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The Secretive Prisons That Keep Migrants Out of Europe

At 3 a.m. on February 5, 2021, Aliou Candé, a sturdy, shy twenty-eight-year-old migrant from Guinea-Bissau, arrived at the prison. He had left home a year and a half earlier, because his family’s farm was failing, and had set out to join two brothers in Europe. But, as he attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea on a rubber dinghy, with more than a hundred other migrants, the Libyan Coast Guard intercepted them and took them to Al Mabani. They were pushed inside Cell No. 4, where some two hundred others were being held. There was hardly anywhere to sit in the crush of bodies, and those on the floor slid over to avoid being trampled. Overhead were fluorescent lights that stayed on all night. A small grille in the door, about a foot wide, was the only source of natural light. Birds nested in the rafters, their feathers and droppings falling from above. On the walls, migrants had scrawled notes of determination: “A soldier never retreats,” and “With our eyes closed, we advance.” Candé crowded into a far corner and began to panic. “What should we do?” he asked a cellmate.

No one in the world beyond Al Mabani’s walls knew that Candé had been captured. He hadn’t been charged with a crime or allowed to speak to a lawyer, and he was given no indication of how long he’d be detained. In his first days there, he kept mostly to himself, submitting to the grim routines of the place. The prison is controlled by a militia that euphemistically calls itself the Public Security Agency, and its gunmen patrolled the hallways. About fifteen hundred migrants were held there, in eight cells, segregated by gender. There was only one toilet for every hundred people, and Candé often had to urinate in a water bottle or defecate in the shower. Migrants slept on thin floor pads; there weren’t enough to go around, so people took turns—one lay down during the day, the other at night. Detainees fought over who got to sleep in the shower, which had better ventilation. Twice a day, they were marched, single file, into the courtyard, where they were forbidden to look up at the sky or talk. Guards, like zookeepers, put communal bowls of food on the ground, and migrants gathered in circles to eat.

The guards struck prisoners who disobeyed orders with whatever was handy: a shovel, a hose, a cable, a tree branch. “They would beat anyone for no reason at all,” Tokam Martin Luther, an older Cameroonian man who slept on a mat next to Candé’s, told me. Detainees speculated that, when someone died, the body was dumped behind one of the compound’s outer walls, near a pile of brick and plaster rubble. The guards offered migrants their freedom for a fee of twenty-five hundred Libyan dinars—about five hundred dollars. During meals, the guards walked around with cell phones, allowing detainees to call relatives who could pay. But Candé’s family couldn’t afford such a ransom. Luther told me, “If you don’t have anybody to call, you just sit down.”

In the past six years, the European Union, weary of the financial and political costs of receiving migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, has created a shadow immigration system that stops them before they reach Europe. It has equipped and trained the Libyan Coast Guard, a quasi-military organization linked to militias in the country, to patrol the Mediterranean, sabotaging humanitarian rescue operations and capturing migrants. The migrants are then detained indefinitely in a network of profit-making prisons run by the militias. In September of this year, around six thousand migrants were being held, many of them in Al Mabani. International aid agencies have documented an array of abuses: detainees tortured with electric shocks, children raped by guards, families extorted for ransom, men and women sold into forced labor. “The E.U. did something they carefully considered and planned for many years,” Salah Marghani, Libya’s Minister of Justice from 2012 to 2014, told me. “Create a hellhole in Libya, with the idea of deterring people from heading to Europe.”

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ICE Shut Down One Gruesome Detention Center—Then Transferred Immigrants to Another

*Content warning: suicide, sexual abuse

On May 20, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced its plan to sever the contract between U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, or ICE, and the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia. This came after years of documented human rights abuses at Irwin and calls for its closure.

Private prison companies like CoreCivic contract with the federal government to cage more than 70 percent of detained immigrants.

“I have peace to know that another mother is not going to go through the same nightmare I went through,” said Wendy Dowe, a survivor of these abuses. Lourdes, a fellow survivor whose last name is omitted for safety reasons, echoed this feeling: “I am grateful that we were seen and heard and that the government acted. They heard us—that we are not just immigrants but human beings.”

Unfortunately, even before DHS’s announcement, ICE had already been transferring individuals from Irwin to the Stewart Detention Center, a deadly privately owned prison located about 100 miles away, in Lumpkin, Georgia.

The Stewart Detention Center, operated by private prison company CoreCivic, remains one of the largest and deadliest detention centers in the country. Eight men have died there in the last four years alone. And now, ICE has begun using Stewart to detain immigrant women.

