clandestina

Migration and Struggle in Greece

Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Watch’

Human Rights Watch: “2009 a Bad Year for Migrants – Deaths, Labor Exploitation, Violence, and Poor Treatment in Detention”

Posted by clandestina on 23 December 2009

source: human rights watch website

(New York) – Many governments’ policies toward migrants worldwide expose them to human rights abuses including labor exploitation, inadequate access to health care, and prolonged detention in poor, overcrowded conditions, Human Rights Watch said today in advance of International Migrants Day, on December 18, 2009.  A 25-page roundup of Human Rights Watch reporting on violations of migrants’ rights this year, “Slow Movement: Protection of Migrants’ Rights in 2009,”  includes coverage of China, Cuba, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Unwelcoming shores

Posted by clandestina on 23 November 2009

Source: http://www.independentworldreport.com.

Unwelcoming shores

21 NOV 09

Simone Troller of Human Rights Watch describes the plight of migrant and refugee children in Greece and how Greek authorities are doing the dirty work for other members of the European Union – giving them the opportunity to get rid of migrants, including potential refugees.

“We were one group of twelve persons they took out from the detention centre. They drove us in a car, for maybe one and a half hours. We arrived in the forest around 9 PM. They kept us there until midnight, they told us not to move, otherwise the Turkish police would find us. It was next to a small river. This side was Greece, the other side was Turkey… The boat was a metal boat, a long metal boat. Inside the boat there was one policeman. He started the engine and after we arrived to the other side he told us to get out quickly and the boat went straight back. When the Turkish police arrived two of us explained what happened. We were, for twelve days, in Turkish detention. They beat me too much… When the Turkish police beat me they said I should call my family to send me money to return to Afghanistan. I asked them not to send me back to Afghanistan, because I had problems. I asked them to keep me. But they did not care.”

This was how a seventeen-year-old Afghan boy described his secret expulsion from Greece to Turkey and ultimately back to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, his experience is typical of the fate of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who have been expelled from the European Union at the hands of Greek authorities. As a result, many people who need protection are sent back to danger, abuse or inhuman detention conditions.

In 2008 and 2009, Human Rights Watch investigated the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, in Greece and published its findings in three reports. In late 2008, when we first presented our findings to the Greek government about systematic illegal expulsions of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to Turkey, we were given the cold shoulder – they ignored our findings.

When we presented them to EU policymakers in Brussels and also described the total absence of protection for migrant children who arrive without a parent or caregiver, there was recognisable disbelief and even shock in people’s faces. When I summarised in a meeting with a policymaker in Brussels that an unaccompanied migrant child who enters Greece is either detained or left to survive on the streets, I was told: “I don’t believe this.”

It may be hard to believe that such callous and illegal acts are taking place in the heart of Europe that has long committed itself to respect basic human rights standards. It may also be hard to believe that Greece offers no safety net for unaccompanied children. Those who are not expelled are either detained in filthy and overcrowded conditions or released onto the streets where they face a miserable struggle for survival and exploitation, including as child labourers.

Yet, ignoring the reality on the ground means such acts will continue to take place. Greece’s treatment of migrants and refugees, including these children, violates binding European Union directives for asylum seekers.

Despite the shocked reactions in Brussels when we described what we had found, our call to the European Commission to take Greece to the European Court of Justice for these violations has so far gone unheeded.

We also expected a stronger signal from other EU member states. In late 2008, in a meeting with EU member state delegations, we urged them to stop sending migrants and asylum seekers back to Greece under the so-called Dublin II regulations, because of the ill-treatment, detention and unfair asylum procedures. They told us, in the words of one diplomat: “If we stop doing that, more migrants will arrive to our country.”

There is no doubt that Greece is on the frontline of migration to Europe and that it carries a heavy burden for the rest of the EU under the Dublin II rules. But that reflects a wider failure of Europe’s asylum and migration policy that puts pressure on countries at its borders instead of ensuring equitable burden-sharing across the continent.

