Greece – closing down immigrant detention centres

Artist: Skitsofrenis  2009

Artist: Skitsofrenis 2009

Following the suicide of a 28 year old Pakistani national on Friday night in the Greek immigrant detention cetre of Amygdaleza, Yiannis Panousis, Greece’s new Minister for Civil Protection, toured the facility on Saturday. Greeted by a protest organised by anti-racism groups, Panousis said, “I came to express the sadness and grief of the ministry and the government…but now I express my shame, not as a minister, but as a human being, as a representative of civilization.” The new government has vowed to overhaul Greece’s system of detention for undocumented migrants. “I couldn’t believe what I saw. I really could not believe it. This must change and it must change immediately,” he said, adding that the centers would be closed within days.The government will instead set up “open” centres with better facilities.


Alexia Eastwood wrote this article on the story that appears in The Press Project – see full article here. Excerpts below.

Amygdaleza, one of many ‘closed hospitality centres’ for undocumented migrants, has long been the subject of controversy and international concern. Amygdaleza, which was the first facility of its kind, uses containers as temporary housing. The conditions for detainees have been described as substandard, degrading, and unacceptable by the independant humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Their 2014 report, Invisible Suffering, which documents conditions in centres around the country is available here .

Greece, one of the key European entry points for irregular migrants, has in recent years been overhwelmed with an increased influx of migrants following conflicts in the middle east, especially in Syria. As the Economist reported , from January to July of last year, “ the number of illegal migrants arrested by the Greek authorities at the border with Turkey rose by 143%.”

Although many of these migrants are hoping to make it to the richer, northern countries of Europe, most will never make it that far. The Dublin Regulation decrees that it is the country that the migrant arrived in that is responsible for the individual’s asylum application, thereby more often than not placing the overwhelming burden of dealing with undocumented migrants onto the shoulders of border regions who are usually the least well equipped to deal with them. In 2013 for example, Greece, one of the  European countries who have been hit the hardest by the economic crisis, spent €63m to prevent illegal immigration, with only €3m of that sum coming from Europe’s border agencies.

The previous Greek administration led by the conservative New Democracy party, in 2012 initiated Operation “Xenios Zeus”, ironically named after the Greek God of hospitality, rounding up and arresting irregular immigrants across Greece and placing them in long term detention in centres around the country until they are either granted asylum, or more often, deported. Detention periods have creeping up over the years. Police were called to end a riot at Amygdaleza in August 2013 after detainees were told that the maximum time they could be held in detention had been extended from 12 to 18 months. That has now been extended to potentially indefinately in cases where detainees refuse to cooperate in their removal proceedings, following a Greek Legal Council advisory opinionin 2014.

A complete overhaul of this deplorable system can’t come quickly enough, but the real problem here is one for Europe as a whole to deal with. The burden of dealing with large numbers of people fleeing war, poverty and desperation, and hoping for a better life in Europe cannot be left on the shoulders of the EU countries who happen to be on Europe’s borders. As a report concluded in 2013, “Far from promoting inter-State solidarity, a long-standing EU goal, it seems that the Dublin system has shifted responsibility for refugee protection toward the MS in Europe’s southern and eastern regions. Indeed there has been an 87 per cent increase in asylum levels in Southern European countries.”

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