Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Greece: One Way & It's Out

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the European Union to "hold Greece accountable for acts contrary to international and European human rights and refugee law" and said that "it needs to act fast, as the lives of many are at risk." Bill Frelick, the Director of HRW's Refugee Policy Program also said, "It appears Greece is doing everything it can to close the door on persons who seek protection in Europe, no matter how vulnerable they are."

HRW has been documenting the on-going policy of the Greek state to systematically denying migrants access to Internationally agreed asylum rights and of illegally expelling them to third countries. (See: 'Stuck in a Revolving Door' for a previous HRW Report on 'pushbacks') The same organisation has also documented the routine miscategorisation of unaccompanied children as adults, allowing them to be detained in conditions that would be considered to inhumane and degrading, if they had been correctly identified as children, prior to deportation.

In the wake of the far right anti-immigration parties gains in the EU elections last month and an impending general election, likely to take place next year, the Greek government are desperate to occupy some of the moral low-ground and increase anti-immigration repression in order to stay in power.

In addition to an immigration policy that already refuses all but a handful of asylum applications (recent figures show only about 1.3% of applications are accepted*), the government has abolished any meaningful means of appeal against asylum decisions, causing the UNHCR to pull out its previous cooperation in implementing the process, as well as increasing the maximum length of administrative detention for migrants from 6 months to 12 months, and certain circumstances up to 18 months.

Since mid July, the Greek authorities have significantly increased their operations against migrants and asylum seekers. The Patras camp has been destroyed and many of its occupants arrested, leaving numerous migrant children who managed to escape the clutches of the Greek police in hiding in abysmal conditions under constant fear of being detained. Numerous ex-army bases have been opened up as detention centres and large numbers of detainees have been moved from major cities and islands in the south and east to camps in the north prior to illegal expulsion to Turkey.

However not all Greeks are content to stand by as the government ramp up the repression. On 23 July activists blockaded the ferry from Lesvos, the venue for a No Border camp at the end of next month, preventing the transfer of 63 migrants to camps in the north. There have also been numerous solidarity demonstrations in Athens, Thessaloniki and other Greek cities with people defending the migrant communities against the numerous vicious attacks from state-sponsored fascist thugs.

In separate news, Arivan Abdullah Osman, a 29 year old Kurdish migrant who had been in a coma since 3 April, died in hospital on Monday. Arivan had been brutally beaten by Hellenic Coast Guard officers after he tried to board a ferry in Igoumenitsa bound for Italy. According to eyewitnesses he had previously been turned away from the port but returned only to be arrested and have his head repeatedly bounced off the cement at the port, causing internal bleeding from which he never recovered.

* Last year only 379 people were granted asylum out of nearly 29,080 applications. The same Eurosat figures showed that Greece had the EU's fifth highest number of applications (the 4th highest relative to population size), with France top with 41,800 asylum applications and the UK second with 30,500 (figure for new applicants only).

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