Toddler behind bars
Posted by clandestina on 11 October 2009
Toddler behind barsIssue No. 13358
Her parents, undocumented migrants from Afghanistan, were arrested in Greece and sentenced for forgery and immigration violations. They had illegally entered the country last year and were caught trying to leave on forged passports.
A court in Kilkis, a town in central Macedonia, sentenced the couple to six months in prison and fined them 3,000 euros. The sentence was indefinitely suspended on the grounds they would be deported.
This was in December 2008. They are still awaiting deportation.
They are still behind bars. To be deported, they need passports, which they do not have. This is why Rozita and her mother, Zahra, remain locked up.
Rozita is with her mother in a women’s prison in Thiva, about 50km outside Athens. The father is being held in a separate facility. Over the past 10 months, mother and daughter have been shuttled around the country: from a jail in Kilkis to a detention facility in Thessaloniki and the Korydalos prison in Athens.
According to Electra Koutra, an Athens lawyer and founder of the non-governmental organisation Hellenic Action for Human Rights, the family was unlawfully denied a lawyer and interpreter when they first appeared before the Kilkis court.
A second judicial blow came last week when a court in Thiva rejected a petition to release Rozita and her mother on the grounds they are seeking asylum in Greece and do not pose a threat to public order. The court rejected their petition and ruled they must remain in prison until deported.
“Not only is it inhuman to keep a child locked up, but it’s also a gross violation of human rights,” Koutra tells the Athens News. “The little girl came down with scabies and is always getting sick. She had to be taken to hospital twice.”
If mother and daughter are not immediately released, Koutra warns the case will be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.
According to Asan Sukuri, president of the local Afghan association Noor, Zahra’s life is in danger if she is returned to Afghanistan because she belongs to the Hazara ethnic minority group. He also said she is from a region that is under Taliban control.
Sukuri says he told the Thiva court that if the mother and daughter were released they would be hosted by relatives legally residing in Greece and that his association would help them find employment while their application for asylum is being processed. The court denied his proposal.
“Zahra cries all the time when we speak on the telephone,” Sukuri told the Athens News on September 29. “She cries and tells me that she cannot stand the situation any more. She has been in prison for almost a year. Something needs to be done.”
Asylum in Greece
Greece has one of the lowest refugee recognition rates in the European Union. Last year, Greece granted refugee status to 379 people out of nearly 20,000 applications reviewed.
By law, authorities must process all claims for asylum immediately. Asylum seekers should be fingerprinted and issued a so-called pink card (rose karta).
Holders of this card are entitled to free medical treatment and the right to employment. Authorities, by law, have three months to examine the asylum claim and render a decision. This is seldom the case.
New legislation passed in July has severely undermined the appeals procedure, according to local and international human rights groups like Amnesty International and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
The new rules force rejected asylum seekers to take their case to the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court. This requires them to hire a lawyer – something which few can afford.
Greece has faced a barrage of Europe-wide criticism since November 2007 when the German non-governmental organisation Pro Asyl published a shocking report accusing the Greek coastguard of “systematically abusing newly-arrived refugees”.