Greece must stop treating migrants as criminals Greece must stop treating migrants as criminals


Unaccompanied children are often held with adults, which is illegal under international law Unaccompanied children are often held with adults, which is illegal under international law.© UNHCR/L. Boldrini

The Greek authorities should immediately review their policy of locking up irregular migrants and asylum-seekers, including many unaccompanied children, Amnesty International said in a new report on Tuesday.

Greece: Irregular migrants and asylum-seekers routinely detained in substandard conditions, documents their treatment, many of whom are held in poor conditions in borderguard stations and immigration detention centres with no or limited access to legal, social and medical aid.

“Asylum-seekers and irregular migrants are not criminals. Yet, the Greek authorities treat them as such disregarding their rights under international law,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director for Amnesty International.

“Currently, migrants are detained as a matter of course, without regard 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.”

Greek law makes irregular entry into and exit out of the country a criminal offence. As of June 2009, the period of detention for the purposes of deportation has increased from three to six months.

Tens of thousands of migrants arrive in Greece each year. The vast majority of them reach the country through the Greek-Turkish land and sea borders. They are mostly Afghan, Somali, Palestinian, Iraqi, Eritrean, Pakistani and Burmese.   

“After an often hazardous journey, migrants end up in detention centres without access to a lawyer, interpreters or social workers. 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,” Nicola Duckworth said.   

Irregular migrants and asylum-seekers are not informed about the length of their detention or about their future. 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 and irregular migrants are recognized 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.

In the vast majority of detention facilities visited by Amnesty International delegates, conditions ranged from inadequate to very poor. Those detained told Amnesty International of instances of ill-treatment by coastguards and police.

Length and poor conditions of detention provoked irregular migrants and asylum-seekers to stage protests in Venna, north-east Greece in February 2010. Likewise, in April, irregular migrants went on hunger strike on the island of Samos to protest their length of detention.

“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,” Nicola Duckworth said.

Amnesty International said it believes that the Greek authorities should explore alternatives, such as the establishment of screening centres staffed with qualified personnel.

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, and medical assistance.

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