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No End in Sight: The Mistreatement of Asylum Seekers in Greece

PRESS RELEASE, 21 August 2019

New report highlights theill-treatment of asylum seekers in Greece

In the wake of the announcement by the Turkish government that the EU-Turkey deal onmigration would be suspended, a collective of local, national and internationalcivil society organisations have released today a new report [IJ1] highlighting the human consequences of the EU-Turkeydeal and the related Greek containment policy.

Officially released today, the evidence found in the reportwas previously submitted in June to the United Nations Committee AgainstTorture by Refugee Rights Europe, Greek Helsinki Monitor and the WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT), ahead of its review of Greece, making astrong case for the need for redress of ill-treatment of asylum seekers andrefugees in Greece.

As aresult of the policy, the conditions for asylum seekers trapped on the Greekislands have rapidly deteriorated. Conditions in the camps on the islands failto meet humane standards – with overcrowding, failing sanitation services and alack of support for individuals suffering from severe mental and physicalhealth problems. The length of time spent on the islands as a result of thecontainment policy, and slow processing of applications, means that individualsare forced to remain in harmful conditions.

The new report released today by Refugee Rights Europe andpartners is a rigorously researched account based on first-hand evidence,testimonies and observations documented by 12 civil society organisationsoperating on the Greek islands and the mainland in 2019, combined with in-depthresearch conducted by Refugee Rights Europe in Chios, Lesvos and the Greekmainland in 2016-2018. The issues raised in the report have been taken up bythe UN Committee Against Torture, which recently made a number of strongrecommendations for Greece to addresswithin a year’s time (see Annex below).

Amongstthe key issues are the alarmingly poorconditions in detention, with inadequate sanitation facilities and a lack ofaccess to medical care and legal safeguards. The report also indicates theprevalence of ill-treatment by the police in detention centres, ranging frombeatings, standing on people’s backs and heads and aggressive behaviour.

In addition, evidencepoints to an alarming rate of gender-based violence against refugee andasylum-seeking women and girls occurring in Greece, and in particular on theislands. There is often a lack of special protections and safeguards in place,while post-rape emergency care is critically lacking on many of the islands.

Overall,the UN Committee Against Torture requests that Greeceaddresses the specific recommendations on: non-refoulement; detention ofunaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children; sexual and gender-basedviolence against refugee and asylum-seeking women; and, human rights defendersand humanitarian workers and volunteers.

Alice Lucas, Advocacy and Policy Manager at Refugee RightsEurope, said: “The new Greek government,which ascended into power this July, is faced with an opportunity to seek newsolutions which can help transform the lived realities of thousands fleeingwar, persecution and protracted crises. Alongside our partners, we’re callingfor an urgent end to the containment policy and immediate measures to improvethe conditions for those trapped on the islands, accompanied by increasedresources to receive asylum seekers on the mainland.”

Panayote Dimitras, Spokesperson at Greek Helsinki Monitor(GHM), said: “Our report shines a lighton the wide-ranging rights violations and ill-treatment facing refugees inGreece. We welcome the recent observations of the UN Committee Against Torturein which many of our concerns are acknowledged – including the use of excessiveforce, the lack of recourse to legal aid whilst in detention, the highprevalence of sexual and gender-based violence and the unlawful detention ofminors.”

Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General,said: “When arbitrary detention andbeatings of refugees become a pattern, when families and unaccompanied childrenare held in substandard conditions without access to healthcare, when eventhose ready to return to their country of origin remain detained for months,there must be an end in sight. We urge Greece to end the arbitrarydetention of migrants, to place children in adequate accommodation, to takesteps for a long term and sustainable reception plan, and to ensure theavailability of essential services, including social housing, health care andeducation.”

Background: The EU-Turkey Statement

· On 18th March 2016, the EU and Turkey signed the EU-Turkey Statement, essentiallyallowing Greece to return to Turkey any new so-called ‘irregular migrants’ fromSyria in exchange for European aid. TheGreek containment policy was put into effect to implement the deal, prohibitingmovement from the islands to mainland Greece untiltheir asylum claims have been processed.

· The legality of this geographical restriction has been widelyquestioned, and in April 2018 a Greek court ruled against the policy.However, the ruling was swiftly blocked by the GreekGovernment, which transposed EU Directive 2013/33 into Greek law, thus, ineffect, continuing the containment policy on the islands.

