Undocumented migrants in Greece awaiting deportation face appalling detention conditions, Human Rights Watch charged. In an urgent memorandum to the Greek government, the group documented conditions at the Attica General Police Directorate detention center for foreigners.

Last month when the group visited the facility, located on Alexandras Avenue in Athens, it found more than 150 detainees in a space allegedly designed for half that number. Most detainees had been held at the center, which was filthy and roach-infested, for months; one man had been held there for a full year.
Such conditions, coupled with the lengthy periods of detention, "raise serious concerns" that the Greek government may be responsible for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, Human Rights Watch said.

"The fact that the detainees may not have papers does not mean they do not have rights," said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "People are being held in ghastly conditions for long periods of time."

The vast majority of the detainees had an administrative deportation order issued against them by the Ministry of Public Order that could not be executed immediately because their home countries could not provide required documentation in a timely manner or would not issue documents to them at all. Some of the detainees were stateless and had no home country that could issue the required documents.

"The Greek government cannot simply warehouse migrants who cannot be sent back home," said Denber. "When migrant detainees are held indefinitely and do not know when, if ever, they will be released, their detention becomes arbitrary and that's a violation of international law."

A number of detainees had applied for asylum and were waiting for a decision, or had already been rejected. Human Rights Watch argued that asylum seekers, in general, should not be detained.

In addition to making specific recommendations to the Greek government to uphold the rights of undocumented migrants, Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations, Council of Europe, European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to ensure that Greece, as a member state, complies fully with international and regional standards for the treatment of detainees. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture is to make a site visit to Greece in 2001. Greece also reports to the U.N. Committee Against Torture and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 2001.