In late 2019, Yuli Riswati, an Indonesian domestic worker who actively reported on the anti-extradition movement for the Indonesian community in Hong Kong, was detained in the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (CIC) for 28 days, and subsequently deported to Indonesia because, allegedly, she failed to renew her work visa upon expiration. Yuli once wept out the grievances and inhumane treatment she suffered during her detention in CIC. One example was when Yuli, a female Muslim, was required to strip and undergo medical examination by a male doctor. Yuli’s experience brought to light the alarming human rights conditions in CIC.
In an interview with the Stand News, former female detainees spoke about the appalling situation and the degrading treatment they received in CIC. They share the feeling that they would rather be in prison than staying in CIC. One said she was once injured when she was pinned to the ground, kneeled and strip searched by multiple female immigration officers. Another former detainee lost her replanted finger due to the lack of medication. Furious at the Immigration Department, these former female detainees vow to speak out and bring the truth to light. “These are all the truth. People must know the truth,” they said. On the other hand, lawmakers observed that the Immigration Department follows the practices of the Correctional Services in the treatment of detainees, and described CIC as “another black hole within the black hole”. In response to the Stand News’ enquiry, the Immigration Department stated that it follows all established procedures to ensure the fair treatment of detainees in terms of healthcare, hygiene and complaint mechanisms. The department denied reports of suicide in CIC since it took charge of its operation.
Ms. S: I was pinned to the floor and strip searched, completely naked
Forty-year-old Nepalese, Ms. S (pseudonym), came to Hong Kong in 2003 because of the civil war in Nepal. She was detained in CIC twice for overstaying: the first time for over four months in 2007, after she surrendered to the Immigration Department; the second time was in September 2019 – she was arrested while reporting to CIC to renew her recognizance paper, and detained for over three months even though she already had a non-refoulement claim. The reason for her detention in September 2019 remains unknown until today.
S said the treatment she received while being searched last year was grossly inappropriate. At that time, about seven or eight female immigration officers brought her to an underground washroom, and ordered her to remove all her clothing. They pinned S to the ground, face down, and kneeled on her. The officers also pushed her to the wall and the floor. Frustrated, S screamed and asked why she had to be arrested. The officers gave no response.
This violent strip search resulted in injuries to S’s back, waist and arms. A few days after she entered CIC, a number of immigration officers (both male and female) brought S to a clinic, where she was asked to remove all her clothes except her underpants for a male doctor and a female nurse to examine her injuries. Although the nurse closed the curtain, there was a three-inch gap that would enable the male officers outside to see S throughout the process. S felt violated and insulted.
S mentioned there was an Indonesian woman who had a few fingers amputated by a door in an accident and reattached through surgery before she was sent to CIC. However, while the CIC clinic lacked medicine, medication prescribed by doctors outside CIC was prohibited. Denied access to appropriate medical treatment, the Indonesian woman eventually lost her reattached fingers after a few weeks in CIC, despite many rounds of complaints.
There were also “unspoken rules” in CIC, S said. If any detainee dares to complain during visits by Justices of the Peace and lawmakers, the immigration officers in CIC would consider them “disobedient” and “troublesome”, and lock the individual up in isolation as punishment. S once raised her hand to enquire about the reasons for her detention when a superintendent of the Immigration Department visited CIC. As a result, S was locked up in isolation for many days. She recalled that the cell had no window or toilet. The blanket provided was full of mold and the smell of urine.
The Immigration Department must stop treating detainees like dogs
If it is a sin to raise questions in CIC, NN (pseudonym), a 40-year-old Indonesian woman, is certainly one of the “troublemakers” in the eyes of the CIC immigration officers. NN was once detained in CIC for three weeks in 2013. She recounted the enormous pressure when she was in CIC. During NN’s detention, there was a Vietnamese woman who wanted to ask an officer for a rubber band to tie up her hair, but was unable to communicate in Chinese or English. In response, the officer shouted at the Vietnamese woman “as if she was a dog”. NN explained to the officer that the Vietnamese woman “did not understand the language” and suggested that the officer “speak slowly”, while pleading with them to not take their emotions out on the detainees.
After the incident, the female officers took revenge on NN. They branded her as a “troublemaker” who controlled other detainees, commanded her to apologise in front of everyone, and confined her in isolation for two days. NN later learned that some detainees launched a hunger strike to demand her release. The officers asked her to write a letter to those detainees to confirm her well-being, but did not allow her to return to the same cell.
Like S and Yuli, NN also experienced the insult of having to strip off for examination by a male doctor in CIC. NN said she complained to the officers and requested to be examined in another room when she was asked by the male doctor to remove her clothes for examination. This was her first day in CIC, and her complaints and requests have only fallen on deaf ears. Naked, she was required to turn around three times. Worse still, the male doctor asked her to turn slowly the last time so he could see.
