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Human Rights Watch Submission to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in advance of its review on Greece August 2015



This memorandum, submitted to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Committee) ahead of its upcoming review of Greece, highlights areas of concern Human Rights Watch hopes will inform the Committee’s consideration of the Greek government’s (“the government”) compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ("the Covenant"). It contains information on Greece’s treatment of homeless people, people who use drugs, and sex workers; and migrants and asylum seekers that are inconsistent with the Covenant articles 2, 11 and 12, and proposes issues that Committee members may wish to raise with the government.

Human Rights Watch has closely monitored the human rights situation in Greece over the past eight years. As part of this work, we have documented violations against the abovementioned groups and have produced reports and other documents describing our research findings. For fuller analyses, please see the Human Rights Watch reports Humanitarian Crisis on the Islands (July 2015); Police Abusing Marginalized People (May 2015); Unwelcome Guests: Greek Police Abuses of Migrants in Athens (June 2013); Turned Away: Summary Returns of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Adult Asylum Seekers from Italy to Greece (January 2013); Hate on the Streets: Xenophobic Violence in Greece (July 2012); The EU’s Dirty Hands: Frontex Involvement in Ill-Treatment of Migrant Detainees in Greece (September 2011); No Refuge: Migrants in Greece (November 2009); Left to Survive: Systematic Failure to Protect Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Greece (December 2008); and Stuck in a Revolving Door: Iraqis and Other Asylum Seekers and Migrants at the Greece/Turkey Entrance to the European Union (November 2008).

Human Rights Watch has also monitored the treatment of persons with disabilities at the Children’s Care Center (“the center”) of Lechaina over the past five years although we have not conducted independent research in the center itself.[1] We encourage the Committee to follow up with the authorities on the steps taken to address concerns identified by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in its 2012 concluding observations on Greece with respect to children with disabilities living in the Children's Care Center of Lechaina “under inhuman and unacceptable conditions, including being systematically sedated and subject to practices such as being tied to their beds, and the use of cage beds due to a shortage of staff.”[2]

Over the last five years, the economic and financial crisis has been particularly severe in Greece. Athens has struggled with an increasing number of people who have lost their jobs, been evicted from their homes, and affected by poverty and social exclusion. Some live on the streets and others go there to find drugs or to sell sex in exchange for money or life necessities. ‪As austerity measures have been carried out, HIV, suicide, and depression have increased and hundreds of thousands of people have been locked out of the health system altogether. 

In March 2014, Cephas Lumina, then UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, said that austerity measures and structural reforms had led to “increased unemployment...homelessness, poverty and social exclusion (with approximately 11 per cent of the population living in extreme poverty), and severely reduced access to public services, such as health care and education.”[3] More recently, on July 15, 2015, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the current Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights warned against more austerity measures for Greece and urged the European institutions, the International Monetary Fund and the Greek government to ensure that everybody in Greece has access to core minimum levels of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to health care, food and social security.[4]

We welcome the Committee’s inclusion in the list of issues for Greece’s review of a request to the government to provide an assessment of the impact of the austerity program and the subsequent economic and financial crisis on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. In addition, we encourage the Committee to follow up with the authorities on the steps taken to address concerns identified by the UN Independent Expert in his March 2014 report.

We hope the information provided in this submission will inform the Committee’s review of Greece and would welcome the opportunity to provide additional details or clarifications as needed.


Treatment of homeless people, people who use drugs, and sex workers (Covenant articles 2, 11 and 12)

Between May and September 2014, Human Rights Watch conducted in-depth interviews with 44 people living or spending considerable amounts of time in the center of Athens, including homeless people and people who said that they used drugs and exchanged sex for money. We found that frequent police stops, as well as round-ups and transfers to police stations and other parts of the city, interfered with people’s access to healthcare and support services. The police stop and detain people who are homeless, who use drugs, and sell sex in the city center as they walk down the street, wait for a bus, or visit a day center where they can eat, clean up, or get support.

These practices had a direct or indirect negative impact on their right to health, including interfering with their access to a doctor and necessary medication, as well as to services and information on HIV prevention, methadone, and other prescription drugs. Despite the fact that it seems that the practice documented by Human Rights Watch of transferring people to police stations far from the city center, which was never formally acknowledged, appears to have stopped, additional interviews with outreach workers and conversations with six people from the same groups in April 2015 indicate that abuses continue under the Syriza-led government elected in January 2015.

