(London) - The Greek authorities’ ongoing sweeps targeting suspected migrants based on little more than their physical appearance violate international standards, Human Rights Watch said today. Since August 4, 2012, more than 6,000 foreigners presumed to be undocumented migrants have been taken into police stations for questioning, and more than 1,500 arrested for illegal entry and residence with a view to deportation to their countries of origin.
“Greece has the right to enforce its immigration laws, and after a fair process, to deport people with no legal basis to stay in the country”, said Benjamin Ward, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch. “But it doesn't have the right to treat people like criminals or to presume irregular immigration status just because of their race or ethnicity.”
Greek police must have specific cause to stop and question people beyond the appearance of their national origin. Mass expulsions are strictly prohibited under international law. Greece is also legally bound not to return refugees to persecution or anyone to risk of torture. Yet Greece has failed to demonstrate its capacity even to receive asylum claims, let alone to process and decide them fairly, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch and others have also documented inhuman and degrading conditions in Greek migrant detention facilities. While enforcing its immigration laws, Greece needs to be scrupulous in respecting the basic human rights of migrants. Greece should not discriminate based on race or ethnicity and should not subject migrants to arbitrary detention, inhuman and degrading treatment or to summary removal without due process of law. Greece should also provide effective remedies to those in need of protection.
With its deep economic crisis, and after years of mismanaged migration and asylum policies, anti-migrant sentiment has grown in Greece. A far-right party entered parliament for the first time in 2012 elections. A recent Human Rights Watch report showed that xenophobic violence in Greece has reached alarming proportions, with gangs regularly attacking migrants and asylum seekers. The attackers are rarely arrested, and police inaction is the rule.
"Greek police have a duty to protect all foreigners from violence, just as they do Greek citizens", Ward said. "These sweeps are a dangerous distraction from the real policing challenges the country faces."