The Greek authorities should immediately review their policy of locking up asylum-seekers and irregular migrants, including many unaccompanied children, Amnesty International said in a new report today (27 July).
The report reveals that many are held in poor conditions in border guard stations and immigration detention centres with limited or no access to legal, social and medical aid.
The report's approach is clear from its title, “Greece: Irregular migrants and asylum-seekers routinely detained in substandard conditions”. It reveals that in the vast majority of detention facilities visited by Amnesty International delegates, conditions ranged from inadequate to very poor. Those detained told Amnesty of instances of ill-treatment by coastguards and police.
“Asylum-seekers and irregular migrants are not criminals,” said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia Programme Director, “Yet, the Greek authorities treat them as such, disregarding their rights under international law”.
She added, “Currently, migrants are detained as a matter of course, without regard to whether such measure is necessary. Detention of asylum-seekers and migrants on the grounds of their irregular status should always be a measure of last resort.”
Detention prior to deportation can last for up to six months in Greece for asylum-seekers and irregular migrants. Greek law also makes irregular entry into and exit out of the country a criminal offence.
Tens of thousands of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers arrive in Greece each year. The vast majority of asylum-seekers and individuals fleeing war-torn countries reach the country through the Greek-Turkish land and sea borders. They are mostly Afghan, Somali, Palestinian, Iraqi and Eritrean.
“After an often-hazardous journey, migrants end up in detention centres without access to a lawyer, interpreters or social workers,” explained Duckworth, “As a result, their circumstances are not assessed correctly and many in need of international protection may be sent back to the places they have fled, while others may be deprived of appropriate care and support”.
Irregular migrants and asylum-seekers are not informed about the length of their detention or about their future. Amnesty reports that they can be kept for long periods of time in overcrowded facilities with unaccompanied minors being detained among the adults. Those detained have limited access to medical assistance and hygiene products.
Few asylum-seekers are recognised as refugees by the Greek authorities. From the over 30,000 asylum applications examined in 2009, only 36 were granted refugee protection status while 128 were granted subsidiary protection status.
The duration and poor conditions of their detention provoked irregular migrants and asylum-seekers to stage protests in Venna, north-east Greece in February 2010. Likewise, in April 2010, irregular migrants went on hunger strike on the island of Samos to protest against their length of detention.
Duckworth insisted, “Detention cannot be used as a tool to control migration. The onus is on the authorities to demonstrate in each individual case that such detention is necessary and proportionate to the objective to be achieved and that alternatives will not be effective.”
Amnesty International believes the plans being developed by the Greek authorities to establish screening centres should include alternative approaches, such as those running open or semi-open centres for people arriving in the country. They say the authorities need to ensure that irregular migrants and asylum-seekers arriving at those centres have access to free legal assistance and interpreters in languages they understand, as well as medical assistance.