Greece Must Stop Treating Migrants as Criminals

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Greece Must Stop Treating Migrants as Criminals

LONDON - 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.

Cases A family of
asylum-seekers from Afghanistan was arrested in December 2008 for
attempting to leave Greece with false documents. The criminal court gave
the adults a suspended six-month sentence, a €3,000 fine, and ordered
their judicial deportation. The family was reported to have been tried
in the absence of a lawyer or an interpreter. They were detained for
four months under reportedly poor conditions, and the mother and
daughter were subsequently separated from the rest of the family. The
family did not manage to apply for asylum until their transfer from the
borderguard station, where they were detained for four months, to the
prison facilities. The mother and her daughter remained in detention for
15 months (they were released in March 2010), solely for the purpose of
effecting the mother's judicial deportation.

S., a 16-year-old
Afghan unaccompanied minor, arrived in Greece in November 2009. He was
arrested in Athens in mid-November and convicted for possession of a
weapon after the police reported finding a small knife with him. The
police authorities had registered S. as an adult (aged 26) and he was
tried as an adult and sentenced to a month's imprisonment and a fine. He
was detained with adults both as part of his prison sentence and later
while waiting for deportation until the beginning of January 2010. His
country of origin was registered as Iran instead of Afghanistan. S. told
Amnesty International that he had told the authorities his real age
from the start. S. also said that he had not been provided with a lawyer
during his trial, and was unable to contact his family from prison
because he had no money to buy a phonecard. S. was released at the end
of December 2009 and issued with an official notice requesting him to
leave the country within 30 days.

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Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.

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