Under Dublin II regulations, the country where a person first enters the EU is generally held responsible for examining that person’s asylum claim, though for unaccompanied children the rule applies only if the child has made a claim there. The regulations are premised on the notion that all EU member states have comparable asylum and migration practices. Yet, there are wide disparities, with countries like Greece effectively offering no protection at all.

Greece gives refugee status to 0.05% of asylum seekers after a first interview and recently abolished meaningful appeals. This prompted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to withdraw from a formal role in Greece’s asylum procedure. Yet, EU member states continue to return migrants, asylum seekers, and even unaccompanied children to Greece, simply pretending that everything is perfectly fine.

It is hard not to get the impression that these EU member states are perfectly happy with Greece doing the dirty work for them – giving them the opportunity to get rid of these migrants, including potential refugees among them. In mid-2009, six months after we brought our findings to both Greek and EU attention, the Greek government began a new crackdown against migrants – arresting hundreds across the country, bulldozing a make-shift camp in Patras, evicting them from run-down dwellings in Athens, and detaining new arrivals on its islands.

Human Rights Watch returned to Greece in September 2009 and collected evidence that Greek authorities have arrested persons all over the country, and summarily expelled some of them across the river to Turkey, though previously it only sent those who had just entered from Turkey back that way. This means that no part of Greece is now safe for anyone in need of protection.

While the EU has largely remained silent on Greece’s abusive record or has focused on blaming Turkey for refusing to take migrants back, there are some encouraging signs from the newly elected Greek government. It announced in mid-October that Greece would no longer be a hell pit for migrants. The government also pledged to release 1,200 migrants from detention, where most are held in inhuman conditions, and to create a special police unit to investigate allegations of abuse.

Fixing the system will be a tall order, though. The new government inherits an asylum system that no longer deserves that name, a police force that commits abuses against migrants both in broad daylight and in secret nighttime operations, and detention facilities that are a hazard for detainees and staff alike. Fixing this will require more than promises and symbolic acts.

Despite the overwhelming agenda, there are obvious priorities. The Greek government can protect the most vulnerable migrants, especially unaccompanied children, and get rid of the stark alternatives in the current system of either detaining them or abandoning them to the streets and to exploitation. Greece should give them decent shelter, food, clothing, health care, and, of course, protection from traffickers.

Not all of the more urgent reforms even require more resources. An unambiguous commitment to stop the illegal expulsion of migrants to Turkey is essentially a matter of political will to operate according to the rule of law. The new police unit should immediately investigate these secret expulsions and levy sanctions against those responsible. Accountability for these acts is paramount for meaningful police reform.

Greece also needs to come to terms with the reality that many undocumented foreigners, adults and children alike, left their countries because their lives were in danger and have a legitimate claim for protection. The government needs to put its broken asylum system back on track, take the asylum procedure away from the police, create a special body that assesses claims fairly and promptly and institute a fair, workable appeals process. Otherwise, the adults and children the Greek government releases from detention now will end up again in a dead-end situation: unable to leave Greece, unable to return to their countries, and unable to be recognised as refugees.

Halting human rights abuses that have gone unchecked for too long should be urgent priorities both for Athens and for Brussels. The European Commission should make clear to Athens that unless the new government takes steps to bring its laws and practice in line with EU and human rights standards, the commission will refer the matter to the European Court of Justice. In addition, the EU needs to ensure that EU member states are held to account when they fail to respect their obligations under EU law, and ultimately to reform the Dublin system. Only then can the EU take meaningful steps toward creating a common European asylum system that offers equal level of protection across the continent and supports the countries on the frontline.♦

Simone Troller is Researcher, Human Rights Watch. For more on migrant and refugee children in Greece, see: Greece: Unsafe and unwelcoming shores and Left to survive: Systematic failure to protect unaccompanied migrant children in Greece, available at http://www.hrw.org

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Human Rights Watch on Greece: Unsafe and Unwelcoming Shores

Posted by clandestina on 14 October 2009

http://www.hrw.org,

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/10/09/greece-unsafe-and-unwelcoming-shores,

