Human Rights Groups Upset Refugees Detained on Greek Islands

April 27, 2018

The refusal of the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA to obey a court order which would allow newly arriving refugees and migrants to roam at will in Greece has led to human rights organizations and aid groups demanding the government “end its abusive policy” of operating detention centers and camps.

There are more than 64,000 refugees and migrants stuck in Greece after the European Union closed its borders to them, including 15,000 on islands near Turkey, which has let human traffickers operate during a suspended swap deal with the bloc.

Conditions in the centers on the islands, particularly Lesbos, Chios and Samos, have been criticized by activists as unfit for humans and with Greece fearing an uptick in arrivals with the spring weather making more willing to risk the perilous sea journey from Turkey on rubber dinghies and rickety craft, or crossing the land border with Turkey along the Evros River in the north.

Some, 21 groups issued a joint statement condemning the government’s move to overturn a court ruling allowing newly-arrived refugees and migrants to move from the islands to mainland Greece, said Al Jazeera.

They said the restrictions on movement, in defiance of the court order, amounted to a “containment policy” that “raises rule of law concerns,” but they were ignored as they have before during a more than two-year-long refugee and migrant crisis.

Among the groups that published the statement were Human Rights Watch, Greek Helsinki Monitor, EuroMed Rights, Lesbos Legal Centre, Oxfam and Solidarity Now.

On April 17, the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court, ruled that there was no legal justification for barring asylum seekers from moving from the increasingly overcrowded refugee camps on Greek islands to the country’s mainland.

But on April 20 the Director of Asylum Services issued an order reinstating the restrictions of freedom of movement for asylum seekers with no move from the court over contempt for its order.

The activist groups had said that, “There is no evidence that lifting the containment policy would be a pull factor, as Greece and others claim, especially given the largely closed borders along the Western Balkan migration route into Western Europe”.

“Containing asylum seekers on the Greek islands in substandard and appalling conditions that violate their rights and Greece’s international obligations cannot be justified for migration control purposes,” the statement said.

The tight quarters have led to growing tension and violent incidents, the worst coming recently when extreme-right groups attacked refugees and migrants squatting in Lesbos’ main city of Mytilene where they were protesting delays in reviewing asylum applications.

Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas said there wasn’t any problems at the centers without indicating whether he was aware of the riots on Lesbos.

“I’m not scared about the islands because we know what we have to do. What is really worrisome is the huge increase through Evros,” he said, as reported by the Greek daily Ekathimerini.
According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), at least 7,497 refugees and migrants have reached Greece so far this year.


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