Greek law does not criminalize sex work or homelessness, but it does include vague administrative and criminal offenses that affect people selling sex and the destitute. A person engaging in sex work on the street without a work permit may be fined up to €3,000. Drug use, possession, and sale are criminalized. Anyone begging “routinely,” or due to “laziness” or “greediness” can be sentenced to up to six months in prison and/or fined up to €3,000.


Discrimination in Access to Housing

People who use drugs are excluded from government and municipality-run homeless shelters and not provided with any alternative due to a blanket prohibition on active drug users accessing homeless shelters. Despoina Laskaridou, president of the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA), the body in charge of homeless shelters under the Labor Ministry, told Human Rights Watch in September 2014 that candidates, in order to access a homeless shelter, need to provide proof that they can take care of themselves, that they do not use drugs or abuse alcohol, and that they do not have mental health problems, including depression. Candidates have to undergo a series of medical examinations, including for hepatitis C, HIV, and tuberculosis.[5] This policy remains in effect.

There is no reliable government data on homelessness, drug use, and sex work. However, the widespread assessment among nongovernmental organizations providing services, residents, and public officials is that the number of people living on the streets, using drugs, and exchanging sex for money or goods has increased during the economic crisis. Many people, including the majority of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch in 2014, fall into two or all three of these categories.

According to the Greek Therapy Center for Dependent Individuals (KETHEA), an independent public agency that is one of Greece's biggest drug therapy programs, 60 percent of women drug users approached by their outreach workers in 2013 reported selling sex in exchange for drugs or life necessities such as food. Over 40 percent of all drug users, both men and women, said they were homeless, up from 35.2 percent the year before and 24.5 percent in 2010.[6] In April 2013, the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights pointed to a 25 percent increase in homelessness generally since 2009, citing estimates by nongovernmental organizations of at least 20,000 homeless people in Greece in 2013.[7]

An important component of the realization of the right to health for all people is housing. We believe that upholding the right to housing is particularly urgent for people who use drugs, including people living with HIV. A blanket prohibition on active drug users, people with mental health problems, as well as people who abuse alcohol accessing homeless shelters, and the failure to provide alternatives to people who are excluded from the system, excludes many, if not most people who are likely to be homeless and in most dire need of emergency shelter, and is a failure of the government’s obligations to take measures to prevent and address homelessness in particular amongst the most vulnerable groups in society, under article 11 of the Covenant. A blanket exclusion of people with mental health problems also contravenes the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


Policing Impact on the Right to Health

People who use drugs, sex workers, and the homeless often experience extreme destitution and health risks. Police round-ups documented by Human Rights Watch interfered with the ability of these groups to access the health information, medical care, and other services they need, and to exercise fully their right to health.

These policing practices undermined the work of independent public agencies like OKANA (State Organization Against Drugs) and KETHEA, or nongovernmental organizations such as Praxis, Doctors of the World, or Positive Voice and its outreach program Athens Checkpoint in providing direct services to these vulnerable groups.

OKANA and KETHEA run day centers in downtown Athens where people can drop by, wash their clothes, shower, cook, socialize, see a doctor or a social worker, receive equipment for safer injections, or get information about drug dependency treatment options. Many of those interviewed, particularly those who were homeless, said that these centers are places where people can get respite from the harsh daily reality of life on the street and receive the support they need. However, interviewees described being repeatedly picked up by the police while going to or leaving such centers.

Twenty-one of the 44 people interviewed described situations where police stops interfered with their enjoyment of the right to health, including their access to a doctor and necessary medication, as well as to services and information on HIV prevention, methadone, and other prescription drugs. Pertetsoglou, the head of KETHEA’s day center in Athens for active drug users, said:

We have become used to it; they [the police] sometimes perform ID checks in front of the center. Arrest someone in front of the center…. [T]hey [drug users] miss important appointments. That happens repeatedly. It may be an appointment related to a program or a doctor's appointment. This is serious. These are people who need help and [should not] be permanently receiving violent treatment.[8]

Giannis, a 47-year-old man with serious health problems who is living on the street told Human Rights Watch that a police stop the day before our interview had prevented him from keeping a surgery appointment for a serious abscess on his arm:


They destroy all your day, all your program, your health…I said [to the police officer]: “You have taken me in 15 times you, yourself. You know who I am. You know there is no pending court decision or anything against me. Please let me go to do my surgery, I have an appointment with the doctor.” I said I have a problem, a serious one, and I showed it to them…. He didn’t even consider it. He told me sit where you are. And I missed my surgery.


