The Korea Herald

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Foreign detainees need more freedom: Human rights commission

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : Sept. 13, 2023 - 14:30

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National Human Rights Commission of Korea National Human Rights Commission of Korea

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea has issued a recommendation that detention centers for foreign nationals should improve and increase provisions for detainees, including computer and internet access, the time allowed for exercise outdoors and the ability to bring in food from outside.

In a recommendation issued Wednesday to an unspecified detention center for foreign nationals, the commission said there is an urgent need to improve provisions in these areas to guarantee foreign nationals' basic human rights according to international standards.

Detention centers for foreign nationals, also called immigration processing centers, are facilities where the South Korean government temporarily detains people of foreign nationality subject to deportation.

The center in question currently allows detainees to use the internet once a week for a total of 30 minutes, but even that access is cut when demand is high, due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in the enclosed detention facility, the center said.

“The time available to use the internet should be extended to guarantee detainees’ rights to interact with the outside world as set out in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules: Protecting the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty),” the NHRCK said.

Detainees are currently not allowed to bring food into the center either, or have it sent to them or brought to them by visitors. The center said this was because when it allowed food to be brought in, some attempted to smuggle in other "hazardous" items, such as cigarettes. It also claimed there was a risk of food poisoning.

But the national human rights watchdog said that completely restricting the ability of detainees to receive food from outside violates their right to the general freedom of action guaranteed in the Constitution. Accordingly, it recommended a significant reduction in the types of food that are prohibited.

Detainees are currently allowed only 30 minutes of outdoor exercise per day, according to the detention center.

The NHRCK called for the center to guarantee at least one hour of outdoor exercise every day, citing rule 23 of the UN's Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

According to the UN rules, every prisoner not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air each day, weather permitting.

The national human rights commission recommendation, although not legally binding, was made in response to a complaint lodged by 21 detainees at the center.

It urged the center to make the improvements in order to protect foreign detainees' basic dignity and value as human beings, as well as their rights to health and the pursuit of happiness.