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

Greece: Unsafe and Unwelcoming Shores

October 12, 2009

Between August and September 2009, Human Rights Watch interviewed 16 migrants who had been arrested on Samos, Symi, and Chios Islands, and the port towns of Patras and Igoumenitsa. The Greek authorities transferred them to detention centers close to the land border with Turkey and held them in the border police stations of Soufli, Tichero, and Feres, as well as in the Venna and Fylakio-Kyprinou (Fylakio) detention facilities. Two detained migrants described to us how Greek police forcibly pushed them across the river into Turkey from where Turkish authorities sent them back to Afghanistan.

One of them is a 17-year-old unaccompanied Afghan boy who told us over the phone that he was arrested on Symi Island, transferred to Fylakio detention center, and expelled with 11 other persons to Turkey:

We were one group of 12 persons they took out [from the detention center]. They drove us in a car…. for maybe one and a half hours. We arrived in the forest around 9 p.m.; they kept us there until midnight…. They told us not to move, otherwise the Turkish police would find us. It was [next to] a small river…. This side was Greece, the other side was Turkey.

The boat was a metal boat, a long metal boat. Inside the boat there was one policeman; he started the engine and after we arrived to the other side he told us to get out quickly and the boat went straight back. When the [Turkish] police arrived two of us explained what happened. The Turkish police came back to that place with us and said we should sit and that more persons might be coming. But the Greek police didn’t send more people.

We were for 12 days in [Turkish] detention. They beat me too much….  When the Turkish police beat me they said I should call my family to send me money to return to Afghanistan. I asked them not to send me back to Afghanistan, because I had problems. I asked them to keep me. But they didn’t care.

Near our house are Taliban; they are close…. I’m scared all the time. I’m a tenth grade student but I can’t go to school.[1]

The other person pushed back told us he was arrested on Samos Island, transferred to Fylakio detention center, expelled in a group of 45 or 50 persons, arrested by Turkish police, and taken to a detention center in Edirne: “I stayed for one week in Edirne. There were a lot of persons who had been deported from Greece. There were Afghans, Pakistanis, and Sri Lankans.”[2] Human Rights Watch visited that detention center in 2008 and found conditions there to be inhuman and degrading.[3]

Another eight people said they witnessed Greek police taking migrants out of detention centers at nightfall in trucks or vans. Four of them told us that those taken from the detention centers later got in touch with detainees who stayed behind and told them that the Greek police had expelled them. One Afghan boy who was arrested on Symi Island described the scene he witnessed from his cell at Fylakio detention center:

Forty three persons were taken away from my group [of 91 persons]. One Iraqi had a friend among those [taken away]. He called Iraq from the detention center, and that friend said he had been deported. That Iraqi was part of our group. We were all in the same cell.

First [Greek police] asked them to sign something. … it was around the evening time, around 6 p.m. maybe. Then they searched them… the police took away everything they had: toothpaste, papers written in Greek, they took it from their pockets… After that they were taken into a truck without windows. It was completely closed, an army-colored truck. People entered from the back. I saw the truck with my own eyes and I saw how people entered.

Each time a new group [of detainees] arrived the truck came…. 67 persons arrived in one group and they took away 57 persons from that group….  Six or seven times new groups arrived…. For a small group the white van came, for a big group the truck came.[4]

Another person told us he had been arrested in Patras ahead of the authorities’ destruction of a large makeshift camp and then transferred with a group of 120 persons to Fylakio detention center. He told us that four of his friends had been deported from there: “They asked us, ‘Do you have relatives or friends?’ I said I had an uncle. Four friends of mine said they didn’t have family and they were deported. One of them called my friend and told him he was in Afghanistan…. They deported them after about two weeks. They were taken away in a small white car.”[5]

Greece’s Dysfunctional Asylum System

Greece effectively has no asylum system. It recognizes as few as 0.05 percent of asylum seekers as refugees at their first interview. A law adopted in July abolished ameaningful appeals procedure. The effect of the new law is that a person who is in need of international protection as a refugee in Greece is almost certain to be refused asylum at the first instance, and having been refused has little chance of obtaining it on appeal. The new law leaves asylum seekers with no remedy against risk of removal to inhuman or degrading treatment, as required by article 39 of the EU’s procedures directive and articles 13 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As a result of this legislative change, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) withdrew from any formal role in Greece’s asylum procedure.