I was dying from the pain…. I tried one hundred times to tell them, “Please guys I have a problem.” No one was listening to me. The appointment was at 10 a.m. Then they verified my identity, and they released me and I went there [to the hospital] but the doctor had left…. And do you know what I did because of my despair? I broke the abscess on my own.[9] 

Carolos, 31, who injects heroin and is homeless, said he has been on a waiting list for a buprenorphine program since 2012. He said he felt desperate after the police stopped him on two occasions when he was going to KETHEA to get information about entering a rehabilitation program. The second time, in June 2014, he said one of the police officers slapped him, and he missed the appointment because he was transferred to the police station of Exarchia for verification of his identity:


[Y]ou make a decision and you say I’m going to do a move [to quit drugs] and suddenly it’s like they destroy these feelings, the courage. After that incident it took me a long time to go [again to KETHEA]. It affected me because the police also slapped me. I felt a weird hatred inside me and I said, “I’m not going to the program or anything.”[10]

We documented five cases in which police destroyed legally prescribed medicine, including methadone, and clean needles, during regular police stops for identity check. According to the police, officers often destroy clean needles for security reasons, despite the fact that they are legal.

In addition, on five occasions between May 28 and June 26, 2014, a Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed the police stopping outreach workers from Athens Checkpoint, an HIV-prevention group, from distributing condoms in downtown Athens, interfering with their ability to provide assistance to these groups. On one of these occasions, two outreach workers were taken to a police station and subjected to strip searches.

Since the beginning of 2011, Greece has had a sharp increase in new HIV infections among people who inject drugs in Athens. According to the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of new infections among people who inject drugs rose from 12 in 2010 to 241 in 2011, 522 in 2012, and 262 in 2013.[11] In a risk assessment on the HIV situation in Greece published in January 2013, the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) cited the shortage of needle-distribution – 15 syringes distributed per injecting drug user each year – and restrictions on opioid substitution treatment – a four-year waiting list in Athens – as contributing factors. The ECDC said the authorities should take urgent steps to bring the average waiting time for opioid substitution treatment to less than two months, as well as to expand syringe distribution programs to provide at least 200 syringes a year for each injecting drug user.[12]

KETHEA told Human Rights Watch that virtually all the drug users who came to its day center for drug users in Athens between October 2013 and May 2014 said they had health problems but had limited or no access to public health care. Four out of 10 said they lacked health insurance, 1 in 10 reported that they were HIV positive and 3 in 10 said that they had hepatitis C.[13] The proportion of drug users affected by these and other diseases may be even higher than KETHEA’s findings indicated, as many said that they had not undergone medical tests.

Human Rights Watch believes that police action of the kind we documented against people who are homeless, people who use drugs, and sex workers undermines HIV prevention by interfering with access to essential services and is incompatible with essential protections guaranteed by the Covenant.


Detention on public health grounds

Law 4075 of April 2012 providing for the detention of migrants and asylum seekers on public health grounds permits the detention for up to 18 months if a migrant or asylum seeker represents a danger to public health when: he or she suffers from an infectious disease; or belongs to groups vulnerable to infectious diseases (with assessment permissible on the basis of country of origin); is an intravenous drug user or a sex worker; or lives in conditions that do not meet minimum standards of hygiene. Detention on public health grounds can be appealed.

While detention on public health grounds is permissible under international law, it must in all cases be necessary, proportionate, appropriate to achieve a clear public health aim, and nondiscriminatory. Although Human Rights Watch acknowledges that the government does not appear to be implementing the law in practice, we are concerned that the Greek law does not comply with any of the abovementioned conditions, is discriminatory and unlawful, and should be repealed.


April 2012 Round-Ups and Forced HIV Testing

We welcome the new government’s repeal in April 2015 of Health Regulation No. GY/39A “Amendments That Concern the Restriction of the Transmission of Infectious Diseases,” mandating HIV testing, which has enabled a number of serious human rights abuses against socially marginalized people in the past.