CIC also refused to attend to NN’s dietary needs. When NN requested to have rice and vegetables for meals because she was allergic to fish, which she had informed the doctor, the staff at CIC would only say she had to raise the matter to the doctor again. Prolonged for at least a week, NN’s dietary needs were still unaddressed, which led to allergy and itchiness all over her body. She then asked for lotion to soothe her itching skin, but was once again ignored. There was another detainee who had a headache and requested painkillers. The officers replied indifferently and said “you don’t have to see the doctor if there is nothing serious”. That detainee fainted eventually.
There were also times when NN had no spare clothing to change, even after wearing the same clothes for three consecutive days. She therefore had no choice but to wash her clothes at night, and use blankets to cover her body during daytime. She was also scolded when questioned by the CIC staff who saw her in a blanket, and always had to put on the clothes before they were dry. There was more suffering than she could recount.
Until now, NN is still furious whenever she thinks of the inhumane treatment in CIC. She said the CIC ought to have clearly written codes of conduct for their staff to follow, and added that there was no need to treat the detainees in such a demeaning manner. “CIC is not a prison. In fact, the stress in CIC is even worse than prison (where) they at least give you medicine when you are sick or have a headache.” NN demands that the Immigration Department stop treating CIC detainees like dogs, and stop shouting at them with the patronising attitude. “It was as if they were saying: you are begging Hong Kong to take you in, and you are poor so you’ve got to do whatever we say – this is the rule!”
Following the practices of the Correctional Services
CIC is “another black hole within the black hole”
CIC used to be the Victoria Prison’s detention centre, and started operating at its current location in 2015. It was temporarily managed by the Correctional Services Department in the first 5 years, before the Immigration Department took charge of its operation in April 2010. CIC mainly detains persons who are to be deported. Its detainees are either waiting for deportation or the issuance of a recognizance paper, but the length of waiting varies from days to years.
In May, lawmakers including Eddie Chu Hoi-dik, Shiu Ka-chun and Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung visited CIC. According to Chu’s observation, it was dirty inside, there was little space for activities, detainees had nearly no access to daylight or the world outside CIC, and the only activity they were allowed was to watch TV, while packed together in the so-called activity room throughout the day. During his visit, a female detainee told him, “it’s very miserable here, it’s so tough.”
Chu said it is inappropriate that CIC only has one male doctor on duty, which is a complete disregard for the rights of female detainees, especially those who are Muslim, causing them to feel violated. He questioned why these people have to be locked up in a place even worse than prison when they have not committed any crime. He added that the Immigration Department still follows the practices of the Correction Services in prison administration after it took charge of CIC. “The Immigration Department clearly went down the wrong path following the Correctional Services,” Chu commented. He further stated that if prison is a “black hole”, CIC would be “another black hole within the black hole” which is entirely separate from prison rules and system, and “would only lead to further problems.”
According to Mella, who often visits CIC detainees and their families, there are no clear rules in CIC. He stated that female immigration officers would give orders as if they were “a queen”, fiercely scold the detainees if they did not follow, and allow the detainees to eat only if they asked. Some detainees felt that CIC was “even worse than prison”. Some even stated they would rather return to prison, and asked “how come the Immigration Department has so much power, even more powerful than the Correctional Services Department?”
Another problem Father Mella pointed out was the indefinite length of detention in CIC. Some people were or have been detained in CIC for years. As previously reported on the Stand News, Vietnamese seaman and refugee Vo Van Hung, who was convicted of murder when he was still a teenager and sentenced to 29 years’ imprisonment, was immediately sent to CIC upon his release in 2016. Vo missed the opportunity to apply for the right of abode in Hong Kong during his imprisonment. When he walked out of prison, the Immigration Department intended to send him back to Vietnam and so he was immediately taken to CIC. Vo will have been detained in CIC for four years by August this year. (Read more here.)
Due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, a lot of people have been held in CIC’s custody for more than two months owing to the suspension of international flights. Mella questioned why the Immigration Department has not exercised its discretion to issue recognizance papers, which would allow them to go out, and reduce the risk of infection in CIC.
Shiu said he also heard from non-local inmates about their experience in CIC, when he was serving his sentence in Stanley Prison. Those who had been in CIC said they would rather stay in Stanley Prison than returning to CIC. Shiu also made nine recommendations to the Immigration Department for improvement of its treatment of CIC detainees. All suggestions, except one, have been refused. The only suggestion accepted by the department relates to the provision of drinking water in CIC. Shiu suspected this was only because himself, Chu and Cheung saw and complained during their visit that detainees had to use ladles to scoop water from a plastic bucket to drink.
