Conditions in detention facilities


Country Report: Conditions in detention facilities Last updated: 31/05/23


Felicia Nica

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.[1]

The representative of Arad centre emphasised the lack of administrative staff, police officers and of nurses as an issue. At the time of the author’s visit there were three nurses hired, of whom one was on medical leave for more than 90 days. During 2022 there were two medical nurses and as of 14 May 2022 there were three. The nurses had been working 12 hours per day until June 2022 and as of June 24 hours with 72 hours rest.  The working schedule was also adapted to the actual needs. The centre has a medical doctor contracted through a service provider contract. The doctor is present in the centre 3 hours per day on weekdays. Some of the interviewed detainees declared that some of the police officers have no English language skills. 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 representatives of both centres stated that they received a translation device which allows them to discuss issues with the migrants. The device is similar to Google translate. The representative of Arad centre said it is used for written communication, while the director of Otopeni stated that it is used for oral communication.

The director of Otopeni stated that they manage to communicate with foreign nationals in English or by using this new device. Nevertheless, they need interpreters to communicate with detainess.

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.

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. This was still reported in 2022.

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. Both centres have leaflets also in Arabic, Pashto, Kurdish and Chinese. The author noticed posters in different languages that were displayed in the dining space and the hallways.

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 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.

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.


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.[2] 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. Representatives of Otopeni centre stated that building A had been renovated: walls were painted, a sanitary installation was repaired. Washing machines, refrigerators and ping pong tables were bought and they are in the process of changing the bedding, mattresses, pillows and covers.

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.[3] Each room is designed to accommodate 4 people and has 4.5 to 6m2per person.[4] At the time of the author’s visit there were 32 foreigners detained.

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 construction works will be finalised in the summer-autumn of 2023.

In 2022, in Otopeni the highest number of detainees was 54, as building A was closed and foreigners were ony accommodated in building B, which has a capacity of 54 places. At the time of the author’s visit there were 37 foreigners detained, including a woman from Cuba.

During the visit carried out to Otopeni on 21 March 2023, 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, the representatives of the centre said improvement works are foreseen in 2023.

During the visits carried out to Arad on 16 March 2022, the detention conditions in the public custody centre were satisfactory. Since September 2022 all foreigners have been accommodated in building B, in order to save money for heating. At the time of the visit the detainees were outside their rooms in the hallways. The rooms were not visited. The hygienic conditions and overall cleanliness of the centre were good. Building C, which was not occupied, was sanitized, walls were painted and small repairs were done. There was no mother and child room. 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 windows of the building where people were accommodated were opaque, so it is not possible to look outside.

In Otopeni, the rooms are equipped with their own bathroom, individual beds with mattresses, table, chairs, cupboards, and a television. At the time of the author’s visit the rooms were locked. Occupied rooms were not visited, but from the door it could be observed that the walls had been scribbled on. The room where the author had the interviews with the detainees also had dirty walls, was written allover, and the mattresses looked worn down. The bed linen is changed every week and washed in the centre according to the director of Otopeni. 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.

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.[5] Detainees interviewed from the Otopeni and Arad centres declared that they had received some clothing and hygienic products from CNRR.

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.[6]

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.

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. The representative of the centre said they had tried to find another provider, but is quite difficult because the number of meal portions may vary from one day to another. 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.[7]

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 representatives of Arad centre, 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 that they go outside once every three or five days for 20-30 minutes. The Ombudsman reported that foreigners complained that they are allowed outside only twice a week and recommended measures to be taken to ensure outside activities everyday.[8] They also said that rooms are not always opened during the day, it depends on the police officers on duty if the rooms are locked for most of the day or not. At the time of the author’s visit the doors were open and detainees were socialising. It was also noticed that they were allowed to smoke inside. There is a workout room in Arad but only two fitness machines were functional at the time of the author’s visit. However, this was not used by the foreigners. There is no library in Arad; books are stored in the psychologist’s office, and detainees may borrow them. One of the representatives of the centre said the foreigners receive different games, such as rumy, puzzles, chess. TVs were recently installed in their rooms, according to the representative of the centre.

In Otopeni people are allowed on the terrace after meals under supervision everyday, depending on the availability of the police officers and according to the director. She also mentioned that outdoor time in the courtyard does not take place everyday. All the detainees interviewed said that they had no daily outdoors time. One of them said that he had outdoor time during warm days only once a week and foreigners are also taken on the terrace when there are disinfections. Another detainee said that in the three months since he had been detained he had been outside only twice. 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.[9] During the author’s visit rooms were locked, foreigners were allowed to exit their rooms to discuss with the author or with the NGO representatives present at that time in the centre. The director of the centre said that doors are open between 8AM and 10PM. The centre has a functional gym, but it only has a few pieces of equipment. According to one of the police officers the equipment was broken. However, the director said they were working. Two of the interviewed detainees were not aware of the existence of the gym and how they could use it. 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. In 2022 in Arad, TVs were installed in all rooms in building B. One of the interviewed detainees stated that the TV was installed on the day of the author’s visit. The rest of the foreigners decalred they had a TV in the room.

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

Social activities were not organised in 2022 neither Otopeni nor in Arad.

The need for social workers in detention centres has been emphasised by the Ombudsman since 2016.[10] This was still relevant in 2022.

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.[11] 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.[12]

Otopeni has a general practitioner, a full-time psychologist and 3 nurses. The doctor’s schedule is 7 hours per day on weekdays, while the medical staff works in 24h shifts. In March 2023 an additional nurse will be employed.

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 16 March 2023, there were three nurses, of whom only two were working in 24h shifts. When new persons arrive at 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 medical office in Arad performs medical tests for the diagnosis of infectious / contagious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis and drug tests for all detainees.  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. There is also a contract signed with a pharmacy for the provision of medicines.

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.  The medical office in Otopeni performs HIV, hepatitis B and C and drug tests on all of the detainees. In cases of long-term hospitalizations or serious medical issues a temporary personal identification number is issued by the National Health Insurance House. In 2022 if there was a need for specialist consultations the detainees are taken to the Clinic or Hospital of MAI.

In 2022 there were no detainees released from Arad due to their medical conditions. In Otopeni only one detainee with a psychiatric disorder was released due to his medical condition, according to the director.

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 the Director of the centre immediately or his or her legal substitute and, where appropriate, makes proposals for specialist consultations to hospital departments.[13]

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.

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 or new translation device. 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.

There were no suicide attempts in 2022 in neither of the centres. As for hunger strikes, there were persons who stated their intention to go on hunger strike, but in one to two 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.[14]The Aliens Ordinance also provides for appropriate medical care and treatment for vulnerable persons in detention centres.[15]

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.




[1] Article 103(3) Aliens Ordinance.

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

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

[4] Ibid, 10.

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

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

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

[8] Ombudsman, Visit Report, 6 October 2022, p.5, available in Romanian at:

[9] Ombudsman, Visit Report, p.11.

[10] 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”.

[11] Article 104(6) Aliens Ordinance.

[12] Article 104(2) Aliens Ordinance.

[13] Article 38 Public Custody Centres Regulation.

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

[15] Article 104(7) Aliens Ordinance.

Table of contents

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