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31st Oct 2020

EU agency hammers Greek response to immigration wave

  • A Greek detention centre (Photo: Ikolas Kominis - Studio Kominis)

The living conditions suffered by irregular immigrants held in Greek detention centres are "worrisome", while the general response of Greek authorities in handling the flows is hugely inadequate, an EU rights agency has said.

Adding to the damning conclusions, the report by the Vienna-based EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) on Tuesday (8 March) said Greece had failed to use money given by the EU to alleviate the crisis.

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"The situation at the land border with Turkey and particularly the living conditions in the centres ... is worrisome. It creates crucial concerns regarding the respect of fundamental rights," said the report.

In 2010 Greece accounted for 90 percent of all detections of irregular border crossings into the EU. Crossings at the country's eastern border in the Evros region reached as high as 350 people per day, with the majority opting for the 12.5 km land-border near the town of Orestiada.

Here the Evros river is shallowest, although 26 people died in the region in 2010, either from drowning or hypothermia. Roughly 40 percent of immigrants come from Afghanistan, with other nationalities including Algeria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Iraq.

Those who make it over the border are greeted by a chaotic processing system. "There is a complete absence of independent social and legal counseling, apart from periodic visits by the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)," said the FRA report.

Those that do submit an asylum request are likely to be held in detention centres for much longer due to processing delays. As a result, few do.

The UNHCR has described the situation in Evros as a "humanitarian crisis", but Greece is failing to respond appropriately, Tuesday's report said. "No emergency situation has been declared by the Greek government. Civil protection assets have not yet been deployed."

"More generally, there is no evidence of a comprehensive emergency response to address the conditions in the detention centres, despite the availability of EU funds."

In addition to normal EU funding, Greece received €2.2 million in 2008, €4.9 million in 2009 and €9.8 million in December 2010 in emergency funding under the European Refugee Fund to cover immediate and urgent needs such as healthcare, food and accommodation for immigrants.

But the FRA found "no evidence that these resources are used to improve the current situation at the Evros border." Instead authorities have focused on implementing the EU's Return Directive - rules on sending irregular entrants back to their countries of origin.

Factors identified by the FRA as contributing to the crisis in Evros region include a lack of co-ordination between Greek ministries and the systematic placing of immigrants into detention facilities, "regardless of whether there is a risk of absconding".

Lengthy bureaucratic procedures, a lack of NGOs in the region and an unclear division of responsibilities between local authorities have all added to the problems.

"Greece, as an EU member state, has an obligation to respect the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights," said the report.

"In order to ensure that fundamental rights are not violated and given the apparent inability of Greek authorities to address the situation effectively, there is an urgent need to develop alternative solutions."

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