Palestinian minors and other refugees tortured in Greece
Posted by clandestina on 28 October 2009
A long report on the situation by The Palestine Telegraph
Greece, October 27, 2009 (Pal Telegraph) –
A 17 year old Palestinian has accused his guards of brutally beating him, in the Pagani “detention center” for immigrants without papers, in the island of Lesvos, close to Turkey. The incident happened just a few hours after the vice minister of the newly named “Ministry of Protection of the citizens” has visited the place and expressed his indignation over the living conditions of hundreds of immigrants stuffed in an old depot transformed to a nasty prison. The vice-minister left, the newspapers wrote articles about how much the new “socialist” government cares about human rights, and the policemen punished the immigrants and refugees that dared to denounce their ill treatment to the vice-minister by torturing them even more!
The incident came only weeks after the alleged assassination of Pakistani immigrant Mohammed Kamran Atif, after having been tortured in a police station, according to a statement of his brother, supported by the Pakistani community and antiracist and leftist organizations. Although officialy the young immigrant had died of a lung disease, a second examination revealed traces of torture… Till now nobody has been arrested, apart from 8 anarchist protesters that participated in a violent demonstration outside the police station.
The issue of ill treatment of immigrants without papers in Greece and especially in the Pagani detention center is not new. In the past European NGO’s such as Pro-asyl has accused the Greek authorities and especially the Greek coast guard of severe torture of immigrants and refugees, of violently preventing them to reach the Greek coasts and of illegally deporting them back to Turkey by force. It’s true that Greece as the southeastern border of European Union is receiving huge numbers of immigrants and refugees every year. But is this an excuse for the torture, the alleged murders, the drowning in the Aegean sea, the killings and mutilations by the landmines (meant to be destroyed according to the 1996 Ottawa agreement) at the Turkish-Greek borders, the detention under inhuman conditions, the total negation to grant political asylum to refugees that deserve it according to the International Law? Do we forget that throughout the 20th century Greece was a country exporting immigrants to the United States, Australia, Germany, Belgium and other European countries? Do we forget that during the 7 years of dictatorship (1967-1974) we had political refugees (including prominent political leaders) in other countries? Or do we ignore that Greece as a member-state of NATO and other international organizations is participating in wars that are producing more and more disaster and thus, more and more refugees? We sent troops in Somalia in the 90’s and policemen to help enforce the law and order in Albania, after the rebellion of 1996 caused by a major economic fraud that left thousands of people without their money. We participated with “peacekeepers”, naval forces, aircraft pilots, radars etc. at the western intervention at the Yugoslavia civil war. We participated at the worst and most forgotten crime in the Middle East, the 12 year inhuman embargo towards Iraq that cost at least 500,000 lives, mainly of minors. We participated with naval forces at the Gulf wars. And we still have occupation forces in Afghanistan. Who gives the right to Greece to steal oil and other natural resources, export products, financial capital and armed occupation forces to third world countries and in the same time torture those who try to escape from the inferno that we made there? Why an armed Greek man, a soldier, has the right to be in Afghanistan, and an unarmed Afghan mother with her baby doesn’t have the right to be in Greece?
Why Israeli soldiers have the right to be in Greece in order to have military exercises along with their Greek colleagues and Palestinian refugees have to be imprisoned and tortured?
It doesn’t really matter if the young victim of torture is a Palestinian or not. In fact many of the refugees are claiming to be Palestinians in order to have more chances to be granted asylum. Greece, in violation of the International Law, has minimized the number of recognized refugees to almost zero, and Palestinians are usually the few lucky ones. It doesn’t really matter if the victim is a minor or not. In fact many young people are coming without papers at all and are claiming to be minors in order to have better treatment from the authorities. The thing is that torture is unacceptable whether someone is Palestinian or not, whether he is a minor or not. The worst is that the policemen now, after the case was denounced by doctors that examined the victim and by dozens of fellow prisoners, are trying to hide the traces of their crime. After the accusations of torture and some of the usual riots that almost weekly erupt in the infamous Pagani detention center, in the island of Lesvos, the authorities have freed dozens of the detainees among them those who were witnesses of the torture. As usual they give them a paper of deportation that gives them 30 days to leave the country. In fact the paper has usually a date of issue, prior to the day of liberation, that means that the liberated immigrants and refugees have less days to search for a trafficker who might take them (for thousands of euros) to an other European country where they will have more chances to be granted asylum. The illegal practice of giving papers of deportation with an earlier date might have another purpose in this case. If someone has been tortured or has witnessed torture on the 23rd of October and freed on the 25th, he might have an official document stating that he was already out of the detention center since the 15th!
On the other hand 3 of the main witnesses of the torture that suffered the young Palestinian, who are also Palestinians are still detained. They have also been beaten and now they are threatened to remain detained for months in the same infamous detention center meant to host 200 people, but usually stuffed with 800 or even 1000. They also denounced that the guards gave 350 euros to the victim, to withdraw his accusations.
