Greece still in violation of some norms for detention - GulfToday

Greece still in violation of some norms for detention


Migrants sit outside their tents at a makeshift camp for refugees next to the Moria camp on Sunday. Reuters

A group of United Nations experts on arbitrary detention said that despite some improvements, Greece was still in violation of certain international obligations in how and where people are imprisoned.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention presented a preliminary report following a visit to 20 detention facilities across the country between Dec.2 and Dec.13.

It noted several areas of concern involving both the criminal justice system and migration.

A final report will be be issued in several months. The group, which visited Greece following an invitation by the 6-month-old government, said it had enjoyed unrestricted access to facilities and full co-operation from Greek officials.

The group’s concerns included prison overcrowding, the non-segregation of suspects held in pre-trial detention from those already convicted, the access of asylum seekers to interpreters and legal help, and reports of arbitrary push-backs into Turkey of migrants attempting to cross the border into Greece.

Greek prisons have suffered from overcrowding for years. A recent change to the penal code reducing the length of prison sentences and encouraging the use of alternatives such as community service “are positive steps forward,” the group said.

But it added that “there is still considerable scope for their implementation,” and noted that the conditions in prisons and police station holding cells “do not generally meet international standards.”

The preliminary findings criticised the widespread use of pre-trial detention. It also said that holding people awaiting trial together with convicts runs contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and is “contrary to the presumption of innocence that all persons are entitled to prior to conviction.”

Regarding push-backs, the group said it had received information from various sources, including lawyers and non-governmental groups, that some migrants attempting to enter Greece from Turkey “are arrested, detained in very poor conditions, and summarily returned across the Greece-Turkey land border” without being given the chance to apply for asylum.

“We understand that it’s not occasional. In fact, we understand that it’s a long-standing practice dating back several years now,” said Leigh Toomey, vice chair of the group. Toomey said the group was currently “in dialogue” with the government regarding the reports, and did not have information on how many people were believed to have been the subject of push-backs.

This was the second visit by the UN’s Working Group of Arbitrary Detention to Greece. The first was conducted in 2013.

Mired in the mud, living under a plastic tarpaulin next to overflowing bins, 18-year-old Afghan Merziyeh Eskandari knows she faces another hard day in the migrant camp on the Greek island of Chios.

The daily routine starts with standing in line for stinking toilets, getting two bottles of water and a portion of rice, and later sleeping in the cold without electricity.

The Vial camp on Chios has places for 1,000 people but nearly 5,000 are crammed in. Some of them, like Merziyeh, are camping in a nearby olive grove.

“The simple act of going to the toilets seems too risky for women and girls,” says Human Rights Watch’s Hillary Margolis in a report on conditions for women in the Moira camp on Lesbos island.

Zubaida, an Afghan woman living at Moria, told the rights group how she stopped drinking tea at six o’clock each evening so she would not have to go to the toilet during the night. She fears being raped.

Amino Abduhahi Ahmat, a Somali at the Chios camp, said that “at night we have to go to the toilets three or four women together because we’re afraid of the drunken men.”

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) runs a support programme for migrants who are victims of sexual violence, many of whom are women.

Irini Papanastassiou, a Greek representative for MSF, said some women have been victims of rape but it was not clear when or where the attacks had happened.

Given the overcrowding and dire conditions at the camp, the Greek government has promised to transfer some 20,000 people to the mainland by the end of the year.

Agence France-Presse

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