Many of those we interviewed said they did not want to apply for asylum in Greece because they had heard that Greece rejects everyone. Some believed mistakenly that they could apply for asylum in other European countries. Access to legal counsel or interpreters is virtually impossible in detention centers in the north and those in need of protection may be unable to access asylum procedures. An Afghan detainee held in Soufli border police station, for example, was informed about her rights in English, a language she does not understand.

Apart from sporadic visits by a lawyer from the Greek Council for Refugees operating under a government agreement, no lawyers or organizations offer pro-bono legal aid in Greece’s northern region. Athens-based lawyers who offer pro-bono legal aid told us they are not able to access and speak to detainees in the north unless they present to authorities the names of persons detained. Even when they have the names of detainees, police in the Evros border region might ask them to obtain an additional permit from central police authorities to see persons detained; or police may not respond to their query whether a certain detainee is still held there. Conversations between lawyers and detainees furthermore are rarely confidential and lawyers said that police interrupted their talks and asked them to finish their conversations with detainees.[6]

Even those with access to legal aid and wanting to apply for asylum are not necessarily able to access the minimal procedures that do exist. According to the Greek Council for Refugees, on July 30, Greek police handed over 40 Turkish citizens, among them 18 asylum seekers, including four unaccompanied children, to their Turkish counterparts under a bilateral readmission agreement. Police on Crete, where the group initially arrived, refused to receive their asylum applications despite interventions by local lawyers. The asylum seekers were deported even though the Greek Council for Refugees intervened with the responsible Ministry.[7] In addition, on July 17, Human Rights Watch saw more than 1,000 asylum seekers lined up all night at Athens’ main police station trying to file asylum claims, largely in vain.

Greece is bound by the international legal principle of non-refoulement not to expel or return a person to a place where he or she would face persecution, torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment. This obligation applies not only to direct returns into the hands of persecutors or torturers, but also to indirect returns to countries from which persons are subsequently sent to a state where they face such threats. The circumstances of what constitutes inhuman or degrading treatment for an unaccompanied child may differ significantly from that of adults and Greece is obliged to take “measures and precautions” against such treatment when returning a child.[8]

Inhuman and Degrading Detention Conditions

Greece is also bound under European and international law to protect migrants from inhuman and degrading treatment while in Greece.  Persons held in detention centers in the north described to us conditions that would violate these obligations. Furthermore, unaccompanied children were detained jointly with adults across detention centers in the north, itself a violation of binding international standards.

People detained at the Soufli border police station, for example, told us that two detainees have to share one dirty mattress and that they are never allowed to go outside. One detainee, a 16-year-old girl in the company of her husband, told us that she felt constantly intimidated in a cell with more than 20 adult men.[9] People detained at Tichero border police station told us they slept on dirty mattresses or on the floor without blankets, and that the bathroom was filthy, with an unbearable smell.[10] Those held in the Venna detention facility said the place was infested with cockroaches and mice, and they complained about a lack of enough warm clothing. Those detained included a disabled man who had lost one arm and could not fully use his other arm but was subjected to the same regime. With the exception of Fylakio detention center, the conditions were compounded by a lack of access to medical care. Except for those held at Venna, those interviewed said they received only two meals per day, which they said was insufficient.

Detainees held at Fylakio detention facility spoke of comparatively better, albeit overcrowded, detention conditions. All persons who had been held there, however, said they experienced or witnessed violence and ill-treatment by guards. Two described an incident in which guards allegedly beat up an Arabic-speaking detainee after he tried to escape.