During the first year it was in force (from April 2012 to April 2013), the police used Health Regulation No. GY/39A to round up dozens of women alleged to be sex workers who were then forced to take HIV tests. Those found to be HIV positive—at least 31 women—were arrested and charged with causing intentional grievous bodily harm or attempted grievous bodily harm (both felonies), for allegedly having unprotected sex with customers while HIV positive.[14]

The police and media outlets published and broadcast the women’s personal data, photographs, and information from their medical records of their HIV-positive status disclosed by the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention. At least sixteen of the women arrested during the 2012 crackdown were held in pretrial detention for six to ten months allegedly in inhuman and degrading conditions that did not meet the minimum standards of hygiene and without access to adequate medical treatment. By March 2013, those detained were ultimately either acquitted by the courts for lack of evidence or saw the charge brought against them reduced to a misdemeanor.

At least two of the women, one of whom Human Rights Watch interviewed in August 2014, have since committed suicide.

In October 2014, the appeals prosecutor of Athens rejected as unfounded a lawsuit filed by some of the women and NGOs working on HIV prevention against the medical staff that conducted the forced HIV testing, the leadership of the Greek Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the police, and any other person responsible. In their lawsuit, the women were asking the prosecutor to press charges for the offenses of infringement of human dignity, unlawful violence, disclosure of sensitive personal data, violation of professional secrecy, misconduct, and abuse of power. Eleven of the women have lodged an application before the European Court of Human Rights.


We hope to see the Committee take the above findings into account when considering Greece’s compliance with the Covenant. In particular, we recommend that the Committee request the government to provide information that demonstrates how it intends to bring about concrete improvements in the treatment of marginalized groups generally, as well as people who are homeless, people who use drugs, sex workers, and other vulnerable groups.

In particular, we encourage the Committee to press the Greek government to take the following concrete actions:

  • Reform current stop and search powers and adopt clear and binding guidelines for law enforcement officers for identity checks, including the permissible grounds for conducting a check and for taking a person to a police station for further verification of their documents;
  • Immediately cease police operations in downtown Athens that use discriminatory profiling to question, arrest, or detain persons suspected of violating laws on sex work or drug use;
  • Issue a directive to all officers emphasizing the importance of sterile syringes and condoms for HIV prevention;
  • Provide regular training for police officers specifically relating to treatment of homeless people, people who use drugs, and sex workers, including the need for non-coercive referrals to health and social services. The Greek government should also ensure diligent investigations of allegations about police abuse of members of these groups and hold anyone found responsible to account;
  • Take steps to improve health services for people who inject drugs, people who are homeless and sex workers by increasing harm reduction and health education and promoting HIV testing and linkage to care, hepatitis C testing and care, and the availability of drug dependence services;
  • Convene through the National Coordinator Against Drugs a Working Group on the health of injection drug users, including women who sell sex to support their drug habit, composed of people who use drugs and their advocates, medical providers and law enforcement to develop and coordinate strategies for minimizing police abuse and harassment and improving health services to injection drug users;
  • Promote syringe access programs in the interest of public health and safety, including implementation without delay of the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to Greece;
  • Increase efforts to ensure access to health care and harm reduction for people who inject drugs and sell sex;
  • Intensify efforts to address homelessness in the center of Athens by ensuring that people who use drugs are not excluded from government or municipal shelters. In coordination with the National Coordinator Against Drugs, the government should develop and implement a strategy on access to housing for homeless drug users that should be included in Greece’s National Strategy and Action Plan on Drugs (2014-2016);
  • Repeal the discriminatory government policy on access to shelters that bans admission to active drug users, people with mental health problems, as well as people who abuse alcohol;
  • Repeal the provision permitting detention of migrants and asylum seekers on public health grounds on the basis that it is incompatible with human rights law and lacks adequate safeguards against arbitrary detention.

We encourage the Committee to request specific information on the steps taken by the government to ensure legal support, post-test counseling and medical care for all the women arrested pursuant to Health Regulation No. GY/39A, as well as information on the steps taken to investigate the causes, procedures, and consequences of the arrests, including the police and Center for Disease Control action exposing confidential health information and subjecting detainees to degrading treatment.


Humanitarian Crisis on the Islands (Covenant articles 11 and 12)

Since the early 2000s Greece has become the major gateway to the European Union for undocumented migrants and asylum seekers from the Middle East, Asia and Africa travelling through Turkey, increasingly by sea.

