Greek prisons are congested and the judiciary under stress as hundreds of irregular newcomers flow into the country daily via neighbouring Turkey, a United Nations independent human rights expert said today, urging the European Union to help Greece deal with the problem of migrants.
“The unprecedented numbers have put the border guard stations, police stations and migrant detention centres into a critical state,” Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, said in a statement at the end of a 10-day fact-finding mission to Greece.
He said he believed the Greek Government was willing to face the problem, but the challenge was trying to implement new policies and rules amid the current economic crisis.
“Greece should not carry the burden of receiving the vast majority of all irregular migrants entering the European Union,” Mr. Nowak said. “This is a truly European problem which needs a joint European solution.”
He urged the EU to renegotiate the “Dublin II Regulation” – an EU law that determines the bloc’s Member State responsible for looking into an application for an asylum-seeker – in order to ensure fair sharing of the burden, while taking into consideration the legitimate concerns of asylum seekers and irregular migrants.
Mr. Nowak said he concurred with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and human rights groups’ recommendation that returns under Dublin II be stopped because of the inadequate protection against refoulement and the inhuman detention conditions for migrants in Greece.
During his mission, the independent expert conducted unannounced visits to detention centres and interviewed those held there in private, thanks to the cooperation of the Greek police and judicial services.
He found that some had been confined up for up to six months in overcrowded, filthy cells, with inadequate ventilation and lighting. Access to medical care, lawyers and interpreters was also limited, he said.
“In a number of Criminal Investigation Departments (CID), I found more than 40 foreigners held in administrative detention in office space temporarily used as make-shift cells,” he added.
“Such conditions of detention clearly amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of Articles 7 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” Mr. Nowak stressed.
He said that the asylum-seekers were generally detained while waiting for their claims to be processed, resulting in a backlog of 52,000 cases as of August.
An agreement with Turkey allows the deportation of immigrants to neighbouring countries, with those from Iran, Iraq and Syria facing serious risk of being deported without proper assessments of their claims, a violation of the principle of non-refoulement under the Convention against Torture, the expert said.