Case Studies

Gamal: Asylum seeker abused in detention


Upon his arrival at Amsterdam Schiphol airport as an asylum seeker, Gamal* was told he was going to be taken somewhere with a bed and food. He wasn’t told it was a detention centre.

He was taken to the detention centre at Schiphol, where he was asked to strip naked, prior to being given his clothes back. He was not informed about the house rules or his rights by the detention staff, including his right to file complaints. He only found out by asking other detainees.

While in detention, Gamal was punched by one of the guards. Fortunately, the incident was witnessed by another detainee, who was able to raise the alarm. They were separated by other prison guards. As a result, Gamal was confined to his cell for one day by the prison director, who simply didn’t believe him, nor his claim that he was being ‘treated as a dog’ by the guard.

The director told Gamal that she would apologise only if the camera footage showed he did not try to block his cell door, which was apparently enough to cause the guard to retaliate. The director did not want to take any statements from witnesses. Gamal filed a complaint, but it was rejected because there wasn’t any video evidence.

This incident was part of a pattern of behaviour experienced by Gamal. On another occasion, he was threatened by a prison guard in the corridors. He went to the border police to complain about this. On this occasion, the police referred the complaint to the public prosecutor.

Unfortunately, the camera footage was not sufficient to prove the words said to the victim by the guard.

This case illustrates once again the problems surrounding evidence and the power imbalance that exists between detainees and staff in migration detention contexts. Gamal only found about his rights out by chance, without which he might not even have known how to make complaints about his treatment.

*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality