Greece Must Halt Mass Police Crackdown on Irregular Migrants

Press Release
August 8, 2012

Greece Must Halt Mass Police Crackdown on Irregular Migrants

Human Rights Organization Documents 'Degrading and Inhumane' Immigration Detention Centers, Cites More Than 7,500 Arrested Since Thursday

Contact: Alex Edwards, aedwards@aiusa.org, 202-675-8761

(Washington, D.C.) -- Amnesty International today demanded that Greek authorities halt a mass police crackdown on "irregular migrants" following reports that more than 7,5000 foreign nationals, many of Asian, African and North African origin, have been arrested since last Thursday.

According to Greek police, around 2,000 of those round up were found with no papers and were placed in administrative detention, many held in overcrowded conditions at the Attika Aliens police directorate and other police stations in Athens. While many have since been released because they were found to be legally residing in Greece, others have been transferred to police academies in northern Greece which are being used as detention facilities.

"While Greece has the right to control migration, it does not have the right to treat people like criminals purely because of the color of their skin," said Jezerca Tigani, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia. "The scale of the police operation in Athens over the weekend raises serious concerns about discrimination on the basis of perceived ethnicity."

According to reports, some people were transferred to police stations despite showing papers proving their legal residence in Greece. In view of the sharp rise of racially motivated attacks against foreign nationals in the past year, Amnesty International said it is concerned that such a massive and discriminatory operation will fuel further attacks and xenophobia.

"Greece may be going through financial difficulties while facing one of the highest migration flows among E.U. countries, but these police operations violate international human rights standards and should stop immediately," said Tigani. "Such arrests may put at risk of deportation individuals who are in need of international protection but are unable to apply for asylum."

Asylum-seekers in Greece often face serious obstructions when attempting to access asylum procedures. Long lines of asylum-seekers wait in appalling conditions for two to three days outside the Attika Aliens police directorate at Petrou Ralli in Athens to lodge asylum applications each Saturday morning. Despite this, only a small number of applications are registered by the authorities each week.

Two men (from Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire) were arrested and detained during the recent sweep operations and sent to Attika Aliens police directorate, where they were detained until last night and then transferred to another facility in Northern Greece.

An Amnesty International delegation met with the two men last month while they were waiting outside Petrou Ralli. One of them told Amnesty International how he has repeatedly requested to apply for asylum during his detention and that his requests were ignored by the police.

"The Greek authorities must ensure that anyone wishing to apply for asylum is provided with effective access to it," added Tigani. "They must act to ensure that immigration-related detention is used only as a last resort; those detained should be notified of the grounds of their detention and ensured access to their lawyer and the outside world."

An Amnesty International delegation witnessed the poor conditions in immigration detention centers in Athens during a recent visit to the country last week. The organization's delegates visited six detention facilities in Athens, including Petrou Ralli, which is in need of repairs. In other facilities, including those of New and Old Elliniko, conditions were inhumane and degrading.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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