As we already said the issue of the Pagani detention center is not something new. A couple of months ago, in August, the international movement of NO BORDER activists has focused on this issue by having the 2009 No Border Camp in Lesvos island. For several days we participated in events, demonstrations and non-violent activism in solidarity with the imprisoned people, such as the blockade of the harbour of Lesvos. (see photos). Some of the protesters were arrested when they managed to enter the Pagani detention center and raised a banner. Others were beaten when they gathered outside the center in support of the immigrants and refugees rioting inside. A small zodiac of one of the protesters was illegally destroyed most probably by secret coast guards, during the symbolic non-violent blockade of Lesvos harbour. But despite all that we achieved some small victories those days. First of all several hundreds of people were “freed”. Among them women that were very sick, or mothers that had just gave birth and then were returned to the detention center! We also managed to force the authorities to open a camp (an old summer camp for children with disabilities) to host the freed people. The Army brought more tents to host them. The authorities were responsible to provide food, but the main thing was that the immigrants and refugees were free to go out the camp, have a walk, have a swim. Despite a certain chaos because of the lack of the necessary employees, for a few days an open camp to host immigrants and refugees, something that is what the social movements and the human rights organizations are asking for, was a reality in Lesvos. Furthermore in an action that was more than risky, we initially hosted and then brought directly to the open camp a group of about 20 Afghan immigrants (of 3 families) that had just come to the island without having been arrested yet. We demanded and we achieved for these people not to be arrested, not to be transferred to the police stations or the Pagani detention center and to be hosted directly at the open camp, be registered there and given directly the papers that grant them 30 days of “freedom”. It was a symbolic but very important victory because the Greek state has somehow admitted that it’s not necessary to arrest all these people and hold them under inhuman conditions. It’s true that when the No Border Camp was over and the international activists left Lesvos, the open camp was closed and the authorities continued the same practice of arresting men, women and children that haven’t done any crime apart from trying to escape from war and poverty provoked from the policies of the developed countries. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t achieve anything. The acceptance and registration of the 20 Afghans without having been arrested, the functioning of an open camp even for a few days, the immediate release of hundreds of immigrants and refugees provided also with tickets to travel from Lesvos island to Athens, the capital, are examples showing that it’s possible for the Greek State to treat these people in an other way, more respectful of their human rights. On the other hand, all this publicity created by the No Border Camp (along with the struggle of the detainees of course), has forced the United Nations to ask for the infamous Pagani detencion center (which is not the worst in Greece by the way) to be shut down. Subsequently all this political pressure has forced the new government to pay more attention on the issue, even if it’s just for public relations.
Because the truth is that the first signs of the new “socialist” government elected on the 4th of October are contradicting the declarations about respect of human rights. Apart from the incident in Pagani detention center, it worth mentioning the following: The neighborhood of Exarcheia, a place where a lot of anarchists, leftists, students, rockers are gathered, the same place where last year a 15 year old child, Alexis Grigoropoulos was assassinated in cold blood by a policeman provoking huge riots, is now almost under military occupation reminding more the West Bank than a neighbourhood in the center of the Greek capital (After all, Greek Police is buying teargas from the Israelis…). Apart from the illegal detentions, body searches in the middle of the street and beatings, the policemen have tried to invade without warrant in a social center called “The place of the immigrants” where apart from immigrant and antiracist organizations, is also hosted the Greek “Association for Solidarity with the Palestinian People INTIFADA”. It’s the same social center that was attacked some months ago by an unknown fascist who threw a hand grenade trying to kill the people inside. In that case the grenade bounced on the window and fell outside causing only damages but not casualties. But the terrorist was never arrested, and instead of that the police (not for the first time) has tried to storm illegally the “Place of the immigrants”. And it’s not the only incident. A few blocks away, in Omonoia square, policemen are arresting and beating immigrants almost daily. In one case a Greek sociologist who happens to be a researcher working for the Antigoni Center of Information and Documentation on Racism, has witnessed the policemen brutally beating an immigrant. When he complained, he was arrested too, staying for the whole weekend in a police station cell! In another incident in Thessaloniki, the second biggest Greek city, the police instead of arresting the driver that killed and abandoned an immigrant pedestrian, preferred to beat and arrest some of his Nigerian friends that gathered at the place of the incident!
By the time I am writing this article I hear the tragic news: 5 women and 3 children refugees, most probably Afghans, were found drowned at the coast of Lesvos island while they were trying to avoid the Frontex naval units. (Frontex is a new European armed force “protecting” the European frontiers from the refugees). This is the result of the European Fortress policy, this is the result of the policy of “Zero tolerance towards illegal immigration” that the new “socialist” Greek government has declared: poor children and women drowned in the Aegean.
In a few days Greece will host an international summit about immigration. Social and antiracist movements are preparing their own counter-summit and protests. But as long as the NATO and other forces are in Iraq and Afghanistan, as long as the Israeli Occupation Forces are killing children in Palestine, as long as the poor people of this planet become more poor and the rich become more rich, there will be no solution in this problem. No matter how much governments are talking about “human rights”…