Migrants still face abuse

Amnesty International’s annual report released yesterday highlighted widespread mistreatment of illegal immigrants and frequent instances of alleged misconduct, even brutality, by security forces last year in Greece and another seven European Union states. «The rights of asylum seekers came under increased attack, and the effects of the attacks of September 11, 2001 continued to be felt throughout Europe and Central Asia as many countries justified restrictive legislation and other measures leading to human rights violations as necessary for international security,» Amnesty said in a summary of the report which also reveals what appears to be a lack of discipline within security forces. The report cited frequent allegations of the mistreatment of detainees during arrest and custody in Greece last year, with «unauthorized immigrants» accounting for most of the alleged victims. Of the three examples of such allegations cited by Amnesty, however, one was proven to be unfounded; forensic tests conducted on a Nigerian immigrant showed he had not been beaten or subjected to electric shocks by police officers – as he had claimed – when he had resisted deportation last June. Allegations of police brutality were also made by members of the general population; last August a Greek military conscript claimed to have been subjected to electric shocks after being stopped while driving his motorcycle without a license (the report did not state whether the latter’s allegation was proven or not). Amnesty highlighted the detention and mistreatment last March of 23 demonstrators who had participated in a anti-war rally. It also noted that anti-riot police reportedly beat Iraqi immigrants after the rally and took 38 of them away to check their identities. The report also criticized Greece for several incidents in which police officers or soldiers were alleged to have resorted to firearms in contravention of international standards for their use, noting that «there were at least two incidents (in 2002) in which unarmed Albanians seeking to enter Greece clandestinely in search of work were shot at and seriously injured by Greek border forces.» Reference was also made to an officer who was remanded on murder charges after fatally shooting a young man last October, allegedly in self-defense. The report noted that the government subsequently (in November) passed draft legislation on the use of firearms by police. However, it criticized the thoroughness of the few investigations it said were held into reports of police misconduct as well as an alleged tendency toward impunity. The report also noted that no police officers were convicted for brutality last year, and that the two police officers convicted of manslaughter received non-custodial sentences or prison sentences of less than three years, which can be paid off under Greek law. Another major focus of the report were the detention conditions of illegal immigrants arrested after entering Greece, which were «often poor and in some cases inhuman and degrading.» Specific reference was made to the detention areas at Attica police headquarters in which «shortage of space, lack of physical activities and outdoor exercise, and very precarious conditions of sanitation amount to degrading treatment,» according to the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights who visited the premises last June when dozens of foreign nationals were being detained pending deportation. The number of immigrants being held at the headquarters decreased by the end of last year but there were still reports of «harsh conditions,» Amnesty said. The report also documented the objections of November 17 terror group suspects to their conditions of detention at Korydallos Prison, without going into detail. Greek authorities also reportedly impeded the applications of some would-be asylum seekers by failing to inform them of their rights and refusing them application forms, Amnesty said, adding that some were «tried without the benefit of legal counsel, and sentenced to imprisonment or deportation after the briefest of trials.» Finally, the report took Greece to task over failing to remove or destroy marked anti-personnel minefields on the border with Turkey (despite its ratification in March last year of the Ottawa Convention banning land mines) which caused the deaths of at least four would-be immigrants last year, three of them Kurds from Turkey.