In May 2015, Human Rights Watch interviewed over 100 newly arrived asylum seekers and migrants on the Greek Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos, and we draw upon the findings from that research for the purpose of this submission. All asylum seekers and migrants had traveled by boat from Turkey within the previous month. Most of the people interviewed, including women and children, were from Syria and Afghanistan. Twenty-four of the 41 children we interviewed, mainly boys between 15 and 17, were traveling without family members. Since May, the situation for migrants and asylum seekers has deteriorated significantly, with more than 1,000 people arriving on average every day.

Thousands of migrants and asylum seekers on Greece’s Aegean islands face appalling reception and detention conditions, as the country, struck by the economic and financial crisis, is unable to meet its most basic obligations toward the people who arrive there.

People who arrive on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, and Samos, in the Northern Aegean, are generally detained in screening centers surrounded by razor wire for a week or less, until the authorities are able to identify, register, and fingerprint them. Chronic overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate access to food, healthcare and sometimes water have created conditions in these facilities that fall significantly below international and national standards and may amount to inhuman or degrading treatment. While doctors, social workers, and representatives of the UNHCR visit the screening centers, they cannot ensure a continuous presence and the shortage of interpreters makes communication about asylum or any other subject extremely difficult.

Children are frequently held with adults in severely overcrowded and dirty conditions. Because of the overcrowding, many migrants and asylum seekers have to sleep in the open, including at the open transit center of Kara Tepe on Lesbos, where thousands of people wait before being transferred to the screening center for registration and processing.

In response to the crisis, the UNHCR has deployed additional staff to provide advice and assistance to new arrivals and care for unaccompanied children and people with specific needs. It has also made interpreters temporarily available to the police to speed up the registration process on the island of Lesbos, which receives the highest number of refugee arrivals.[15] Similarly, on July 14, the International Rescue Committee, a group more used to working in conflict zones in the world’s poorest countries, deployed an emergency team to the island of Lesbos to provide migrants and asylum seekers there with urgently needed access to water and sanitation.[16]

Mariam (pseudonym), 39, from Afghanistan, had been detained seven or eight days in the Lesbos screening center along with her 16-year-old daughter Zahara (pseudonym). Mariam told Human Rights Watch: “They don’t tell us why they keep us here. They don’t explain anything…. We are 20 to 30 people in one room, men, women all together.”

Zahara said:


We sleep in a room with many men and we are afraid to be alone with them. We are so scared here, among so many men. We don’t have access to soaps, shampoos…. No one has come to hear our problems. Only the doctor, but just when the interpreter is here. But the interpreter doesn’t speak to us. I’m really scared here. I compare the two nights I slept in the forest with here and I was feeling safer than in here.[17]

At the screening center of Mersinidi on Chios, a series of prefabricated structures surrounded by a fence, Human Rights Watch found adults and children seeking protection from the sun under makeshift shelters made from clothing and blankets. The facility was severely overcrowded; housing two times more people than its official maximum capacity of 100. In addition, some 100 people were staying in nearby tents, under the sun, initially set up by the local municipality to temporarily house new arrivals until they are transferred to the detention center.

A local volunteer who visited the tents’ area on June 27, told Human Rights Watch that he saw “decomposing garbage, dirt, sewage, flies and bugs,” and added that “the spaces are in terrible state and it’s a matter of time to have an outbreak of infectious diseases. The toilets have never been cleaned.” He told Human Rights Watch that on June 24, 300 people were kept at the tents’ area waiting to be transferred to the detention center.[18]

Ali Mohammad Ali, 24, from Syria, interviewed on the ferry on his way to Athens, had spent three days in the Chios detention center:


There was no toilet, no running water even to clean your hands. It was dirty and there was no place to sleep. The blanket and the mattress were smelly. We chose to sleep on the ground because many people had used the blanket and the mattress before us. Nobody informed me about my rights. There was no doctor in the camp and no interpreters. I didn’t have problem with the police. They are doing their best. The large number of people who arrive creates the problem.[19]

On Samos, which has the only facility where single women were held separately from men, Human Rights Watch observed overall good conditions, with laundry machines, permanent cleaners, relatively good toilets, a basketball court, and a dining hall for women and children. However, detainees said they only had access to running water for 30 minutes a day, and that police had confiscated their phones. At the same time, phone booths in the camp were not functioning. A separate container that had been reserved for unaccompanied minors had been destroyed by a fire set by one of the detainees. Instead of allocating another container for unaccompanied children, they were detained together with adults.

