Given that detention of asylum seekers in the 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, working 12 hours per day and a medical doctor contracted through a service provider contract. The doctor is present in the centre 3 hours per day on weekdays. The director further mentioned that they cannot communicate well with the detainees. Some of the interviewed detainees declared that some of the police officers have no English language skills. One of the interviewed detainees was often used as interpreter by the administration of the dentention centre. The author noticed during the interviews that most of the foreign nationals detained in Arad had a basic grasp of the English language. Communication with some of them was very hard; it was hard for the foreigner nationals to understand basic questions. The director of Arad stated that there is a procedure in place which allows them to use interpreters for information sessions and counselling, however, he had no further information on this, as he had just learned about this procedure.
According to the JRS representative there was only one nurse working in the centre in 2021.
The director of Otopeni stated that they manage to communicate with foreign nationals in English or by using Google translate. Nevertheless, they need interpreters to communicate with detainess. According to the JRS representative, the lack of interpretation is an issue, as many of the detainees do not speak English. Even she uses Google translate to communicate with them.
In 2021 no trainings for staff members working in Otopeni were held, including courses by the Ministry of Interior.
One of the foreigners detained in Arad interviewed by the author reported that, while he was on hunger strike, the police officers tried to beat him in order to convince him to eat. He stated that he was beaten three times. He was pushed and kicked. Another foreign national interviewed by the author stated that the police officers are violent towards some of the detainees. A foreign national interviewed by the author in Otopeni also declared that a police officer in Arad hit him in the back without a reason. The director of Arad stated that there were many issues linked to this: the majority of detainees in Arad are from Algeria and Morocco, they stay for longer periods in Arad, than in Bucharest and in Bucharest the food is of better quality. He also mentioned that he had discussed the allegations with the police officers who managed the shifts and they said that it had not happened on their shifts.
The JRS representative also reported that there were complaints against a police officer, who was violent towards the detainees; she reported the incidents to the director of Arad and there were no more complaints.
Foreigners interviewed by the author in Otopeni, who were also detained in Arad stated that the police officers in Otopeni treated them better than the officers in Arad.
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.
According to the directors of Otopeni, foreigners are handcuffed and escorted to the court. The handcuffs are taken off once they enter 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. Women are not handcuffed when they are taken to court hearings, according to the representative of Otopeni.
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 or French upon arrival, the director stated. The author noticed that the posters in different languages that were displayed on the dormitory doors and dining room in previous years, were either torn apart or missing. At the same time there were leaflets in several languages on public custody from CNRR in the room where fingerprints are taken.
In Otopeni information on ROI and rights and obligations is provided by IGI. The detainees receive A4 leaflets with their rights and obligations in English. According to the JRS there are posters in different languages on the walls.
According to the director of Otopeni, detainees are informed about their rights and obligations and the 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 in 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, was 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 was also renovated. The renovations were finalized in August 2021. However, detainees were accommodated in building B starting from June 2021. The centre has a capacity of 114, with the possibility of extension to 132 places. The majority of the rooms have 4 beds each, but there are also rooms with 6 and 8 beds and one room with 12 beds. The representatives of Otopeni centre mentioned that a project to acquire bedding, mattresses, pillows, covers and others had been approved. Representatives of Otopeni centre stated that building A will also be renovated but they did not know the start date of the work.
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 accommodationand another building (building C) designated for accommodationwith 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.
In Arad, in May 2021, the authorities started the construction of another facility, with a capacity of 240 places of accommodation, a sports field and leisure spaces. The construction of the facility is being funded by AMIF. The director stated that the construction works will be finalised in June-August 2022.
In 2021, in Otopeni the highest number of detainees was 91 at the beginning of August. At the time of the author’s visit there were 57 foreigners detained.
During the visit carried out to Otopeni on 31 January 2022, the detention conditions in the building which was not under renovation were good. The hallways and other shared spaces were clean. In the renovated building, the walls were already dirty and the old tiles had been kept. The dining room which is in the other building was also clean. The outside space had not been improved, apart from a few new benches. The JRS representative declared that the centre is clean and warm during the winter.
During the visits carried out to Arad on 4 February 2022, the detention conditions in the public custody centre were decent, but not as satisfactory as two years ago. The walls in the rooms and hallways were scribbled on, the shower curtains were worn; the ping pong table from the common room that was broken last year, was no longer there; mattresses were stored in the common rooms; in one of the common spaces there was a broken TV, detainees stated that a police officer had broken it, detainees were smoking in the common room, but also in the hallways. In Arad only building C was visited. The hygienic conditions and overall cleanliness of the centre were good. The 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 mothers and children was not visited. The windows of the building where people were accommodated were opaque, so it is not possible to look outside. Those interviewed by the author in 2018 also mentioned this as an issue. According to the director, building B was sanitized, painted and small repairs were done and in building C several disinfections were carried out. The JRS representative also reported that the centre was clean.