I saw an Arab who tried to escape. Police caught him and beat him up badly. They took him to the telephone room and covered the window with black plastic. Afterward I went to make a phone call and saw that guy with blood on his head and in handcuffs.[11]

Police also allegedly used violence when intervening in fights among detainees or to punish those who did not stay quiet at night:

I saw once with my own eyes that three policemen beat one person. They beat him in the corridor because he quarreled [with others]. They beat him for a short time with batons, with their hands, and they also kicked him.[12]

We received additional allegations of police violence from persons detained at Tichero and Feres border police stations, and from a person held at an unknown location near Komotini.[13]

Several persons interviewed said it was forbidden to make phone calls from Soufli and Tichero border police stations. One detainee at Soufli told us: “One detainee said if you have a lawyer you might get released but we don’t have a telephone so how can we contact our family to get us a lawyer?”[14] Another person said that although detainees held at Fylakio detention centers were permitted to make phone calls on Mondays and Thursdays, no calls were allowed during the first ten days.[15]

Asked whether they tried to file a complaint, one detainee told us: “I never complained to anybody. We didn’t complain. It wouldn’t have helped if we’d said anything. The captain would have told us to stay quiet.”[16] Although the police chief in charge of the Fylakio detention facility assured us he would investigate any allegation of ill-treatment brought forward by detainees, he added that he has never received any complaints.[17]

The EU’s Failure to Hold Greece Accountable

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on the European Union to hold Greece accountable for its violation of European asylum standards, including while recent arrests and transfers were still ongoing. Yet, despite having a mandate and a duty to enforce member states’ implementation of EU legislation, the European Commission  has not spoken out against Greece’s effective abolition of the right to seek asylum or to appeal rejected asylum claims, or its abusive detention and expulsions of migrants, including children. In fact, Jacques Barrot, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for justice, freedom, and security, was on an official visit to Greece when the new presidential decree was published that effectively eliminated the appeals procedure in violation of binding EU standards.

The European Commission’s failure to call publicly for Greece to remedy these serious violations of EU standards and European and international human rights and refugee law sends a worrying signal that abuses may go unchecked. It is vitally important for the Commission to take the opportunity of a new administration in Athens to press in the strongest terms for immediate and fundamental reform of Greece’s asylum system, meaningful access to protection, and an end to abuse.

The Commission should without delay issue a reasoned opinion on Greece’s current breaches of EU standards on asylum and migration, identifying the steps needed to bring Greece back into conformity with EU and human rights law. It should also make clear to Athens that unless the new government takes those steps, the Commission will refer its failure to uphold EU standards to the European Court of Justice.

In two reports published in 2008, Human Rights Watch further called on European governments to stop sending migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, back to Greece under the Dublin II regulations. We concluded that Greece violated both EU standards and international human rights law by holding migrants in unacceptable detention conditions, by preventing persons in need of protection from seeking asylum, and by failing to protect unaccompanied migrant children.

Under the European Union’s Dublin II regulations, the country where a person first entered the EU is generally held responsible for examining that person’s asylum claim, whether or not the person applied there. While the Dublin II regulations are premised on the notion that all EU member states have comparable asylum and migration practices, there are wide disparities, with some countries like Greece effectively offering no protection at all. This disparity underscores the importance of reforming the Dublin system while at the same time ensuring that EU member states are held to account for their failure to respect their obligations under EU law.  Only then can the EU take meaningful steps toward creating a common European asylum system.

New Greek Government Should Take Urgent Action to Stop Abuses

Human Rights Watch calls on the new government in Greece to take urgent steps to end abuses against refugees and migrants, including children. We reiterate the recommendations we made to the-then Minister of Interior in August:

Issue a public statement committing the government to treating migrants apprehended in Greek territory in a humane and dignified manner. Guarantee all migrants unhindered access to the asylum procedure and protection from refoulement.

Immediately ensure that the practice of illegal expulsion across the Evros River be stopped; carry out an investigation leading to identification and levying of appropriate sanctions of officials involved in such illegal acts.

Rescind Presidential Decree 81/2009, create a functioning asylum system in which trained staff assess asylum claims on the basis of confidential and private interviews, and allow for a fair and independent review of appeals.

