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UN official highlights deep immigration problems in Greece after visit

The UN special rapporteur on migrants' human rights, François Crépeau, expressed on Monday concern about the sweep operations conducted by Greek police, the lack of coordination in the asylum process and the overall treatment of immigrants, although he stressed the need for the European Union to develop an EU-wide approach to the rising number of irregular migrants trapped in Greece.

I urge the Greek authorities to undertake all the necessary measures to combat discrimination against migrants, he said after spending nine days in Greece after a trip to the region. I am deeply concerned about the widespread xenophobic violence and attacks against migrants in Greece, and I strongly condemn the inadequate response by the law enforcement agencies to curb this violence, and to punish those responsible.

He was especially critical of the operation launched earlier this year by Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias to round up illegal migrants.

I deeply regret the Greek governments new policy of systematically detaining everyone they detect irregularly entering the Greek territory, including unaccompanied children and families, he said. I also regret the sweep operations in the context of operation Xenios Zeus, which have led to widespread detention of migrants in different parts of the country, many of whom have lived and worked in Greece for years.

Crépeau drew attention to the problems caused by a lack of a comprehensive immigration policy and the inability of authorities to work together, citing the example of the island of Lesvos, which has seen a rise in the number of immigrants arriving there due to stronger patrolling of Greece's land borders with Turkey.

In Lesvos, I noticed that, due to the limited detention capacity and the resulting overcrowding, some migrants are quickly released, and others, particularly families and unaccompanied children, are not detained at all, he said. Unless they are provided with a deportation order from the police, they are not allowed to board the boats leaving for Athens and are thus stuck on the island and have to sleep on the street or in parks. Just before my visit to Lesvos, the local authorities provided facilities (a summer camp close to the airport) to house some migrant families. While I greatly appreciate this initiative, it is run by volunteers from the local community, and is not sustainable without support from Greek authorities.

The UN expert said that unaccompanied or separated migrant children are often released from detention, without any particular status, and without the appointment of a guardian, even though the public prosecutor is supposed to appoint guardians to all unaccompanied children.

I met migrant children who lived in abandoned buildings or under highway overpasses, without any proper status and without any institutional support apart from the action of some civil society organizations, Crépeau said.

It is contrary to the human rights framework to pursue a policy that leaves individuals in a state of legal limbo such that one cannot build a future of any kind and can only live day after day at a level of precarious survival, in constant fear of arrest, detention and deportation, he underscored.

Crépeau acknowledged Greece's plans to set up a civilian, rather than police-run, asylum and first reception service.

I have been informed by Greek authorities that these services should be operational by the summer of 2013, he said. If properly implemented, such measures could effectively quickly screen in migrants with vulnerabilities (asylum seekers, children, migrants with illnesses or disabilities, victims of trafficking, victims of violence, persons in need of family reunification), undertake an individual assessment of migrants for whom detention is necessary and the reasons why it is necessary, release all the other migrants with an appropriate status, and thus reduce the hardship experienced at present by many migrants.

However, the official expressed great concern about the conditions in which migrants were being held.

I visited the Tychero Border Police Station in Evros, Venna and Komotini detention centers in the neighboring Rodopi regional unit, the central police station in Mytilini on Lesvos, the central police station in Patra, the coast guards detention facility at the port in Patra, Corinth detention center, Amygdaleza detention center, Amygdaleza detention center for minors, Aghios Panteleimonas police station and Petrou Ralli detention center, said the envoy.

In general, the detainees had little or no information about why they were detained, and how long they would remain in detention. This also applied to some of those who had engaged lawyers, and they complained that the lawyers simply take their money and do not follow up on their cases. Those who had applied for asylum often had no information about the status of their case, and others had not been able to apply for asylum from the detention facility. The medical services offered in some of the facilities by KEELPNO (Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) were highly insufficient. Most of the detention facilities I visited lacked heating and hot water, and the detainees complained about insufficient amounts and poor quality of food, lack of soap and other hygiene products, as well as insufficient clothing and blankets. Of all the detention facilities I visited, Corinth was the only which allowed the migrants to keep their mobile phones.

Crépeau also expressed concern about Greek authorities having the right to detain migrants for up to 18 months and denying them automatic judicial review of decisions to detain them.

However, the UN official added that the EU needs to provide further technical and financial assistance to Greece to deal with the situation.

As the large number of irregular migrants stuck in Greece is mainly a result of EU policies and practices, there is a strong need for solidarity and responsibility-sharing within the EU in order to ensure full respect of the human rights of all these migrants.

Crépeau is due to deliver to United Nations Human Rights Councils 23rd session in May or June 2013 the findings of his year-long study on the management of the external borders of the EU and its impact on the human rights of migrants.

ekathimerini.com , Monday December 3, 2012 (17:28)  
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