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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 20:29 GMT
Ukraine: Grim gateway to new Europe
Conditions are grim in this former army barracks
As members of the European Union discuss enlarging the EU in Copenhagen, BBC correspondent Tristana Moore has been to Ukraine - soon Europe's front door. Reporting for BBC Two's Newsnight, she went to a Ukrainian detention centre for illegal immigrants - and saw conditions far different from those in Western Europe.


Omar would not give me his real name. He was too scared. Omar is from Baghdad.

He worked as an electrical engineer in Iraq and said he knew sensitive information about Saddam Hussein's regime.

This is a jail. I've been here for three months, and they still haven't processed my application for asylum

Asylum seeker Omar

"They'll kill me if I go back," he said. "I had to leave my family behind, but I hope one day that they'll be able to join me. I just want to be happy."

Omar fled Iraq after receiving death threats from the authorities.

His dream was to seek asylum in Britain and he paid a smuggling ring to get him out of Iraq. He ended up in Ukraine, in the detention centre of Pavshino.

I travelled to Pavshino, in a remote corner of Ukraine, close to the Carpathian mountains. It is here that Ukraine borders Slovakia, Romania and Hungary.

camp guard
The authorities are struggling to cope with the numbers

Every year, hundreds of illegal immigrants risk their lives as they try to cross the Ukrainian border, heading for Western Europe.

After overcoming protracted bureaucratic hurdles with the Ukrainian authorities, a BBC camera crew was granted permission to enter Pavshino, home to more than 100 detainees.

"This is a jail. I've been here for three months, and they still haven't processed my application for asylum," Omar said.

"We get two meals a day here, five spoonfuls each of soup, a slice of bread, and that's it. The guards give their dogs more food than they give us."

Still fearful of repercussions, Omar refused to be filmed.

Miserable conditions

The Ukrainian Government describes Pavshino as a "temporary detention centre" for illegal immigrants.

But we found many people like Omar, who had applied for asylum, and were still being held in the camp.

The conditions inside Pavshino are miserable.

Originally an old Soviet army barracks, the camp is surrounded by barbed wire and a high concrete wall.

The detainees sleep 10 to a room, many lying on mattresses on the floor.

Most of the detainees are wearing the same clothes they had when they were caught on the border.

There is no heating.

As the harsh winter sets in, with temperatures dropping to -10C at night, the cold weather is beginning to take its toll.

No resources

Main Isse, who is from Somalia, said he was kept in a room for 16 days along with five other detainees as there was a suspected case of tuberculosis in the camp.

"We were only allowed out once a day to go to the lavatory. Now we've been given the all-clear, it's still terrible living here. They're trying to kill us."

There are so many illegal immigrants crossing over into Ukraine now, and the government has no effective strategy in place

Guy Ouellet
UNHCR in Kiev

We were told by the Ukrainian border guards who run Pavshino that they have only two grynias - about 0.40 euros - a day to feed each detainee.

The border guards admit they do not have sufficient resources to deal with the increasing numbers of illegal immigrants who end up in Ukraine.

Aid organisations operating in Ukraine say no process exists to deal with illegal immigrants.

And that is partly because the Ukrainian Government has delegated the job to three separate bodies - the ministry of interior, the state committee for nationalities and migrants, and the border guards.

"The Ukrainian authorities are overwhelmed. They're struggling to cope," said Guy Ouellet, from the United Nations refugee agency in Kiev.

"There are so many illegal immigrants crossing over into Ukraine now, and the government has no effective strategy in place.

Oskar Mire
Oskar Mire: Uncertain future

"We're concerned that at detention centres like Pavshino, genuine asylum seekers are mixed up with economic migrants.

"Once anyone has applied for asylum status, they should be held in open accommodation. And that's not happening."

Under a new refugee law in Ukraine, a person who is an illegal immigrant must apply for asylum within three days, and if you are classified as a legal migrant, that deadline is extended to five days.

With such restrictive conditions, many people do not often have enough time to apply for asylum.

And even if you do submit your application, it can take months to process it.

Since the start of this year, not one person has been granted refugee status in Ukraine.

Back in Pavshino, 22 year-old Oskar Mire approaches me, asking for help. He is angry.

"I've applied for asylum and I haven't heard anything from the Ukrainian authorities."

Oskar is from Somalia and says he was a human rights worker and journalist in Mogadishu.

"I had to leave the country. I had no other choice. But all I have here is uncertainty. What will happen to me? Only God knows," he said.

See also:

24 May 99 | Europe
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