Media contacts

Panayote Dimitras, Spokesperson, Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM)


M: +306932746619

Iolanda Jaquemet,Director of Communications, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)


M: +4179 539 41 06

MartaWelander, Executive Director, Refugee Rights Europe


M: +447880230979

Annex: Key excepts from the ‘Concludingobservations on the seventh periodic report of Greece’, United NationsCommittee Against Torture

Non-refoulement – the State party should:

a) Ensure that in practice no one may beexpelled, returned or extradited to another State where there are substantialgrounds for believing that he or she would run a personal and foreseeable riskof being subjected to torture and ill-treatment;

b) Enhance efforts to ensure the criminalaccountability for perpetrators of acts that put the lives and safety ofmigrants and asylum seekers at risk, and ensure that victims, witnesses andclaimants are protected against ill-treatment or intimidation that may arise asa consequence of their complaints;

c) Guarantee that all asylum seekers have the opportunity for anindividual review, with automatic suspensive effect against expulsiondecisions, and are protected from refoulement and collective return.

Asylumsystem – The State party should:

a) Reinforce the capacity of theAsylum Service to substantively assess all individual applications for asylumor international protection;

b) Guarantee that the acceleratedborder procedures under the EU-Turkey Statement of March 2016 and otherreadmission agreements are subject to a thorough assessment on a case-by-casebasis of the risks of violations of the principle of non-refoulement, ensuringrespect for all safeguards with regard to asylum and deportation procedures;

c) Ensure that any measuresrestricting the freedom of movement of asylum seekers are consistent with itsobligations under the Convention and other international human rights treaties;

d) Formulate clear guidelines andrelated training on the identification of torture victims and others in need ofinternational protection among asylum seekers and migrants.

Immigration detention – The State party should:

a) Refrain from detaining asylumseekers and irregular or undocumented migrants for prolonged periods, usedetention as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period possible andcontinue the application of non-custodial measures, in conformity withinternational standards;

b) Guarantee that detained asylumseekers and migrants have access to counsel, including legal aid services;

c) Guarantee judicial review orother meaningful and effective avenues to challenge the legality ofadministrative immigration detention;

d) Take the necessary measures toensure appropriate reception conditions for asylum seekers and migrants;

e) Strengthen its efforts toensure adequate living conditions in all immigration centres;

f) Ensure that asylum seekers andmigrants held in detention are provided with adequate medical and mental healthcare, including a medical examination upon admission and routine assessments;

g) Establish an effective andindependent oversight mechanism of the Reception and Identification Service towhich individuals held in immigration detention can bring complains;

h) Ensure that all allegations oftorture and ill-treatment by law-enforcement officials are promptly, thoroughlyand impartially investigated by the authorities, that the perpetrators areprosecuted, and if found guilty, punished and that victims are provided withredress.

Unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children – TheState party should:

a) Ensure that children are notdetained solely because of their immigration status. Detention should be usedonly as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period possible;

b) End the practice of detainingmigrants and asylum seekers, especially unaccompanied children, in policeholding cells and other detention facilities that are not suitable for longstays.

Sexual and gender-based violence against refugee andasylum-seeking women – The State partyshould:

a) Take effective measures toensure that all cases of gender-based violence – in particular against refugee,asylum-seeking and migrant women and girls, and especially those involvingactions or omissions by State authorities or other entities that engage theinternational responsibility of the State party under the Convention– arethoroughly investigated, that the alleged perpetrators are prosecuted and, ifconvicted, punished appropriately, and that the victims or their familiesreceive redress, including adequate compensation;

b) Ensure that police officers andprosecutors refrain from turning away alleged victims of gender-based violence.The State party should also consider revising police practices that may deterwomen from seeking protection from the authorities in cases where they havebeen subjected to or are at risk of gender-based violence;

c) Provide mandatory training onprosecution of gender-based violence to all justice officials and lawenforcement personnel and continue awareness-raising campaigns on all forms ofviolence against women;

d) Adopt specific protectivemeasures, including the establishment of a mechanism to prevent and respond tosexual and gender-based violence against refugee, asylum-seeking and migrantwomen and girls, especially those held in RICs- ‘hotspots’, reception centresand other immigration detention facilities;

e) Ensure that survivors of genderbased-violence are able to access shelters and receive the necessary medicalcare, psychological support and legal assistance they require;

f) Compile and provide to theCommittee statistical data, disaggregated by the age and the ethnicity ornationality of the victim, on the number of complaints, investigations,prosecutions, convictions and sentences recorded in cases of gender-basedviolence, as well as on the measures adopted to ensure that victims have accessto effective remedies and reparation.

Human trafficking - The State partyshould:

a) Intensifyits efforts to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings, including byputting in place effective procedures for the identification and referral ofvictims among vulnerable groups, such as asylum seekers and migrants, includingunaccompanied minors

b) Enhance the efforts to investigateclaims of human trafficking, including past cases of trafficking for purposesof labour exploitation, and prosecute perpetrators and ensure that victims oftrafficking obtain compensation

c) Ensure access to adequate protectionand support for all victims of trafficking, especially secure shelters andcounselling services.

Link to our own website – thanks! [IJ1]

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