UN Special Report on Greece
Posted by clandestina on 23 October 2010
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Detention of migrants
In 2008, some 50 % of all arrests of irregular migrants in the EU took place in Greece. This number has increased to 75 % in 2009 and almost 90 % in 2010 leading to a national crisis within the Greek detention system (migration detention facilities, police and border guard stations, prisons). Migrants may be detained for entering the country illegally as well as for suspicion of committing a criminal offence. In many cases, the prosecutors stop the criminal proceedings or the courts pronounce a suspended sentence. However, the responsible police authorities systematically keep migrants in administrative detention awaiting deportation. In absence of a regular or automatic judicial review it is in practice extremely difficult for migrants to challenge their detention. A migrant may be ‘temporarily detained’ awaiting deportation for up to six months, and under specific circumstances even 18 months. Irregular migrants who cannot be deported (e.g. from Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan) are usually released within several days with an order to leave the country within 30 days. Irregular migrants that in principle can be deported to their country of origin often have to wait up to several months in police custody. I have been confronted with a great feeling of injustice among the detainees regarding the length of their detention according to their national origin. Most migrants have not understood this differentiation and experienced it as discrimination.
Asylum seekers also appear to be generally detained until their asylum procedure has been concluded which constitutes a violation of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Although most migrants and refugees wish to travel on to other EU States, most of them are stuck (for legal or factual reasons) after their release in Greece. The absence of any meaningful social care leads to the marginalization of aliens and to incidents of racism or xenophobia.
I have experienced that administratively detained migrants in Greece are often not informed on the grounds and length of their detention. This creates a feeling of insecurity and helplessness aggravating their anxiety of being detained in a foreign surrounding. Migrant detainees often face difficulties in accessing a lawyer and/or an interpreter. Those administratively detained have no access to free legal aid at all.
The detention of irregular migrants may take place in border guard stations at the points of entry to the country as well as in police stations. Despite their clear unsuitability for long-term detention, migrants are often detained in such facilities for up to six months. Due to the vast number of detainees there are several specially designated migration detention centers in Greece. The centers in the Evros region, in particular Fylakio, were overcrowded and thus incapable of receiving additional transferees. Furthermore, the centres currently operate outside the legal framework since the joint decision of the four Ministers concerned has not yet been issued. The responsibility for their operation is divided among the prefecture and the police. While the latter are only supposed to take care of the arrest, processing and guarding of detainees, the centers in Fylakio and Venna as well as the border guard stations in Soufli and Feres were in fact entirely run by police authorities. A contrary example was the detention center in Mersinidi (Chios) that is run by the prefecture, which provided detainees with more adequate conditions of living.
The Greek system of migration control relies on systematic detention for irregular migrants. Alternatives to detention are hardly considered. Thus, migrants end up in prolonged detention for no other reason than not possessing valid papers. This situation is even experienced as unfair by the responsible police authorities. The systematic detention of migrants leads to an extreme overcrowding of facilities unsuitable for such great numbers of detainees and their long-term detention. In all border guard stations, ordinary police stations and special migration detention centers I have visited with the exception of the one in Chios, I witnessed that migrants were locked up in completely overcrowded, filthy and humid cells, often without natural light, and with unhygienic and inadequate bathrooms with only cold water and were not or inadequately provided with sanitary products such as soap or toilet paper. In some cases detainees had even no direct access to toilets, or their access was restricted because of cell shifts (e.g. the border guard detention area in Venizelos, where there were two toilets outside of the cells for 88 detainees). As a result of the poor conditions many people had respiratory, skin as well as psychological problems. Furthermore, in the Evros region, where the temperature has already started to drop, detainees were often left without any blankets or warm clothes.
In general, detainees were hardly ever taken out of their cells to exercise and spend time in the fresh air, with the exception of Feres border guard station and Chios migration detention center. Overcrowding is one of the main problems leading to such poor conditions of detention, where any meaningful separation of men, women, and children, of migrants and smugglers, or of persons of different ethnic or religious background was impossible. Overcrowding was most severe in Feres, where on the day of my visit 123 detainees were held, far above the maximum capacity of 28…