It was women who suffered the most horrific abuses at the Irwin County Detention Center, including invasive gynecological procedures without consent. Since its inception, Stewart has repeatedly violated the human rights of those incarcerated there.

In May 2020, Santiago Baten-Oxlaj, a thirty-four-year-old immigrant from Guatemala, died from COVID-19 after being transferred from Stewart. It was Georgia’s first immigrant death in ICE custody due to COVID-19, and the second death nationally. His death, like so many others, could have been prevented.

Two months earlier, advocates and doctors in Georgia warned ICE that immigrant detention centers were not equipped to handle a COVID-19 outbreak, and urged them to release detained immigrants immediately. 

As documented in the nonprofit group El Refugio’s recent report, “Cage of Fear,” ICE continued to detain immigrants in crowded prisons where medical neglect, lack of personal protective equipment, absence of social distancing, and unsanitary conditions remained rampant. In March 2020, more than 3,000 medical professionals and advocates urged ICE to release detained immigrants  from custody, but the agency failed to do so.

Tragically, since Santiago’s passing, three more men have died in ICE custody at Stewart due to COVID-19 complications. The responsibility for the deaths of Felipe Montes, fifty-seven years old; Cipriano Chavez-Alvarez, sixty-one years old; and Jose Guillen-Vega, seventy years old, lies in the hands of ICE.


For the last decade, advocates have raised red flags about human rights abuses occurring inside Stewart. Among them: a lack of medical care and mental health care, forced labor, arbitrary use of solitary confinement, unsanitary conditions, and the use of force against the detained population. 

In a 2019 letter to Georgia Congressional delegates, Project South described the ongoing abuses, including the uptick of deaths by suicide related to aggressive use of solitary confinement. It noted that two men with a known history of mental illess, Jeancarlo Jiménez-Joseph and Efrain Romero De La Rosa, died by suicide after being put in solitary confinemen.

In 2017, Jiménez-Joseph told medical professionals at Stewart that he felt suicidal and needed a higher dosage of his medication. While his teleconference appointment to see a psychiatrist was delayed by several months, he told a nurse at Stewart that he was hearing voices directing him to kill himself. Several days later, he jumped nine feet off of a two-tier ledge, for which he was punished by being sentenced to twenty days in solitary confinement. On the nineteenth day, Jiménez-Joseph was found hanging by his bedsheets from the sprinkler head.

Earlier that same day, officials at Stewart denied Jiménez-Joseph a visit from El Refugio, which was concerned about Jiménez-Joseph’s health after speaking to his mother.

In 2019, ICE buried Pedro Arriago-Santoya, a forty-four-year-old immigrant who died in its custody at Stewart. He was placed in an unmarked grave in Atlanta after ICE failed to find his next of kin. Last February, immigrant rights groups and community members came together to give him a dignified memorial service.


Private prison companies like CoreCivic contract with the federal government to cage more than 70 percent of detained immigrants. In fiscal year 2019, according to the Detention Watch Network, the U.S. government detained more than 500,000 in a vast network of more than 200 jails across the country.

As for CoreCivic, a fourth of its contracts are with ICE, despite the for-profit company’s appalling track record of abuses. According to the group Grassroots Leadership, state audits have documented “staff mismanagement, widespread violence, delays in medical treatment and unacceptable living conditions including a lack of access to toilet facilities, with prisoners forced to defecate in plastic containers and bags.” 

There have also been several reports of sexual abuse in CoreCivic prisons. A 2015 lawsuit accused a former “escort officer and resident supervisor” of sexually assaulting at least eight immigrant women at T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Texas.

Tragic deaths have also happened. In 2004, four guards were indicted for beating incarcerated woman, Estelle Richardson, to death. Her autopsy report found that she had “four broken ribs, a cracked skull, and internal organ injuries,” indicating she had been slammed on a hard surface. 

In 2013, Autumn Miller sued CoreCivic, allegeding that she was denied medical care when she went into labor at one of the company’s state jails in Dallas, Texas. She ultimately gave birth prematurely to baby Gracie in a toilet in her cell. Gracie died four days later.

These gruesome violations should come as no surprise when looking at CoreCivic’s founder, T. Don Hutto, and his career in corrections. In 1967, Hutto became warden of Ramsey plantation in Texas, where he used prison labor to pick cotton. In 1972, as commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, he began a “prison rodeo,” where people paid money to watch incarcerated individuals in uniform ride horses and chase pigs—sometimes resulting in injuries. 

