Wednesday

22nd Nov 2017

EU complicit in Greek abuse of migrants, watchdog says

EU border agency Frontex and member states sending staff and equipment to Greece are complicit in the degrading treatment of migrants seized on the Greek-Turkish border, Human Rights Watch has said in a fact-finding report released on Wednesday (21 September).

"The human rights abuses we have witnessed are not the sole responsibility of Greece, but also of EU and other European states - such as Norway - participating in the Frontex mission on the Greek-Turkish border," Jan Egeland from Human Rights Watch told reporters in Brussels presenting the report.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Migrants kept in the Tychero detention centre asked HRW to be photographed (Photo: hrw.org)

Carried out during November 2010 and February 2011 when the EU Rapid Border Intervention Team (Rabit) was deployed to help stem an increase in irregular crossings, the HRW visits to detention centres and police stations in north-eastern Greece saw appalling conditions that migrants are kept in for weeks and months after being caught by the joint patrols.

In the town of Tychero, for instance, some three kilometres away from the Turkish border, 130 migrants were held in two storage rooms of a former train station meant to host maximum 48 persons. They were "sleeping on pieces of cardboard or directly on the concrete floor" and had to "urinate in bottles as they had no access to toilets."

One 14-year old Eritrean boy held in Fylakio, another town near the border, had already spent 26 days in detention, sharing one bed with five other people and sleeping in shifts. Water was scarce and food was only for the "strong ones," according to another detainee who noted that Greek guards "don't care if we kill each other over food." Regular beatings and racist comments are reportedly also part of the treatment meted out to migrants. "I am originally from a land of war, but I never saw suffering like I see here," said an Iraqi detainee in Tychero.

In HRW's view, Frontex and member states contributing to the mission are "equally responsible" for the abuses carried out by the Greek authorities, as they tolerate them for the sake of "securing the common border."

"Treatment of migrants and minorities are a test of how European governments are protecting fundamental rights. When 175 EU border guards come with vans, thermo-visual cameras, helicopters and help the Greeks transfer these migrants to filthy, overcrowded cells, where sewage is running on the floors and there are no beds to sleep on, it is not only Greece failing the test, but also the EU and other Schengen states," Egeland said.

EU commission spokesman Michele Cercone on Wednesday said Frontex' hands were tied, since the Greek government was the only authority deciding on where and how the migrants should be kept.

"Neither Frontex, nor officers from other member states have control over the operations in Greece. They are under Greek command and cannot be held responsible for the conditions in the Greek detention centres," he stated.

He added that the commission has repeatedly told Greek authorities to upgrade its detention centres and to build new ones or transform abandoned military bases. But Athens so far has done virtually nothing in that respect, despite millions of euros from the bloc's border assistance funds.

"We are very frustrated with the slowness of improvement of detention conditions. Commissioner Malmstrom has sent a letter and started infringement procedures for the non-respect of human rights in detention centres," Cercone noted.

The HRW report also documents the crucial role Frontex plays in determining who walks free after being captured and who has to spend weeks and even months in detention, pending an extradition request.

"Even though Frontex is not formally a decision maker, in practice it appears that guest officers deployed with Frontex were indeed making de facto decisions on the ground in Evros as they were involved in extensive activities, including the apprehension of migrants and in making nationality-determination recommendations that were, in effect, rubber- stamped by the Greek authorities," the report says.

Nationality determination is important because Greece cannot deport nationals from certain countries - Afghanistan, Somalia or Pakistan, for instance. Such people are usually released within several days and ordered to leave the country within 30 days. But those people coming from countries with whom Greece has extradition agreements must be deported and are held in police custody for up to several months.

Given the tremendous backlog in asylum claims, Greek police often advise potential refugees not to file for asylum, since it would mean an even longer detention period. A 17-year-old boy from Syria kept in Fylakio told HRW that despite persecution in his home country he would not apply for refugee status because police warned him it would prolong his detention.

Frontex chief Ilkka Leitinen declined any responsibility for the detentions in Greece. "Frontex fully respects and strives for promoting fundamental rights in its border control operations which, however, do not include organisation of, and responsibility for, detention on the territory of the member states, which remains their exclusive remit," he said in a statement.

He also warned against following the HRW recommendation to suspend the Frontex mission until Greek authorities can provide decent facilities.

"We continue to stress that at the practical level abandoning emergency support operations such as Rabit 2011 is neither responsible, nor does it do anything to help the situation of irregular migrants on the ground," he said.

Europe needs migrants despite the crisis, says commissioner

Migrants are often an unexploited asset that national governments should be using to help lift their economies out of crisis, EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstom has said, citing examples from her native Sweden.

Greece to build wall on EU-Turkey border

The Greek government plans to build a wall along its 206-km-long land border with Turkey to help keep out unwanted migrants on the model of the US border with Mexico.

EU border agency gets extra powers

The European Parliament on Tuesday agreed to extend the powers of Frontex, the bloc's border agency and insisted on some provisions reinforcing migrants' rights. Groups dealing with refugees say the measures merely scrape the surface of the problem.

EU becoming less tolerant, NGO says

Racist mobs in Greece and Hungary, mistreatment of Roma, Arab migrants and Muslim terrorist suspects and a feeble reaction by EU institutions point to a worrying right-wing shift inside the EU, Human Rights Watch says.

Mladic found guilty for Bosnia genocide and war crimes

The former Bosnian Serb warlord was sentenced to life in prison for committing genocide and war crimes in Srebrenica and Sarajevo. Mladic is still regarded as a 'hero' among some Bosnian Serbs, in a country undergoing resurgent nationalism.

MEP switches vote on 'private expenses' transparency

A small group of MEPs are looking into how members of the European Parliament spend the monthly €4,300 'private expenses' funded by taxpayer money. Last month, MEPs voted on transparency amendments on the funds.

News in Brief

  1. December euro summit still on, Tusk confirms
  2. EU calls for end to Kenya election crisis
  3. Report: Israeli PM invited to meet EU ministers
  4. French banks close Le Pen accounts
  5. Commission relaxes rules on labelling free range eggs
  6. Commission issues €34m fine over car equipment cartel
  7. Estonian presidency 'delighted' with emissions trading vote
  8. Mladic found guilty of genocide and war crimes

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Idealist Quarterly"Dear Politics, Time to Meet Creativity!" Afterwork Discussion & Networking
  2. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  3. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  4. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  6. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  7. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!
  9. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  10. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  11. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  12. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure

Latest News

  1. Mali blames West for chaos in Libya
  2. Orban stokes up his voters with anti-Soros 'consultation'
  3. Commission warns Italy over high debt level
  4. Mladic found guilty for Bosnia genocide and war crimes
  5. Uber may face fines in EU for keeping data breach secret
  6. EU counter-propaganda 'harms' relations, Russia says
  7. The EU's half-hearted Ostpolitik
  8. Glyphosate: 1.3 million EU citizens call for ban

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  2. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  3. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  4. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  6. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  7. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  9. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  11. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  12. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened