Th, 1.06.2023
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Defiant Congolese triggers rebellion

Tiina Kaukvere
, daily Estonian news editor
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The Tuesday rebellion at Harku Detention Centre was sparked as a detainee was told of decision to extend his stay for two months. The Congolese opted to protest, soon joined by a couple of dozen people.

The Harku Detention Centre houses illegal immigrants, part of whom await expulsion and some are seeking asylum while the police has deemed it necessary to detain them during the procedures.

Not even yesterday were the dwellers in the centre totally recovered from what suddenly transpired. Standing at the windows, they yelled for help. «We’re held here as prisoners!» heard the passersby.

Head of the centre Pärtel Preinvalts said they will have to talk it over with the detainees to restore tranquillity, telling them why it all happened. In all likelihood, three initiators of the rebellion will be placed under arrest. «Surely the gentleman against whom we first had to apply force.»

On happening on Tuesday, Mr Preinvalts had this to tell: a detainee from Congo was about to be handed the court decision, the content of which he basically had to anticipate even before – his stay at the centre was to be extended by two months.

«It was a totally routine procedure planned regarding the man, and he was ordered to move from the living quarters to the administrative area on second floor,» explained Mr Preinvalts. «The extension decisions are usually by two months – every two months, a detainee is served the new decision,» he specified.

The Congolese refused to go get the decision, and was verbally aggressive. Mr Preinvalts said the painful reaction was humanly understandable, it being announced he was to spend two more months in the closed establishment. «Who would be happy over that.»

«It culminated in a scuffle – the detainee physically resisted the policemen,» described Mr Preinvalts.

The man had to be locked up. This was seen by others at the centre, some of whom concluded that the staff was abusing the man taking him away by force. «The demanded his release.»

At 7 pm, some two dozen detainees blocked the corridor. «The blocked part of the corridor and the cook was not able to do his job and it is not allowed for the cook and the detainees to come into contact.»

During the next 1.5 hours the rebels heeded no orders though the employees insisted that the corridor be vacated and they go to their rooms.

Mr Preinvalts said the protesters stick together being of the same faith – Moslems. At the moment, the most numerous at Harku are those from Mali, Eritrea, Iraq, Congo and Sudan. No nationality is in majority.

«Often they have difficulty understanding our laws. In those nations they have other laws, other understanding of good and evil, right and wrong. For them, the police was unjust taking their friend to a locked room. In their eyes, this gave them the moral right to protest,» said Mr Preinvalts.

«We in Europe see two differing events: it is one thing that you do not obey orders, it’s another thing whether police used excessive force or not,» he explained. «For an hour and a half they had been told that they needed to vacate the territory – go to their rooms, let the personnel move around.»

Among others, Mr Preinvalts personally went to tell them this. «They declared they’d go till the end,» said the head of the institution, adding the men did not specify what they meant.

Thereafter, a special unit entered the building. Just in case, accompanied by an ambulance. Thus far abstaining from physical violence, the men now applied physical resistance and, among other things, the police had to use rubber bullets.

«If negotiations bear no fruit, at some point inevitably other measures will have to be applied to restore the normal situation. Escalation of the events must be prevented,» Said Northern prefecture press representative Helen Uldrich, explaining decisions taken by the police. «They never aimed at the people, it is not allowed to use rubber bullets for direct shots.»

Some people were still injured, but none needed stitches or hospitalisation. The help needed was provided at the medical room at the centre.

«The use of rubber bullets is definitely not the usual» admitted Mr Preinvalts, substantiating the use by the large number of detainees on the closed area (about 40) of whom over half were linked to the event. «All were not involved, but it was necessary to ensure the safety of them and of the policemen.»

Peace was restored at the centre at 9:30 pm.

«In 12 years, nothing like this has ever happened; but, then, during 12 years the detention centre has not been as full,» noted Mr Preinvalts.

The centre currently hosts 65 people, of whom some twenty are women and children. But the centre has capacity for 80.

«The detention centre is not overcrowded, but it has never before been so full either. The people are many, of varying cultural background, for reasons not criminal. They do not view themselves as criminals, them being detained is not a punishment, rather a method applied by the state to terminate their illegal stay in the state or to keep them from avoiding the procedures.»

«The detainees have free access to information about the detention centre and why they have been detained,» said Mr Preinvalts. He added there are those there who speak no English or Russian, but they would select a representative from among them who does.

Mr Preinvalts admitted that the people being many, the working methods at the centre need to be reviewed. «Was something done wrong, or could something have been done better... I think the incident yesterday was solved rather well, the force was applied proportionally. Whether we will need to alter anything, analysis of the events will tell.»

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