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30th Jan 2023

Amnesty: migrant abuse in Greece is 'humanitarian crisis'

  • Migrants at the Filakio detention centre say they have no heating. (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

The poor treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in Greece is a humanitarian disaster, says a report released on Wednesday (19 December) by Amnesty International.

“Greece’s failure to respect the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers is taking on the proportions of a humanitarian crisis,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia programme director at Amnesty International, in a statement.

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The pro-rights NGO has documented cases where migrants attempting to cross the Evros river land border with Turkey have been forced back by Greek border police.

In one incident over the summer, Greek border police knifed a small rubber boat carrying seven Syrians in the middle of the Evros.

On another occasion Greek police allegedly escorted some 40 people to the middle of the river. Two armed officers then allegedly pushed them into the river without life jackets. One of the witnesses said only 25 made it across.

Greece, which is facing a profound economic crisis and a rise in xenophobia, has not demonstrated sufficient improvements on processing asylum seekers, says the report.

A new asylum agency was set up in 2011 but has yet to deliver any asylum claims due to a lack of staff.

Instead, asylum claimants, some returned to Greece by other member states (under EU rules the point-of-entry country has responsibility for the migrant), queue for days at the Attika Aliens Police Directorate in Athens in the off-chance they will be interviewed.

Member states stopped returning asylum seekers to Greece in 2011 but a massive backlog means Greek authorities are unable to process claimants quickly enough.

Those in limbo risk arrest and deportation since Athens launched its operation Xenius Zeus in August.

Police spokesman Christos Manouras in August said the aim of Xenius Zeus is to push back undocumented migrants to the Evros region on the Turkish border and, ultimately, to send them back to their countries of origin.

Police sweeps across the country have already arrested and detained thousands.

The campaign's first week in August detained in Athens some 6,030 people suspected of having entered the country illegally. Greek police then arrested 1,525 of them.

Among them are unaccompanied children who are placed in detention facilities with substandard conditions.

One 15-year old, arrested during a police sweep operation and separated from his family, was detained with people facing criminal charges.

“The Greek authorities continue to systematically detain asylum-seekers and irregular migrants including unaccompanied children in breach of international standards and seem to use detention – often in appalling conditions - as a deterrent,” said Dalhuisen.

Some 500, swept up in operation Xenius Zeus, rioted and set fire to the Komotini police academy in north-eastern Greece in November where they had been detained for the past three months.

Meanwhile, racially motivated attacks against asylum seekers, irregular migrants, as well as unofficial mosques and community shops are on the rise.

The NGO says there have been 87 documented incidents between January and September 2012 but most go unreported.

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