STA, 6 August 2019 - A civil initiative providing advocacy for asylum seekers has warned about allegedly unbearable conditions at Ljubljana's Vič Asylum Centre, accusing some security guards of intimidation and even involvement in organised smuggling of asylum seekers. Security firm Varovanje Galekom denies all the accusations.
The Fight for Freedom/La Lutte de la Liberte group gave a news conference on Tuesday in front of the asylum centre, located in the south-west in Cesta v Gorice Street, after a recent fight between asylum seekers and security guards which involved a knife.
The initiative suspects some of the Galekom security guards are involved in organised smuggling of asylum seekers.
The Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants, responding to the news conference, said an asylum seeker had notified it of the alleged smuggling last month, which was then reported to the police.
The Ljubljana Police Department confirmed for the STA several persons were being investigated, but provided no details as the investigation is in the preliminary stage.
According to the civil initiative, the asylum seeker who had reported the suspicion of human smuggling was intimidated by some other security guards, who also denied him medication.
The foreigner's medical conditions eventually worsened, as a result of which he was involved in three fights, including the most massive one on 25 July, which also involved the police, the initiative said.
The police detained two foreigners involved in the incident. One of them was sent to the Centre for Foreigners in Postojna, south-west, which he cannot leave, so he started a hunger strike.
The initiative believes the asylum seeker was moved to Postojna because he had complained about the smuggling of people, and was deprived of freedom for what he had seen.
This was denied by Katarina Štrukelj, the acting head of the government office. She said the two things were not related, explaining the asylum seeker was moved to Postojna because of inappropriate conduct and violent behaviour.
She said the 25 July incident took place after the foreigner came to the reception desk complaining he could not sleep, and lied on the floor with a knife wrapped in a towel.
When the security guards tried to take his knife, he got violent, so the police were called in, and did its job, Štrukelj said in a press release.
She said the cooperation between the asylum centre and the security firm was good, adding three security guards deemed unfit for the job had been replaced.
Galekom confirmed this, saying some security guards were evaluated as acting outside the set rules already in June, so the security firm took action against them.
It strongly rejected the allegation its staff acted brutally, explaining they had certain measures at disposal but resorted to them only when really necessary.
This was also the case with pepper spray in the 25 July incident, Galekom said, adding its staff "acted professionally with a focus on understanding and humanity".
It said the firm and security guard heads at the asylum centre's facilities took great care in carrying out their duties to avoid any abuse of security measures.
"No security guard yells at people at the asylum centre, abuses them or treats them inappropriately."
Galekom added asylum seekers were aware no sharp objects were allowed on the premises, so it intends to file a criminal report against the asylum seeker.
Štrukelj also said some asylum seekers suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, so events such as these did happen, "but not very often at the annual level".
Meanwhile, Jošt Žagar of the civil initiative said the asylum seekers with whom they were in touch could not appear at today's press conference.
"The boys ... are not allowed to leave the asylum centre today. Something is apparently being covered up."
Reading their statement in Arabic, English and Slovenian, members of the initiative also said asylum seekers were accommodated in small, cramped rooms, get only the most basic medical services and have practically no access to public transportation. They also criticised lengthy procedures to get asylum or a work permit granted.
But apart from the criticism, the initiative also stressed not all security guards were violent.
It praised some for "doing their job in a very humane manner", and lauded the situation at the asylum centre's department for families.
The latest data from the office for migrants shows there were 313 asylum seekers in Slovenia yesterday, of whom the most at the asylum centre in Cesta v Gorice Street.
While this facility can accommodate 203 persons, there were 167 there on 5 August.