In Otopeni, the rooms are equipped with their own bathroom, individual beds with mattresses in good condition, table, chairs, cupboards, and a television. However, the JRS representative mentioned that in a room that she had visited there was no TV, only four beds, a table and a chair. The author also visited the newly renovated children’s room in Otopeni. The room had a few tables, shelves, coloured rugs and toys. The bed linen is changed every week and washed in the centre according to the director of Otopeni. At the time of the visit the industrial washing machine was under repair. Some of the interviewed detainees stated that they also wash the bed linen. In order to wash their clothes, the detainees have access to a washing machine, which is on the same floor as their rooms. The windows are not opaque, but they are covered with bars. Representatives from the Otopeni centre reported that they had issues with bed bugs in building A.
Each detainee has his or her own bed and there is generally sufficient space, except at times when the number of detainees was high and they had to place mattresses on the floor. Detainees are required to clean their own rooms and the common spaces in both centres. They receive cleaning products from IGI and CNRR, according to the directors of the centres.
Detainees are accommodated in separate rooms on the basis of gender, religion or nationality. Family members are accommodated in the same room, separately from other people, ensuring an appropriate level of privacy.
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 that granted by the Romanian government during their detention in the Public Custody Centres and during their return under escort to the country of origin or other country of destination. Detainees interviewed from the Otopeni centre declared that they had received some clothing from CNRR. Some of the interviewed detainees in both Arad and Otopeni declared that they received one shampoo every 3-4 months and some razor blades. Another person interviewed in Arad stated that in general the detainees who leave the centre give away their clothes. Others said that they received some clothes but some months after they arrived at the centre.
The Public Custody Centres Regulation prescribes that food is provided three times a day, in the form of a 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 at the centre. At the request of detainees, their religious diet is respected.
In Otopeni the food (3 meals/day) is provided by the gendarmerie. According to the representatives of Otopeni the quality of the food is better than in the past as it is provided by a different kitchen of the gendarmerie. Some of the interviewed detainees stated that the food is good, some of them said that it 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. The interviewed detainees said that the food in Otopeni is better than in Arad. During the Ombudsman’s visit on 20 August 2021, in Otopeni it was noted that detainees do not receive fruit, not even the pregnant women. Representatives from the Otopeni centre reported that they now also receive fruit. All the detainees interviewed by the author said that they never receive fruit in Otopeni. However, in Arad they receive apples three times per week, that sometimes are good and sometimes are too ripe or rotten. They also mentioned that they receive one juice every week and, once in a while, chocolate bars from CNRR.
In Arad the food is provided by the Arad penitentiary facility. Detainees interviewed by the author in Arad complained about the food quality and that they had also complained about it to the administration of the camp, but no measures were taken. They also mentioned that they never received chocolate or juice from CNRR. The director of Arad reported that they have no special menus for children as meals are provided by the Arad penitentiary.
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 supervision. 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, everyday, under the police officers’ supervision. Conversely, the detainees interviewed by the author stated the contrary and complained about the lack of outdoor time. One of the foreigners reported that in the last two weeks he had had no outdoor time at all, and when he was outside, he only had 10-15 minutes there. The detainees mentioned that they had raised this issue as well, with no result. It was also reported that it depends on the police officers if they go outside. There is a workout room in Arad but only 3 fitness machines were functional at the time of the author’s visit. However, the detainees and the JRS representative were not aware of its existence. There is no library in Arad; books are stored in the psychologist’s office, and detainees may borrow them.
In Otopeni people are allowed outside or on the terrace after meals under supervision almost everyday, depending on the availability of the police officers. All the detainees interviewed said that they had no daily outdoors time. One of them said that he had had no outdoors time since he was transferred from Arad, three weeks ago; another detainee said that in the 4 months and 2 weeks since he had been detained he had been outside only once; another person detained for more than 3 months reported that in 3 moths he had never seen the sun; another foreigner emphasized several times that all he wanted was to go outside in the sun. Moreover, all the detainees reported that their rooms were locked most of the time during the day. One of them reported that doors are opened at 8 AM until lunch and depending on the police officers on duty, doors are locked after lunch until dinner time at 5PM. This was also reported by the Ombudsman, who noted that detainees are only allowed to leave their rooms for eating. Conversely, the JRS representative stated that they are allowed to exit their rooms; however, she had never seen them outside in the courtyard. The centre has a functional gym, but it only has a few pieces of equipment. One detainee reported that he had requested to go to the gym but he had not been allowed to go once, as it depended on the police officers on duty. The prayer room is in the building, which was being renovated and it is an ordinary room with 4 beds.