On the islands of the Southern Aegean, including Leros and Kos, there are no screening centers and there is no reception system. New arrivals on Leros are taken to the police station and often released on the same day. However, in times of mass arrivals and delays in registration, people, including children, have to sleep in police station cells awaiting registration and processing. Local volunteers help coordinate housing, food, clothing, and medical care.

Of the islands visited by Human Rights Watch in May 2015, conditions were the worst on Kos. Processing often took three weeks or more due to the large number of arrivals and the lack of staff and technical capacity. Children and adults alike were sleeping in squalid conditions in an abandoned hotel on makeshift beds, without electricity and with limited running water, or in tents provided by Doctors without Borders. Others slept outdoors in public areas. Nearly all of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that authorities provided little food and some said they had not eaten for days. Many said they had received no information about when they would be processed or how long it would take.

Mustafa, a 26-year-old Syrian Kurd from Aleppo with a physical disability, was staying at the abandoned hotel where migrants and asylum seekers stay on Kos while awaiting registration by the police:


The only thing that bothers me it’s this place here. It’s hard for me to go up and down the stairs. If I want to eat, shops are one kilometer away. It’s difficult for me to walk there. There is no water, no electricity, no mattress, no blankets here.[20]

Asylum-seeking and migrant children who are registered as unaccompanied minors are often detained much longer than adults or children traveling with their families while authorities search for shelter facilities for them. Although placement in shelters is designed as a protection measure, a lack of space across Greece has led to the prolonged detention of children in screening centers. Greece has only 323 places for unaccompanied children. While adults may be released in just a few days, children may be held for three weeks or more. As a result, many children do not admit their true age so that they are not subjected to prolonged detention.

Asif (pseudonym), a 17-year-old Afghan detained on Lesbos, said he had been told he would stay in the detention center for three weeks. “It feels like I’m in jail,” he said. Unaccompanied children in the center were not segregated from adults. “Last night, people entered my room and took everything,” he said. “They say children should be protected, but it means nothing.”[21]

Greek law requires authorities to provide for the reception of third country nationals who are arrested due to unlawful entry or stay in Greece under conditions that guarantee human rights and dignity in accordance with international standards. The law provides for placing mobile first-reception units in police screening centers on the islands to identify vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied migrant children and to conduct medical screening. The units also provide socio-psychological support and information on the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, and refer vulnerable people such as unaccompanied children and victims of torture to social services.[22] At present only two such units are operating, on Lesbos and Samos, and they are understaffed. Most new arrivals, including unaccompanied children and other particularly vulnerable people, have no access to the services that should by law be available.

The fact that Greece faces an economic crisis, an unfair and inadequate EU system (Dublin Regulation) for allocating responsibilities for examining asylum claims, and a significant burden due to the continued influx of migrants and asylum seekers does not relieve Greece of its obligation to protect vulnerable groups and to ensure that migrants in the country are treated in a humane way and can exercise their rights to health care and an adequate standard of living.

Our findings show that Greece’s efforts remain insufficient across the board. The government keeps migrants and asylum seekers in appalling and inhuman conditions and has failed to offer acceptable reception conditions. It is not meeting minimum requirements for protecting unaccompanied children, who by any standards, should be among the first to benefit from protection and care.


We hope to see the Committee take these findings into account when discussing Greece’s report. In particular, we recommend that the Committee request the government to provide information that demonstrates how it intends to improve the situation of migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied migrant children, arriving on the islands.

In particular, we urge the Committee to:

  • Request information on the use of EU funds to provide adequate reception conditions for migrants and asylum seekers on the islands; and
  • Request information on the number of available care places for unaccompanied migrant children in the country, the number of unaccompanied migrant children present in Greece, and the number and timeframe for establishment of planned places for unaccompanied migrant children.

