The picture was drawn by the nine-year-old girl in detention, and the words are those of her parents.
Hafizeh and Modjahed are husband and wife and, Setareh is their nine-year-old daughter. They are fleeing from persecution in their country of origin and are terrified of being returned to it. This is why, at the time of their apprehension, they told the police they were from Afghanistan. At the time of their registration by the State Agency for Refugees they declared their true Iranian nationality.
– In Iran we had many comforts—houses, cars… But because of the situation and our problem we had to run and prepare to live as we are living now, and take responsibility for it. We left a very comfortable life behind, but our safety is more important.
They were detailed and taken to the Busmantsi Centre on 11 January 2016 and released on 18 February 2016, having spent 38 days in detention.
The orders for their return to Afghanistan and immigration detention were issued by the Head of the Bregovo Border Police Department. The orders are signed by an interpreter from English, which the family has inadequate knowledge of. No one asked them whether they sought international protection nor gave them a chance to make a statement to that effect at the time of their detention.
– There was no interpreter present when we were detained.
– They didn’t ask us such questions (whether we are refugees). They only asked where we were from.
The family didn’t appeal the orders on their detention. They didn’t know they had the right to do so.
– No one told us we could appeal.
Following their detention, they were accommodated in the family compartment of the Second Unit of the Busmantsi Centre. According to their account, there were 20 beds in the room and 22-23 persons sharing the same space, out of whom 2-3 were children, including unaccompanied ones. They were only allowed to go out into the corridor and use the toilet. During their entire stay at Busmantsi, they were only allowed to go out in the yard on 3 occasions for 1 hours.
– The first 10 days we had no idea there was a yard. During the 38 days we spent there we only went out 3 times. For 1 hour each time.
The parents tell us what a typical day at the Busmantsi Detention Centre is like: they have a total of about one hour and a half to eat, the rest is just waiting and not knowing. There is absolutely nothing for the child to do. Setareh likes drawing and uses the information booklets the lawyer under the HEAR Project gave them. During the lawyer visits she gets white sheets of paper and a pen and can draw in relative calm.
– Can we not leave this place faster because of the child? She keeps telling me she wants us to go.
Hafizeh and Modjahed explain to Setareh that they were detained because they entered the country illegally.
– We explain that they are now investigating, so that they know we are not bad people. We try to keep her busy all the time to stop the questions. Every day we have to reassure her that we’ll be leaving any time soon — today or tomorrow at the latest.
The child is in tears all the time, saying that she doesn’t like it here.
When meeting with the HEAR Project lawyer, the most common complaint is “It is very dirty here”.
‘There are woodworms, roaches and lice. The blankets stink—we only use them to cover our feet’.
‘We all got sick. The doctor gave us antibiotic.’
‘There is hot water for only 2 hours a day. We are eighty people sharing 2 bathrooms.’
‘The bathroom has no door, so my husband has to stand in the doorway with a blanket when I take a shower’.
‘We do the washing at the sink. There are no wash basins. We buy the soap ourselves.’
Hafizeh, Mojahed and Setareh were released and turned over to the State Agency for Refugees on 18 February 2016. It was then that they saw that their asylum seeker registration cards had been issued on 10 February 2016. Despite this, they were kept in detention at Busmantsi for a further week.
The decision to impose the most restrictive measure, immigration detention, was taken without consideration of the possibility of less restrictive alternatives. Likewise, the best interest of the child was not taken into consideration. The administrative body did not take into account the fact that the family was seeking protection on the grounds of religious persecution (they were Christians). No hearing was conducted.
The lack of clarity and information was the most draining aspect of the parents’ immigration detention.
The case is also telling of the conditions in which a nine-year old child has been detained for 38 days. Hygiene is poor—the blankets are soiled and there are no conditions for doing laundry. Hot water supply is inadequate. In 38 days the child and her parents were only allowed fresh air on three occasions for an hour. There are no activities arrangements for children. These conditions were highly unsuitable for the physical and mental health of the nine-year old Setareh.
The lack of mutual trust between immigrants and the authorities also stands out. During my first meeting with them, the family did not trust anyone. They had misstated their citizenship out of fear of being forced to return to Iran. At each meeting, I indirectly entered a discussion with the family’s smuggler and the advice he was giving them. I had to put in a significant effort to convince them that there was no reason to hide their true nationality from the State Agency for Refugees. After leaving the Busmantsi Detention Centre, the family did not travel on to Western Europe but settled in Bulgaria.
Snippets from our conversations with the parents:
– I would like to ask this of Bulgaria’s President: How is it possible for an adult police officer to treat the child so badly?! If he wants a war, let him find himself a war to fight in, why fight with the kid? We left Iran because we were in danger.
– What did the child do?
– She wanted to take food to the room, because she gets hungry in the evening, but they wouldn’t let us. We can only buy biscuits and milk from the market. It doesn’t sell any fruit.
– Christianity teaches us that love is all important, but we didn’t see any love in them. Only one lady and a gentleman were kind. All others were really mean.
– We wouldn’t call Busmantsi a ‘home’. Whoever thinks it’s a home should go and spend just one night there. There are woodworms, roaches and lice everywhere. Blankets that have never been washed and stink.
It was really hard, particularly not knowing what to expect. It’s not a place for children and there was absolutely nothing for the child to do.
 The official name of the detention centre is “Special Home for the Temporary Accommodation of Foreign Nationals”.