Family members of detainees reveal suicide cases in CIC
Members of a concern group for CIC detainees’ right said they are all Yuli’s friends and they want to uncover the actual conditions in CIC to the public, which is their promise to Yuli even though she was already deported back to Indonesia. Apart from the appalling conditions in CIC, they highlighted that many detainees are suffering from mental health issues due to their lengthy detention. A few weeks ago, family members of a detainee revealed that a Pakistani man committed suicide in CIC using a pair of trousers, after over eight months of detention. S also said she knew someone committed suicide in CIC, but the Immigration Department never disclosed any information. The Concern Group said they have spoken with dozens of former detainees and family members, and noticed that most CIC detainees before 2010 had no major issue with the conditions in the facility. All human rights violations mentioned by S and NN came about after the Immigration Department took over the management of CIC in 2010.
Cheung said the CIC operates like a “black box”. Indefinite detention is a kind of torture, which must be monitored by sufficient checks and balances, or else people within the system can easily abuse their “absolute power”, which is horrific, he said. With regard to the suspected suicide cases, Cheung said there ought to be transparency as there are no security-related considerations.
The concern group has four demands, including:
1) The Immigration Department must release the latest data regarding persons being held in custody and the lengths of detention in CIC;
2) Foster the ombudsman’s authority and independence;
3) Re-evaluate the current complaint mechanism in CIC and set up independent complaint channels for detainees to raise complaints without fear of retribution;
4) The Immigration Department must explain how its internal investigation team follows up on complaints, and how they would ensure that complainants are not to face any form of retaliation, including solitary confinement.
S said she had to speak out even though she might face “retaliation” from the department, lose her recognizance paper or be detained again in CIC – this is because she is very angry with the department. When S was in CIC, she once told the staff that she would by all means reveal to the public – when she had a chance to leave – the appalling violations committed by the staff in CIC. She told the staff: “I don’t care even if you kill me”. On the other hand, NN said she had to speak out because the truth must come to light. “These are all the truth, the people must know the truth,” NN said.
Immigration Department denies reports of suicide in CIC under its management
Responding to the Stand News’ enquiry, the Immigration Department stated that CIC operates in accordance with the Immigration (Treatment of Detainees) Order (Cap. 115E) (the “Order”). The department also said all measures and facilities in CIC are in strict compliance with the established rules and procedures, which ensures that detainees receive fair and appropriate treatment in all aspects of their detention in CIC, including medical examination, sports, hygiene, channels of complaints, visits by Justices of the Peace and communication with legal advisers, etc.
The department also stated that there have been no suicide cases in CIC under its management since April 2010, but it has no statistics with regard to other matters concerning the detainees in CIC. In 2019, the average number of detainees in CIC was 385. The number in 2020, until May, is 390. The department had told Stand News previously that CIC had a total of 404 detainees by the end of March 2020.
The department added that CIC gives due regard to the health of its detainees. On admission to CIC, detainees are arranged to receive medical examination by the doctor on duty, accompanied by another medical staff of the same gender as the detainee throughout the process. Also, if a detainee is unwell, for example, due to food allergy, the doctor would provide him/her with appropriate medical service. Where necessary, the doctor may request that CIC adjust the meals to accommodate the detainee’s dietary restrictions, or refer the detainee to a public hospital for medical attention. The doctor also assesses the suitability of the prescribed course of medication and the medical examination results, etc.
If a detainee is considered to have violated any rules in CIC, according to the department, CIC would conduct an inquiry and afford the detainee an opportunity to defend. If it is necessary for maintaining good order in the centre, the Superintendent may order that the detainee be separately confined for a period of no longer than 7 days. To ensure the safety of other detainees, officers in CIC may also arrange for individual detainees to be detained separately based on the psychological assessment conducted by the doctor on duty.
The department further stated that all detainees are informed of the available channels of complaints by notices displayed in CIC. If any detainee is not satisfied with the arrangements, he/she may file a complaint through the available channels, which the department will handle fairly and solemnly.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all detainees who arrived in Hong Kong from the mainland or other countries within 14 days before their admission to CIC are required to undergo medical surveillance in isolation. The centre is also arranging for all newly admitted detainees to undergo testing for COVID-19 by collecting their deep throat saliva samples. At the moment, the centre provides all detainees with masks and conducts temperature checks on a daily basis. If any detainee is found to have fever or presents other symptoms, the centre will immediately arrange for testing and, if necessary, refer the individual to a public hospital. The department also said the centre regularly sanitises all its facilities, including the daytime activity room, dormitories, toilets, bathrooms and offices. All non-essential visits have been suspended to reduce social contact.
The department previously indicated to the Stand News that it did not have statistics as to the average and longest detention period in CIC. It regularly reviews each case to decide whether continued detention is appropriate based on the relevant legal principles and detention policies. By written notice, it also informs the relevant individual of the outcome of its review and the reasons, the department said.
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