30th Sep 2023

Greek gateway to EU is 'inhuman and degrading'

A UN investigator has described as "inhuman and degrading ... appalling ... dysfunctional" the conditions in many Greek detention facilities, where the vast majority of irregular migrants seeking to enter the EU get their first glimpse of the bloc.

Writing in a report out on Wednesday (20 October), the UN special rapporteur on torture and cruel punishment, Manfred Nowak, painted a disturbing picture of overcrowding and legal problems in 21 prisons, police stations and other centres used to hold migrants in Greece.

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  • Greece - the point of entry into the EU for a majority of migrants, detains people without trial for months in 'appalling' conditions (Photo: John D. Carnessiotis, Athens, Greece)

In the Korydallos Prison, the UN investigator said "sanitary conditions were bad, with some mattresses hiding hundreds of cockroaches and bugs." In the Agiou Panteleimonos centre, detainees "were often forced to sleep for up to two weeks on benches or on the floor" in "dark and suffocating cells."

Lack of access to toilets and showers, lack of access to outside yards for up to two years, lack of blankets and warm clothes amid plunging temperatures and inadequate medical care were repeatedly cited in Mr Nowak's report from a 10-day-long fact-finding mission.

"As a result of the poor conditions, many people had respiratory, skin as well as psychological problems," the UN rapporteur wrote. "Such conditions of detention clearly amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of Articles 7 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

On the legal side, migrants and asylum-seekers face pre-trial detention of up to 18 months, are incarcerated together with hardened criminals and have little access to interpreters and lawyers to file appeals. The appeals centre in Petrou Ralli registers claims just one day of the week, when it manages to process around 20 dossiers, in the face of a national backlog of 52,000 files.

"This creates a feeling of insecurity and helplessness aggravating their anxiety of being detained in a foreign surrounding," Mr Nowak said.

The UN report noted that in 2010 almost 90 percent of arrests of irregular migrants in the EU are taking place in Greece, which acts as a gateway to Europe for people traveling from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Those who make it to other EU states are sent back to Greece as their point of entry into the union under the bloc's so-called Dublin II asylum regime. A Greek-Turkish pact sees many sent back to Iran or Syria, where they risk persecution.

"This is a truly European problem which needs a joint European solution," Mr Nowak said. "The European Union should fundamentally rethink its asylum and migration policy and replace the Dublin II Regulation by a fairer system of burden sharing which also takes into account legitimate concerns of asylum seekers and irregular migrants."

The report adds to the image of Greece as the sick man of Europe.

A report by the Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders also out on Wednesday saw the country fall 35 places to the lowest rank in the EU in terms of press freedom. Transparency International says that Greece, along with Bulgaria and Romania, is the EU's most corrupt country. Its widely-reported economic problems have seen government departments issue fake statistics, provoked social unrest and continue to pose a risk of sovereign default despite a multi-billion EU and IMF bail-out.

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