The new Syriza-led government in Greece has pledged to move more quickly on a campaign promise to right a wrong by previous governments by closing the country's widely-criticized immigrant detention centers.
Deputy Interior Minister Yannis Panousis, who oversees public order and civic protection, promised immediate action after a visit to the Amygdaleza detention center in western Athens on Saturday, during which approximately 50 detainees staged a protest against their ongoing detention and the center's deplorable conditions. The night prior to Panousis's visit, a 28-year-old Pakistani man held at the facility reportedly died in a suspected suicide.
"Detention centers—we're finished with them," Panousis told reporters on Saturday.
The demonstrators held up a banner reading, "Shut down the concentration camps" and "Freedom. We die here."
Upon exiting the facility, Panousis told reporters, "I'm here to express my shame, not as a minister but as a human being."
"I couldn't believe what I saw. I really could not believe it. This must change and it must change immediately," he said, adding that the centers would be shuttered within days.
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The government will instead set up "open" reception centers with better facilities, Panousis said.
Signaling a push to reform Greece's dismal human rights record, the announcement follows newly elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's recent pledge of solidarity with Palestine.
Greece has long been criticized by rights organizations for its treatment of migrants, who are majority Asian and African. As a gateway to the European Union, Greece has a high influx of migrants, as hundreds of thousands of people make their way through the country every year, particularly those escaping turmoil in Syria and Afghanistan. Xenophobic sentiment has risen in the throes of a serious economic crisis.
The deceased man, whose name has not been reported, was arrested last December in Crete for entering the country illegally, and was transferred to Amygdaleza on Friday—just hours before his death.
The United Nations has accused Greece of holding its detainees in deplorable conditions, forcing them into overcrowded rooms and refusing them access to heat or hot water.