Internment, or administrative detention, is an exceptional measure that allows national authorities to deprive people of their freedom who have not committed any crime, but are nevertheless seen as posing a threat to state security or public order.
“Starting in September 2011, when my mission in Liberia began, I visited the internees 10 times to monitor their treatment and support the authorities in providing decent living conditions,” explains Agnès Coutou, an ICRC delegate. “The internees were allowed out into the open air all day, which made being deprived of their freedom more bearable.”
During their visits, delegates talked to the internees in private. This is essential if the delegate is to make a reliable assessment of detention conditions. These interviews also allow people to talk about their personal problems, and they can bring a degree of comfort and relief.
"One of the internees lost his wife while he was in the camp,” recalls Agnès. “He became deeply depressed, and stopped eating. The ICRC health delegate, Dr Michael Pastoors, was very worried, as the man’s condition was steadily deteriorating. Now he has been released, and tonight he will be with his children."
Agnès continues: “I was a woman, surrounded by 88 men anxious for news, with questions I couldn’t always answer. But, somehow, I never felt uncomfortable. The men were all very respectful and patient. They understood the limits of the ICRC. We built up trust and a real sense of closeness over the months, with people telling me their stories, showing me pictures of their children, telling me about the women they were planning to marry once they were released. I regularly brought them French newspapers and books. They were also very happy to hear about my visit to Côte d'Ivoire, where I attended a meeting; they were all asking me about my first impressions of their country. Little things can sometimes make a big difference, especially when you’re isolated and interned in a foreign country."