NEWS

‘Inadequate’ reception centers for immigrants need overhaul

Most reception centers for immigrants in Greece do not provide adequate healthcare and other basic services, are run by undertrained staff and lack stable funding to maintain them, according to a report commissioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which was made public last week. The report, which was drafted following the assessment of conditions at 12 centers across the country between January 2001 and August 2003, called upon the government to transpose European minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers into national legislation and to boost funding from the public and private sectors. Insufficient funding was highlighted as one of the biggest problems by the UNHCR’s representative in Athens, Bart Leerschool, who noted that three reception facilities were closed in 2003 due to financial constraints burdening the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that ran them. The report also called for better coordination between the Public Order and Health ministries to establish adequate infrastructure for the provision of basic medical and social services (including legal aid), to ensure staff receive proper training on issues of significance to asylum seekers, and to adopt special measures for the protection of the «vulnerable groups» of separated children and single mothers. Recommendations to the government include the recruitment of at least one social worker for each center and the appointment of a legal guardian for separated children. The report also stressed the need for the «consideration of gender and age sensitivity as part of child care» as well as «gender-sensitive approaches in needs assessments.» It advised the government and NGOs both to implement schemes encouraging the employment of single women and others and to provide counseling for single women regarding their future plans. Another key concern was that none of the centers provided mental healthcare, described as a «basic human need,» with most not even offering medical screening to arriving migrants nor preventive medicine. ‘Poor practice’ The report alerted both the government and the UNHCR to the situation at the reception center at Lavrion, run by the Hellenic Red Cross (HRC), which it described as the least satisfactory, despite being the only permanently funded center in Greece. Children at the center share rooms with 6-13 adults of the same sex, while some did not have a bed and others were forced to sleep on balconies due to the lack of space, according to the report. The absence of any legal framework for the protection of separated children, who account for most residents at the center, was also highlighted as a concern. Another worry is the lack of central organization at the center. «It appeared that no organization, not even the HRC, is really involved in deciding who can be accommodated at the center,» noted the report, which called on authorities to curb the influence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the center’s activities. «In the case of Lavrion, eliminate political party interference,» one of the recommendations to the government reads. However, the report also highlighted «examples of good practice» to be emulated by other centers. These include the Anogeia Center on Crete, the Nefeli project in suburban Athens and the Social Solidarity Reception Center in Thessaloniki. The Anogeia Center, which hosts only separated children, provides access to healthcare through cooperation with local hospitals and Greek-language lessons four times a week to help integrate residents into society. The Nefeli project, which comprises four independent apartments in the western suburbs of Athens, is described as an «an innovative and alternative reception and initial integration program» for migrants. The project obliges all residents to attend Greek-language lessons and actively encourages them to seek employment. But most «model» centers fall far short of European standards in «the basics» of adequate healthcare, legal aid and psychological support systems, according to the report. There was also criticism of the processes that precede the migrants’ referral to reception centers. The report highlighted the «reluctance» of police to register the details of asylum seekers in detention, which can result in couples being registered separately, and therefore referred to different centers, or newborn babies not being registered at all. It also called on the government to implement measures to avoid the detention of separated children.