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Society

Human Rights Watch Rips New Democracy Migrant Roundup

August 6, 2019

ATHENS – A Greece police roundup of migrants under the new New Democracy government – as it did when ruling previously – has been slammed by Human Rights Watch, which compared the operation to “a return to the bad old days.”

The agency’s researcher for Western Europe, Eva Cosse, said what is called Operation Net has some 130 armed police officers she said are called the Black Panthers patrolling Metro and subway stations in the Greek capital, hunting for migrants.

Greece is awash with more than 70,000 migrants and refugees, including some 15,000 detained on Greek islands and the rest on the mainland but others are roaming around the city, often congregating at one of the main centers of Omonia Square.

“Given Greece’s history of abusive police sweeps, Operation Net sounds alarm bells about a possible new wave of human rights violations by the police in the capital,” she wrote, reminding of the 2012 crackdown called Operation Xenios Zeus.

That saw police detain tens of thousands of people under then Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, who is now Foreign Minister for the new government that took power in July 7 snap elections, ousting the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA.

At the time, he defended the operation, saying it was necessary to slow the tide of illegal immigrants flooding Greece during the early years of a now 9 ½-year-long economic crisis. “Our social fabric is at risk of unraveling,” he told The New York Times then.

But Cosse said that was a disguise to get at migrants and that people who even appeared to be foreigners were stopped and subjected to searches, were insulted and sometimes even physically abused.

She said her research for the group in 2014-15 found that, “Police used identity checks as a tool to harass people they consider undesirable, such as people who use drugs, sell sex, or people who are homeless,” and some migrants were bused out of the city and dumped.

She said that she understands the need for law-and-order and to improve security after SYRIZA was accused of letting criminals and anarchists run amok with impunity, as new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he would stop lawlesssness.

“But the Greek authorities also have an obligation to ensure they don’t abuse people’s rights in the process. That requires appropriately circumscribed police stop-and-search powers with clear and binding guidelines for law enforcement officers so they can be held accountable for their use,” she said.

She cautioned that there should be legal grounds to check people or take them to police stations for further verification of their documents and that police should have better guidance on how to conduct checks and searches without abusing people’s rights.

“To make a real difference and increase the sense of security for everyone in central Athens, without discrimination, the new government should avoid invoking problematic laws and practices on stop and search likely to make the already difficult lives for vulnerable groups on the streets of Athens much harder,” she also wrote.

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