We encourage the Committee to address the following recommendations to the government:

  • Adopt immediately a policy of not detaining migrant children, until such time as legislative reform is enacted;
  • Create open reception centers for asylum seekers and members of vulnerable groups, such as children, and refrain from detaining asylum seekers and members of particularly vulnerable groups, such as migrants with disabilities and victims of trafficking or gender-based violence;
  • Urgently improve detention conditions on the islands;
  • Urgently improve services for asylum seekers and migrants and ensure adequate reception conditions, including shelter, toilets, food, and access to basic healthcare as well as enough interpreters, human resources, and technical capacity to support people, identify their vulnerabilities, and process them more quickly;
  • Take measures to mitigate risks for female migrants and asylum seekers (especially those traveling without families/husbands), including providing separate, secure shelter and facilities and making female staff and female interpreters available;
  • Provide suitable accommodation on the islands for particularly vulnerable asylum seekers, including children, people with disabilities, survivors of torture, and victims of trafficking or gender-based violence. Greek authorities should expedite processing of families with children and unaccompanied children on the islands, and avoid detaining children, in line with recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child; and
  • Ensure sufficient capacity in shelters for unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children to minimize detention time pending transfer to shelters.








[1] Human Rights Watch, Greece - No Excuse for Caging Children, November 18, 2014,; Human Rights Watch, Greece - Human Rights Watch's Updated Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on Greece, April 25, 2012,; Human Rights Watch, Greece - Updated Human Rights Watch Submission to the United Nations Committee against Torture on Greece, April 25, 2012,; Human Rights Watch, Greece - Open Letter to Mr. Loverdos, Greek Minister of Health, June 14, 2011,

[2] United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Consideration of Reports Submitted by States parties under article 44 of the Convention, Concluding observations, Greece,” CRC/C/GRC/CO/2-3, August 13, 2013, (accessed August 3, 2015). 

[3] Report of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, Cephas Lumina - Addendum - Mission to Greece (22 – 27 April 2013), March 27, 2014, (accessed August 3, 2015).

[4] United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “’Not at the cost of human rights’ – UN expert warns against more austerity measures for Greece,” July 15, 2015, (accessed July 30, 2015).

[5] Human Rights Watch interview with Despoina Laskaridou, President of the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA), Athens, September 4, 2014.

[6] Human Rights Watch interview with Iordanis Pertetsoglou (Pertsoglou), head of KETHEA’s day center in Athens for active drug users, Athens, September 5, 2014.

[7] UN Office of the High Commissioner, “United Nations Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, Mr. Cephas Lumina Mission to Greece, 22-26 April 2013, End of mission statement, April 26, 2013, (accessed July 30).

[8] Human Rights Watch interview with Iordanis Pertetsoglou (Pertsoglou), head of KETHEA’s day center in Athens for active drug users, Athens, September 5, 2014.

[9] Human Rights Watch interview with Giannis, Athens, July 31, 2014.

[10] Human Rights Watch interview with Carolos, Athens, August 6, 2014.

[11] Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Epidemiological data on HIV / AIDS in Greece,” for the years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013,επιδημιολογικάστατιστικάδεδομένα/εκθέσειςαπόσυστήματαεπιτήρησης/ετήσιεςεκθέσεις.aspx (accessed August 7, 2015).

[12] European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, “Joint technical mission: HIV in Greece, May 28-29, 2012,” ECDC Mission Report, 2013, (accessed July 30, 2015).

[13] Human Rights Watch interview with Iordanis Pertetsoglou, head of KETHEA’s day center in Athens for active drug users, Athens, September 5, 2014.

[14] Human Rights Watch, “Human Rights of Immigrants and Sex Workers in Greece,” Joint Letter to UN Special Rapporteur on Health, May 9, 2012,


[15] The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “UNHCR warns of growing asylum crisis in Greece and the Western Balkans amid arrivals of refugees from war,” July 10, 2015, (accessed July 30, 2015).

[16] International Rescue Committee, “International Rescue Committee Deploying Emergency Response Team to Lesbos, Greece,” July 14, 2015, (accessed July 30, 2015).

[17] Human Rights Watch interview with Mariam (pseudonym) and Zahara (pseudonym), Moria screening center in Lesbos, May 22, 2015.

[18] Human Rights Watch interview with Giorgos Kakaris, Twitter DM conversation, June 27, 2015.

[19] Human Rights Watch interview with Ali Mohammad Ali, Ferry from Chios to Athens, May 24, 2015.

[20] Human Rights Watch interview with Mustafa, Kos, May 26, 2015.

[21] Human Rights Watch interview with Asif (pseudonym), Moria screening center in Lesbos, May 21, 2015.

[22] Greece: Law No. 3907 of 2011 on the establishment of an Asylum Service and a First Reception Service, transposition into Greek legislation of Directive 2008/115/EC “on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third country nationals” and other provisions, Greece, January 26, 2011, (accessed July 30,2015).

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