Refrain from detaining unaccompanied migrant children and from summarily deporting them without prior assessment of the risks they face upon return. Create sufficient number of care places for all unaccompanied migrant children in Greece. Consider the granting of temporary residence for unaccompanied children on humanitarian grounds, as provided for in article 44(c) of Law 3386/2005, to protect them from repeated arrest and detention until a durable solution in their best interests is found.

Close substandard detention centers and open new facilities ensuring adequate space, cleanliness, recreation, access to health care, and legal and family visitation necessary for humane conditions of detention. Migrants should only be detained as a last resort, when actual proceedings for their deportation are ongoing, and when it is the only method necessary to secure persons’ lawful deportation, and when the necessity of detaining them is subject to regular review, including by the judiciary. Asylum seekers should not be detained.

Ensure full access for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Human Rights Watch, and other reputable organizations to all migration detention facilities, Coast Guard vessels and facilities, and to entry and border points and the border region.

[1] Human Rights Watch telephone interview (S-15-09), September 28, 2009. (name withheld)

[2] Human Rights Watch telephone interview (S-16-09), September 29, 2009. (name withheld)

[3] Human Rights Watch, Greece/Turkey: Stuck in a Revolving Door: Iraqis and Other Asylum Seekers and Migrants at the Greece/Turkey Entrance to the European Union, November 2008, ISBN 1-56432-411-7, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/11/26/stuck-revolving-door-0, p.6.

[4] Human Rights Watch interview (S-3-09), September 8, 2009. (name and place withheld)

[5] Human Rights Watch interview (S-5-09), September 8, 2009. (name and place withheld)

[6] Human Rights Watch interview with Marianna Tzeferakou and Danai Angeli, Athens, September 6, 2009.

[7] Email correspondence from Greek Council of Refugees to Human Rights Watch, August 21, 2008.

[8] Mubilanzila Mayeka and Kaniki Mitunga v. Belgium, (Application no. 13178/03), October 12, 2006, available at http://www.echr.coe.int/, para. 69.

[9] Human Rights Watch interview (S-11-09 and S-12-09), September 10, 2009 (names and place withheld). Human Rights Watch interview with (S-13-09), September 11, 2009 (name and place withheld). The European Court of Human Rights held in a recent judgment that detention conditions at Soufli border police station amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. S.D. v. Greece, (Application no. 53541/07), June 11, 2009, available at http://www.echr.coe.int/, paras. 53-54.

[10] Human Rights Watch interview (S-2-09), September 7, 2009 (name and place withheld). Human Rights Watch interview (S-6-09), September 9, 2009. Human Rights Watch telephone interview (S-14-09), September 28, 2009 (name and place withheld).

[11] Human Rights Watch telephone interview (S-1-2009), August 20, 2009. Another detainee referred to the same incident (S-4-09).

[12] Human Rights Watch interview (S-3-09), September 8, 2009 (name and place withheld).

[13] Human Rights Watch interviews (S-2-09) September 7, 2009 (name and place withheld). Human Rights Watch interviews (S-6-09, S-7-09, S-8-09), September 9, 2009 (names and place withheld). Human Rights Watch interviews (S-11-09, S-12-09), September 10, 2009 (names and place withheld).

[14] Human Rights Watch interview (S-13-09), September 11, 2009 (name and place withheld).

[15] Human Rights Watch interview (S-3-09), September 8, 2009 (name and place withheld).

[16] Human Rights Watch interview (S-5-09), September 8, 2009 (name and place withheld).

[17] Human Rights Watch interview with Giorgos Salamagas, chief of police Orestiada, Fylakio detention center, September 10, 2009.

© Copyright 2008, Human Rights Watch

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Human Rights Watch: Don’t Return Calais Migrants to Greece

Posted by clandestina on 26 September 2009

source: human rights watch website

EU Asylum Disparities Put Those Sent Back at Risk of Mistreatment

SEPTEMBER 25, 2009

(Paris) – Many of the hundreds of migrants arrested by French authorities following the destruction of their makeshift camp in Calais are at risk of being sent back to Greece, Human Rights Watch said today.

