Mr. Michalis Chryssochoidis
Ministry of Citizen Protection
Dear Minister Chryssochoidis:
We are writing to you following our visit to Athens between April 13 and 15, and the letter we sent to you on April 28, 2010.
In our letter following our visit to Greece, we expressed our appreciation for the openness and cooperation shown by your Ministry during our visit. The letter also set out our concerns with regard to the ongoing reform process in the areas of migration detention and asylum.
We recognize the significant challenges faced by your government, which include continued inflows of migrants, the Dublin II regulation, which puts an unfair burden on Greece and other states on the external frontiers of the EU, and an extensive reform agenda in the context of a budget crisis and consequent fiscal austerity.
We are nonetheless disappointed by the lack of response to our letter. We are taking the step of making this follow up letter public and making public our previous letter to you.
In our April letter, we highlighted the appalling conditions we had witnessed at the two detention facilities of the old airport (Ellinikon), outside Athens, where we found 133 migrants detained the day of our visit on April 14.
Our visit indicated that detainees at those two facilities are being held in inhuman and degrading conditions, in violation of Greece's obligations under international law. We urged you to take immediate steps to close these facilities down, and release migrants held there or transfer them to other detention facilities, after considering less restrictive alternatives to their detention.
It is our understanding that no steps have been taken to improve the detention conditions at these two facilities or to close them down. We repeat our call for your government to take urgent action in relation to these facilities.
Our findings should be seen in the context of persisting concerns over detention conditions for migrants in Greece more generally and the continued failure of the Greek asylum procedure to identify and provide protection to refugees and others in need of international protection. During our extensive research in Greece in 2008 and 2009, as well as our visit in April 2010, we found that conditions in detention centers for migrants not only fall below minimum standards, but in many instances could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. We further found that unaccompanied migrant children were subject to routine detention and frequently held jointly with adults. All of these concerns have been confirmed by recent reports from Médecins Sans Frontières, the Hellenic League for Human Rights, and Amnesty International.
We are concerned that under the current budget constraints, the replacement and upgrading of a large number of substandard detention facilities will require substantial amounts of funding. That reality only underscores the importance of treating detention as a means of last resort for rejected asylum seekers and foreigners who have violated immigration laws. As we noted in our prior letter, we are also concerned that the Greek government's reform plans do not address the repeated cycles of detention migrants currently experience. It is highly likely that Greece will continue to be confronted with a considerable number of rejected asylum seekers and migrants who for legal or practical reasons cannot be returned to their country of origin.
For these reasons, we repeat our call to your government to ensure that people are not subject to detention when their deportation is not feasible. We further urge you to make sure that the practice of detaining unaccompanied migrant children is brought to an end.
We would be grateful for a response in relation to these matters, setting out the steps your ministry has taken to address the concerns highlighted in our letter, and any progress made in relation to the reform of the asylum system generally.
We will continue to closely monitor the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants in Greece and look forward to an ongoing dialogue with you.
Europe and Central Asia Division
Children's Rights Division
Cc: Viviane Reding, Vice President for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, European Commission
Cecilia Malmström , Commissioner for Home Affairs, European Commission
Judith Kumin, Regional Representative, UNHCR EU Office
Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe
Mauro PALMA, President, European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Juan Fernando LÓPEZ AGUILAR, Chair - Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, European Parliament
Yorgos Kaminis, Ombudsman of Greece