Televisions in Otopeni are functional and available in every room, while in Arad, during the author’s visit, there were two televisions, one in each common room, one of which was broken, with channels provided by a Romanian cable company. During the visit, the author visited a room with a TV. The director of Arad mentioned that they will install a TV in each room in the near future.
According to JRS and the directors of the two centres, detainees have no internet access in detention.
As for social activities, in Otopeni, the representatives of the centre stated that CNRR had organised several competitions with the detainees, such as chess and ping pong. However, those interviewed complained about the lack of any kind of activities; and that they cannot play sports outside. The JRS representative mentioned that she was not aware of any activities being organised for detainees.
The need for social workers in detention centres has been emphasised by the Ombudsman since 2016. This was still relevant in 2022.
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 different activities, such as: the possibility to borrow books from the psychologist. In the past there was a ping pong table but that is no longer there. 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 library in Otopeni only has books in English.
During the visit the author did not see any playground outside and the mother and child room was not visited in Arad.
Otopeni has a small playground which has been under renovation since November 2020. During the visit no evidence of the playground was seen.
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.
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 2 nurses. The doctor’s schedule is 7 hours per day on weekdays, while the medical staff works in 24h shifts. In February 2022 they were prepraing to recruit an additional nurse’s position.
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 3 hours a day, during weekdays. During the author’s visit on 4 February 2022, there were only 2 nurses, working in 12h shifts. As a consequence, the shifts are not fully covered. During the night there is no medical staff. 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. In 2021 the project which provided for medical tests ended. As for the PCR tests, these are collected in the centre by specialised personel from a laboratory and the costs are covered by IGI. The director of Arad reported a total of 400 PCR test done in 2021, for detainees returned to Serbia. 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, detainees 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.
The detainees interviewed by the author in Arad as well as those detained in Otopeni, who were previously detained in Arad, reported that all the detainees in Arad are “scratching themselves”, they have skin problems. The skin condition mentioned was scabies. The detainees mentioned that they were placed in quarantine during the treatment. The director of Arad reported that the cause of this may be the mattresses which were placed in the rooms when the number of detainees was high. The mattresses may have been infested and this is how the scabies spread. The detainees stated that they got the the scabies inside the centre, the director stated the opposite, that they arrived with this skin infestation.
In Otopeni, according to the medical doctor, after the body search the medical staff prepares a medical file, which contains the medical history and a clinical check-up of the foreigner. This procedure is done without an interpreter. The doctor stated that difficulties in communicating with foreigners may arise when the foreigner does not speak the languages the doctor knows (English, French, a little bit of Russian and Italian). When this occurs, he requests the help of other detainees. In case of specialist medical consultations they request assistance from CNRR. The medical office in Otopeni performs HIV, hepatitis B and C and drug tests on all of the detainees. In 2021 specimens for COVID-19 were collected in the centre by the medical staff and sent to laboratories. The costs were covered by IGI or DSP. In cases of long-term hospitalizations or serious medical issues a temporary personal identification number is issued by the National Health Insurance House. In 2019 and 2020 Otopeni had a collaboration contract with a private clinic for specialist consultations. In 2021 if there was a need for specialist consultations the detainees are taken to the Clinic or Hospital of MAI.
According to the directors, before they are returned to the country of origin detainees are required to have a negative COVID-19 test.
In 2021 there were no detainees released from Arad due to their medical conditions. In Otopeni 5 detainees (2 with diabetes, 1 with cardiac problems and 2 with psychiatric disorders) 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. According to the director of Arad, in 2021, due to the high number of detainees and their rapid movement the psychologist was not able to prepare medical record for everyone.
For foreigners with psychological or psychiatric problems, the psychologist of the centre informs the Director of the centre immediately or his or her legal substitute and, where appropriate, makes proposals for specialist consultations to hospital departments.
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.
According to the director of Arad there was only one suicide attempt. Many detainees participated in hunger strikes.
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, if the patient agrees to it. However, he said that he manages to discuss directly with most of the foreigners, because the majority of them speak English or Romanian or through Google translate. Therefore, there is no need for an interpreter. He reported that all detainees have a brief psychological interview and after the isolation they go through psychological testing. One of the detainees interviewed by the author in Otopeni reported that he tried to talk to the psychologist, but was told that he was not in the centre.
According to the doctor there were persons who had to be admitted to psychiatric hospital several times. There were no suicide attempts in 2021. As for hunger strikes, there were persons who stated their intention to go on hunger strike, but in 4-5 days they renounced it.
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 for 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, psychological evaluation. It was emphasized that the psychological evaluation is done without an interpreter.
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.
 Ibid, 10.
 Information provided by CNRR, 9 December 2019.
 Article 30(1)-(4) Public Custody Centres Regulation.
 Article 26(1)-(2) Public Custody Centres Regulation.
 Ombudsman, Visit Report, p.11
 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”.
 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.