Hutto also continued prison labor in plantations in Arkansas. At a federal hearing, individuals who were incarcerated—or rather, enslaved—at these plantations testified to being “punished by being cuffed behind their backs, put on the hood of a truck, and driven at high speeds through the plantation, sometimes causing them to fall off.” Others said they were “beaten with blackjacks, stripped, and left naked in an unlit ‘quiet cell’ for twenty-eight days for refusing to labor in the fields.”

To this day, forced labor continues to be an issue at CoreCivic prisons like Stewart, where there is an ongoing lawsuit for forcing immigrants to work for as little as $1 a day and punishing them if they refuse.

There is no way to reform institutions like CoreCivic or ICE. Stewart must be shut down, ICE must be abolished, and the Biden Administration must immediately discontinue all contracts with private prisons.

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Illegal wildlife trade in Australia – Criminal Law

If you’ve ever watched an episode of Border
Security,
you’ll surely recall the whacky wildlife
travellers have attempted to casually smuggle across national
borders.

From rare types of fish to baby turtles, smugglers are
relentless in their trafficking endeavours, leaving border security
officers startled, but certainly not surprised.

One such case that captured media outlets this year was an
incident at Vienna airport which saw dozens of protected chameleons
discovered inside a suitcase.

And while the offender thought he may get away with the act
given the creatures are known for their camouflaging competence, he
was indeed unable to outsmart the x-ray machine.

The finding took place in January 2021 and the smuggler a
56-year-old man, who was not identified by police.

As the man went to leave the baggage area, officials swiftly
intercepted, believing there to be living animals inside his
suitcase.

Indeed, some 74 chameleons were found within the suitcase,
hidden in socks and boxes.

“It quickly emerged that the suitcase contained living
creatures which, while they would have been well camouflaged in a
natural environment, ultimately did not outwit the X-ray
machine,” authorities said in a statement.

The man was arrested and faced fines of up to 6,000 euros,
according to the Austria’s Finance Ministry.

The Ministry also advised that the protected chameleons had been
intended for sale in the neighbouring Czech Republic, while on the
black market, the creatures would have sold for about 37,000 euros
– almost $60,000 in Australian currency.

Meanwhile, the chameleons were “immediately
transported” to the Austrian capital’s Schönbrunn
Zoo, which said that two of the creatures had already died on the
way to Vienna.

The rest were nursed back to recovery in proper terrariums where
environmental conditions were provided to meet their needs.

“The reptiles are now housed in terraria which fulfil their
specific needs, including high levels of ground moisture and an
airy and cool environment,” authorities said.

It is understood the chameleons were from the Usambara Mountains
in Tanzania – where the offender had travelled from – and ranged in
age from one week old to adults.

Austrian Finance Minister, Gernot Blümel, addressed the
matter and said the work carried out by customs was crucial to both
impeding traffickers and the welfare of the animals.

“The vital work undertaken by customs also regularly
assists in ending the suffering of animals and putting a stop to
unscrupulous wildlife traffickers,” Austrian Finance Minister Blümel
said.

“Customs Administration not only ensures the protection of
Austrian businesses and consumers, but it makes an indispensable
contribution to animal welfare and the preservation of endangered
species too.”

Chameleons are an extremely unique branch of the lizard group of
reptiles and vary across 160 species.

They live in warm habitats, varying from to deserts, and while
almost half of the world’s chameleon species are native to
Madagascar, they are also found in Africa, southern Europe and Sri
Lanka.

Chameleons are able to change the colour of their skin due to
special colour pigment cells under their skin called
chromatophores.

This allows them to create combined patterns of pink, blue, red,
orange, green, black, brown, yellow and purple.

While chameleons change colour to camouflage, this is not
necessarily the main reason why they do this.

Some will show darker colours to reflect when they are angry or
trying to scare other creatures.

ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRADE IN
AUSTRALIA

When it comes to wildlife trade, Australia has strict laws in
place.

Of significance is section 303EK of the Environment Protection
and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth)
,
which prohibits a person from importing a specimen if the specimen
is a regulated live specimen.

Any breach of this law will attract a maximum penalty of up to
10 years in jail and/or a fine of $210,000. Exemptions to this are
outlined in Part 2 of the list in section 303EB, or when the
specimen’s been imported ion compliance with a permit that has
been issued under section 303GD.

A “regulated live specimen” refers to a live animal or
plant that does not appear within the list reflected in section 303EB of the same act.

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