PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech authorities have improved conditions at a detention center for refugees after criticism by human rights advocates at home and abroad, the Czech public rights defender said on Tuesday.
The Czech Republic has avoided large-scale migration through their territory as most of the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing poverty and war in the Middle East via the Balkans to Germany take an easier route through neighboring Austria.
Those crossing its territory have been held for weeks at detention centers under tough conditions.
The authorities have opened new centers to ease overcrowding and improved conditions at the most criticized Bela-Jezova facility north of Prague, public rights defender Anna Sabatovashe said.
Most of the hundreds of people held there have been released or returned to the countries from which they entered the country.
“I have indirect information that many things improved. There are around 70 people there now, perhaps even less, which also makes the situation better,” Sabatova told the human rights subcommittee of the lower house of Czech parliament.
Detention of children at Bela was still an issue, especially the fact that they are kept behind a fence topped by razor wire and watched by armed guards.
U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein accused the Czech Republic in October of committing systematic human rights violations by detaining refugees for up to 90 days and strip-searching them for money to pay for their own detention.
Sabatova said last month that the conditions some refugees were kept in, with poor sanitary conditions and limited access to medical or legal assistance, were worse than in prisons.
Nearly 700 people were detained at Bela, including about 150 children, during her inspection in late August.
Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec has said that authorities followed the law, which mandated the withholding of telephones and money and demanding about $10 per day payments for bed and board.
Last Thursday, during a trip to the Bela-Jezova camp organized by the Interior Ministry, Afghan refugee Muhammad Shah Nazari, 23, told reporters that the treatment of detainees had changed for the better.
“Since the UN (found out) we were here like prisoners, the (authorities) have brought some differences, their behavior became good,” he said.
The Czechs voted in September by a small minority against quotas to distribute asylum seekers across the European Union, putting them on collision course with other EU countries.
The Czech detentions apply to the vast majority of migrants who do not claim asylum in the country. A total of 7,201 have been detected in the first nine months of this year. Many continue their journey to Germany upon release.
Editing by Angus MacSwan