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 director of Otopeni referred to a case from 2017 where foreigners detained requested the enrolment of their child at school and they were later released after receiving tolerated status. She also mentioned that there is a lack of staff to transport the children to school.


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.[23]


Otopeni has a general practitioner, a full-time psychologist and only 2 nurses, in comparison with 2018 when there were 4 nurses.[24] The doctor's schedule is 8 hours per day on weekdays, while the medical staff works in 24h shifts.


Arad has a psychologist. As of the end of May 2019 the centre has no general practitioner, according to the director of the centre. The lack of a medical doctor makes it difficult because the nurses cannot issue medical prescriptions and detainees have to see a specialist in order to receive medication. During the author’s visit on 21 October 2019, there were three nurses, one nurse position being vacant at the time. 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. In comparison with 2018, when the medical office in Arad did not perform medical tests for the diagnosis of infectious / contagious diseases such as HIV or hepatitis, in 2019 they did perform HIV, hepatitis and drug 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 2019 there were no detainees released from Arad due to their medical conditions. In Otopeni one person from Somalia was released because of his medical condition, according to the JRS representative.


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.[25]


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.[26]The Aliens Ordinance also provides for appropriate medical care and treatment for vulnerable persons in detention centres.[27]


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 JRS representative from Otopeni, IGI has an internal identification program established jointly with UNHCR. The director of Arad mentioned that there is no procedure for the identification of vulnerable persons. There is an interview guide which is filled in by the officer on duty when the foreigner is placed in the public custody centre. The guide also includes questions related to vulnerability. This guide is filled in without an interpreter. If problems are identified, the detainees are referred to the psychologist. On the other hand, the psychologist of Arad stated in 2018 that there is no identification mechanism for vulnerable persons but that they are all identified, even though there are no interpreters available for psychological counselling sessions. The psychologist indicated that in case the foreigners do not speak Romanian or English, she uses Google translate; where difficulties may arise for illiterate persons, she uses sign language. The psychologist emphasised that for over ten years of working in detention she has managed to communicate with the migrants.


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.

[1]          Article 103(3) Aliens Ordinance.

[2]          Ombudsman, Report 52/2019.

[3]          Ombudsman, Report 68/2018.

[4]          Ibid.

[5]          Ombudsman, Report 68/2018.

[6]          Ombudsman, Report of the visit to the Accommodation Centre for Aliens Taken in Public Custody Otopeni, 70/2016, available in Romanian at:, 2.

[7]          Ombudsman, Report 68/2018.

[8]          Ombudsman, Report of the visit to the Accommodation Centre for Aliens Taken in Public Custody Arad, 30/2016, available in Romanian at:, 3-4.

[9]          Ibid, 10.

[10]         Ombudsman, Report 52/2019, p.3.

[11]         Ombudsman, Report 68/2018, available in Romanian at:


[12]         Information provided by CNRR, 9 December 2019.

[13]         Ombudsman, Report 68/2018, available in Romanian at:

[14]         Article 30(1)-(4) Public Custody Centres Regulation.

[15]         Ombudsman, Report 68/2018; Report 52/2019.

[16]         Article 26(1)-(2) Public Custody Centres Regulation.

[17]         Ombudsman, Report 68/2018.

[18]         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”.

[19]         Ombudsman, Report 68/2018.

[20]         Ibid,

[21]         Ibid.

[22]         Article 104(6) Aliens Ordinance.

[23]        Article 104(2) Aliens Ordinance.

[24]        Ombudsman, Report 68/2018.

[25]        Article 38 Public Custody Centres Regulation.

[26]        Article 19^11(3) Asylum Act.

[27]        Article 104(7) Aliens Ordinance.


Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the first report
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation