Greece abuses refugees, violates their human rights and EU law - Amnesty International

Afghan asylum seekers march toward the Greek Parliament in Athens.(AFP Photo / Louisa Gouliamaki)
Greece fails to provide a proper treatment for refugees and respect their rights, violating international and EU laws, according to an Amnesty International investigation. The latest report reveals cases of refugees being cruelly mistreated.

­Due to its position, Greece remains one the ‘the gates’ to the EU for tens of thousands of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers, who try to cross the border looking for shelter and better life within the union.

Under international law Greece is obliged to respect the principle of non-refoulement, which states that no-one should be deported to any country or territory where they face the risk of persecution or other forms of serious harm. It also provides the right for every refugee to apply for asylum.

However, for many refugees coming to Greece from war-torn Syria this has not been the case:

“Greece is proving itself incapable of providing even the most basic requirements of safety and shelter to the thousands of asylum seekers and migrants arriving each year,” says John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Director for Europe and Central Asia.

Moreover, in some cases, according to Amnesty’s twelve-page report called “Greece. The end of the road for Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants”, Greek authorities have been pushing back the mass of refugees and migrants using life-threatening methods.


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­A witness ‘N’ from the Syrian city of Aleppo told Amnesty that the police sunk one of the boats in a flotilla carrying refugees from Turkey.

“Greek police arrived in a patrol boat and started pushing their inflatable dinghy back towards Turkey. Then a police officer used a knife to stab the plastic fabric of the boat, which then sank, leaving people to swim to the Turkish shore,” the report reads.

Another Syrian refugee shared with Amnesty his story, which took place back in August. A 31-year old ‘K’ had a narrow escape trying to get into Greece. He along with 39 people was arrested on arriving in Greece early in the morning. They were kept in police detention until midnight, when officers bussed them all back to the river and loaded them into two boats.

“The police directed the boats into the middle of the river and he maintained that two armed policemen pushed everyone into the river, without life-jackets. When they made it across the river to the Turkish shore, he could only count 25 out of the group of 40 people that the police had brought to the river,” says the report.

However, even refugees who are not immediately rejected still face a tough challenge to apply for asylum and register themselves officially.

The Attika Aliens Police Directorate in Athens, where asylum-seekers can register, works only one day a week, Saturday, and accepts around 20 people a day. That is why the queue forms days in advance and stretches hundreds long down the street. Witnesses told the Amnesty that some people spent up to five weeks to apply. Cases of people fighting for their place and ending up in hospital have not been uncommon.  

Not surprisingly the majority of refugees do not manage to register and give up seeking official status. Without papers they risk being arrested in mass sweep operations and spending up to a year or more in overcrowded, unhygienic detention facilities.

“This risk has increased since August 2012, when police sweep operations on irregular migrants intensified,” the report says.

The briefing also stresses that conditions in such detention facilities in Greece have been criticized by international organizations.

“Detention for immigration purposes in Greece is used as a matter of course rather than, as international human rights standards require, as a last resort,” reads the report.

Another “worrying” issue touches upon unaccompanied children. Amnesty International claims they found children detained with adults in very poor conditions.

Aside from violations by the Greek authorities, Amnesty also noted “a dramatic rise in the number of racially motivated attacks throughout 2012.”

“The Greek authorities must condemn in a loud voice and effectively investigate and prosecute all racially-motivated violence” said Dalhuisen.

The report cites the well-publicised economic problems in Greece as one of the main reasons for its poor treatment of refugees. However, it stresses that it does not excuse numerous violations of human rights and international laws.

"Greece's failure to respect the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers is taking on the proportions of a humanitarian crisis," said Dalhuisen.

“The current situation in Greece is totally unworthy of the Nobel Peace Prize winning European Union and so far below international human rights standards as to make a mockery of them,” Dalhuisen said.