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Greece must stop treating migrants as criminals

The fate awaiting asylum-seekers and irregular migrants in Greece

© UNHCR

27 julio 2010

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 today.

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. 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,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director.
 
Detention prior to deportation can last for up to six months in Greece for asylum-seekers and irregular migrants .   Greek law also makes irregular entry into and exit out of the country a criminal offence.

Tens of thousands of   irregular migrants and asylum-seekers arrive in Greece each year. The vast majority of asylum-seekers and individuals fleeing war-torn countries reach the country through the Greek-Turkish land and sea borders. They are mostly Afghan, Somali, Palestinian, Iraqi and Eritrean.

“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 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 2010, 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 believes the plans being developed by the Greek authorities to establish screening centres, should include alternative approaches, such as those running open or semi-open centres for those arriving in the country.

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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