The French police reportedly arrested 276 migrants, including 125 children, on September 22, 2009, and destroyed their makeshift camp. The French immigration minister said several months ago that many asylum seekers entered through Greece and should be returned there. The New York Times, reporting on the situation, cited remarks by French officials that those who had entered the European Union through Greece would be returned there. The UK’s home secretary is quoted in The Guardian expressing his “delight” at the Calais operation and saying that the migrants there could seek asylum in the first country they entered, meaning that many are likely to be returned to Greece.

“France, the UK, and the rest of Europe act as if everything is perfectly fine in Greece,” said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch. “But Greece denies 99.5 percent of all asylum claims, has recently eliminated its appeals procedure, and detains migrants in deplorable conditions.”

Human Rights Watch said that France and the UK should ensure that any children among those removed who have family members in the UK, including siblings and other close relatives, are able to join them on humanitarian grounds.

Under the European Union’s Dublin II regulations, the country where a person first entered the EU is generally held responsible for examining that person’s asylum claim, whether or not the person applied there. European governments enter the fingerprints of all migrants they apprehend into an EU-wide database that allows other governments to trace where a person first entered the EU and to send that person back.

While the Dublin II regulations are premised on the notion that all EU member states have comparable asylum and migration practices, there are wide disparities, with some countries like Greece effectively offering no protection at all. This disparity underscores the importance of reforming the Dublin system and ensuring that EU member states are held to account for their failure to respect their obligations under EU law to provide access to asylum.

Human Rights Watch has called on European governments, in two reports released in 2008, to stop sending migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, back to Greece under the Dublin II regulations. The reports said that Greece fails to guarantee a fair assessment of asylum claims, continues to detain migrants and asylum seekers in conditions that can be inhuman and degrading, and has not provided adequate reception conditions for migrants, or special protection for vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied migrant children. Greece also adopted a law in July abolishing ameaningful appeals procedure. The new law leaves asylum seekers with no right to an appeal or remedy against risk of removal to inhuman or degrading treatment, as required by article 39 of the EU’s procedures directive and articles 13 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Asylum seekers whose claim has been rejected are at risk of being immediately deported.

Concerns are further heightened, Human Rights Watch said, due to Greece’s recent arrests of large numbers of asylum seekers and their transfer to detention centers in the north, close to the Turkish border, where some are reported to have been pushed across the border back to Turkey. Greece has a record of systematically pushing migrants back to Turkey, including those seeking protection.

On August 5, Human Rights Watch wrote to the Greek interior minister asking him to take immediate steps to stop this practice and to treat migrants apprehended in Greek territory in a humane and dignified manner.

In a November 2008 report, “Stuck in a Revolving Door: Iraqis and Other Asylum Seekers and Migrants at the Greece/Turkey Entrance to the European Union,” Human Rights Watch documented how Greek authorities have systematically expelled migrants illegally across the Greece-Turkey border, in violation of international law. These “pushbacks” typically occur at night from the northern detention facilities, and they involve considerable logistical preparation. At that time, Human Rights Watch conducted private, confidential interviews in various locations in both Greece and Turkey with 41 asylum seekers and refugees, who gave consistent accounts of Greek authorities taking them to the Evros river at night and then forcing them across.

France and other EU member states are bound under the European Convention on Human Rights not to return a person to a country where he or she is at risk of inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3) and bound by the international legal principle of nonrefoulement. The Dublin Convention allows parties to exercise their discretion under article 3 (2) (the sovereignty clause) not to return an asylum seeker and to examine the asylum claim themselves.

“It is hard not to have the impression that European governments are perfectly happy with Greece doing the dirty work for them and giving them the opportunity to get rid of these migrants, including potential refugees,” Frelick said. “Instead of sending them back to Greece, French authorities should ensure these migrants have the chance to apply for asylum in France.”

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