Thursday, 6 August 2009

Samos Detention Centre Hunger Strike

The 580 migrants currently being held in the new €2.6m detention centre on the eastern Aegean island of Samos, designed to accommodate less than half that number and known locally as 'Guantánamo', began a hunger strike Wednesday to protest their possible deportation following the forced deportation of 26 fellow migrants to Turkey earlier in the week. The previous detention centre on the island, a converted tobacco factory and itself the venue of a notorious hunger-strike in 2006 where Iranian detainees sewed-up their lips with wire, was forced to close following protests from European Parliament MPs and the UNHCR after conditions there were slammed as being "an insult to human dignity ... and a downright violation of human rights."

In recent months the Greek authorities have significantly stepped up their attempts to detain and remove migrants from the country, most of them being deported illegally* across the Turkish border, where most are assumed to have entered Greece from. In 2001 Greece-Turkey signed a bilateral readmission protocol as part of the process that could lead to Turkey gaining EU membership. However, the functioning of this protocol has been less than smooth. Amongst the complaints made by the Greeks are that, of the 6 border exchange locations agreed, the Turks are only allowing deportations via the Maritsa crossing in northern Greece. This imposes considerable transport and logistic costs on the Greek state and has led to a preponderance of clandestine deportations.

The Greeks claim that 60,000 or 40% of all 'illegal' migrants reaching Greece have travelled via Turkey and, of the cases submitted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for return under the protocol, only 12% were agreed upon by the Turkish authorities and only half of those have actually been readmitted via the process. Turkey in turn demands that Greece accepts significant numbers of 'illegals' that they claim have crossed into Turkey from Greece. Whilst a small number of Europe-bound migrants may have accidentally crossed the River Mariç in the wrong direction, most are understood to be illegal Greek police 'push-backs'. Migrants are also known to have drowned in the river after being denied access to both Greek and Turkish territory.

Just as the French authorities have in recent years come to blame the UK government for the costs they claim they have to bear because of the large numbers of migrants trying to cross the English Channel, so the Greek government now complain that it cannot be expected to bear a disproportionate burden of what is an EU problem. So the Greeks try to blackmail its Northern and Eastern neighbours into bear more of its 'pain and suffering'.

The Turks, on the other hand are caught in a cleft stick; caught between a desire to join the EU but at the same time not wishing to end up where the Greeks are now, shouldering an unequal share of EU migration prevention costs**, even before it joins the EU! On top of that is the on-going clash of rampant nationalisms that will inevitably see the 2 states continuing to trade insults and expelled migrants across their common border.

* Greek police have also been systematically denying migrants access to asylum procedures. In one example, 45 Kurdish refugees at Chania on Crete, despite 17 having signed asylum applications in front of Amnesty International representatives and local lawyers, the police representatives present refused to process the documents. Instead the migrants were herded on to a bus and taken to a detention centre in Athens, prior to removal to the North.
** It has recently built seven new reception centres able to accommodate 750 people each, with 6 more at planning stage, adding to the 30 plus detention centres and informal holding facilities it already has, as part of the accession process.

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