Detention center faces inmates who are testing the limits

Olukord Harku kinnipamiskeksuses on mõne asüülitaotleja käitumise tõttu muutunud pingelisemaks. Murele juhtid kuu alguses korraldatud protestil tähelepanu ka üks keskuse asukas, kes kandis käes plakatit kirjaga: «Kolm asüülitaotlejat on hullud. See koht pole meile ohutu.»

PHOTO: Andres Putting / Delfi

The protest of the inmates of the Harku detention center in early December was caused by a rare coincidence: there are three detainees at once classified by psychiatrists as displaying manipulative behavior patterns.

At least, this is how the police guarding the center explain the incidents in recent months. “This is a really unusual situation”, says Kristjan Lensment, the head of the center. He means that although breaking the rules of the center for testing the limits is hardly extraordinary, only few inmates are willing to risk their health for that.

Long-time inmates

Now there are three of them and the atmosphere of the facility has become tense. This has become obvious to other inmates as well, who made a poster in December claiming: “Three asylum seekers  are mad. This place is not safe for us”.

The police usually do not hand out information about the life and daily affairs of the asylum seekers. The present situation is different and the police are therefore more open. Lensment admits that one of the manipulators is held in solitary confinement for safety reasons.

This is the man, who, after requesting asylum in Estonia, set fire to the mattresses in his own and the adjacent rooms to demonstrate his desperate situation and then rushed out to the corridor, presenting the affair to the media as a suicide attempt.

The explanation was ridiculous and the act could be classified as manipulation attempt, but the man's further reaction was scary. Upon hearing that the Estonian laws punish arson with “only” five-year imprisonment, he immediately asked, what should he do to receive a 25-year sentence. “This was a clear sign that he could pose threat to other inmates and he had to be isolated”, Lensment explains.

The problematic three are the longest-serving residents of the facility – two of them have been applying for asylum for the past year and a half. The third one is waiting for his documents to arrive from Russia to return home. To compare: the average time aliens spend in the Harku detention center is three and a half months.

According to the police there is little they can do about the long-timers. The problematic men are doing everything they can to delay the handling of the asylum applications and wait for the maximum detention term of 18 months to expire, since that means their release.

One of the men appealed against the refusal of asylum appeal up to the Supreme Court and handed in a new appeal even after the negative final ruling. If the new appeal contains any new information, the officials have to process it. 

One can easily find grounds for submitting a new appeal. “The asylum handling officials of some European countries have already compiled a database of such stories”, Lensment says. The applicants in Estonia usually claim that they have problems with the local authorities or the police in their native country. But that is not sufficient reason to grant protection.

The applicants, who posed with placards to journalists and cameramen during their demonstration in early December demand their release from the Harku center. They claim that asylum seekers elsewhere in Europe are not treated that way. But the ones in Harku are different. Out of 15 protestors only two are first-time applicants. The rest have appealed against refusal to grant asylum or have appealed repeatedly.

First-time applicants are generally held in the Harku facility until their personal data have been verified or escape risk has been eliminated, the police explain. “We are often lied about personal data and therefore the information has to be checked. This takes time,” Lensment says. The applicants, whose appeals have been rejected, are detained in the center so as to prevent them from leaving Estonia on their own.

Three inmates of the center appeal for international protection in Estonia for the third time.

Sudden change of mind

However, sometimes a “serial applicant” changes his mind and finally agrees to return to his native country voluntarily.

This is what happened to a migrant from Congo this year, who also attracted media attention due to a conflict in Harku.

Several attempts were lade to return the Congolese to his homeland. The escorting policemen were initially unsuspecting and took him to a regular flight without using special equipment. “The French colleagues were surprised at this attitude“, the head of the Harku center says. Since the Congolese was aggressive to everybody and attempted to bite other passengers, he had to be returned to Estonia.

The second attempt was prepared for more carefully: the refugee was muzzled and since he refused to walk, he had to be carried by several men and transported in the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport chained to a carriage.

But this attempt failed as well as the Air France captain refused to take off with the screaming passenger aboard and ordered the police officers and the man off the plane.

The case seemed almost hopeless, when the man suddenly requested to be returned home and peacefully flew to Congo together with escorts,

Manipulation is indeed frequent in the detention center, Lensment admits. “Every newcomer attempts to find out which methods work best to achieve their goals. If hunger strike is enough in Europe to be released, it does not work here. We have all the resources to monitor a person refusing to eat and if his health deteriorates, he will receive medical assistance. But all that is done by the medical staff of the center,” Lensment  explains.

The second method used to escape from the center is to feint insanity. Three of the main characters of this article have tried this; according to the medics, one of them needs anti-depression drugs, but no hospitalization. When one of them, who caused the December 4 disturbance, tore his clothes off and ran around screaming, he was placed in a closed room for observation. Although the man attempted to pretend a total withdrawal from reality, the lie did not last long.

“He was just lying on the cot in the cell and when he had to relieve himself, he did it deliberately, by stretching across the mattress,” Lensment recalls. Any insane person would have simply wet himself where he was.

The claim that the rioting man had been attacked with tear gas was described as another attempt at manipulation, The police argue that it did not happen. “The security cameras do not show any use of gas, The person himself claims that he cannot remember. The others, who confirmed their common statement about the use of gas with signatures, have refused to sign individual statements. The most objective source for us is the medical first air chart, which should inevitably show the irritation or eyes or respiratory organs in case of tear gas use, but the medics did not ascertain it,” the head of the center says.