15 April 2016

Human Rights Watch has reported on the situation for asylum seekers and migrants on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios, in the wake of the EU-Turkey deal, finding that they are systematically detained in deplorable conditions.

Since the deal came into effect on 20 March, open reception and registration centres on the islands have been converted to closed ‘prison-like’ detention camps surrounded by barbed wire. These are operated by the Greek authorities with the assistance of the EU border agency, Frontex. Greece introduced a law earlier this month enabling the detention of new arrivals during identification, reception and border asylum procedures.

The Human Rights Watch investigation reveals that people are automatically subject to detention, with no consideration of alternatives, no information on the reasons for detention or how to challenge this and no consideration given to vulnerable people. This means that children, pregnant women, physically disabled persons and mentally ill people are being detained without consideration of their special reception needs as required by EU law.

Furthermore, it reports that individuals have limited or no access to basic services such as medical care and legal aid. Conditions are overcrowded with unaccompanied minors kept in the same facilities as adults. There is poor sanitation, which has led to some people to develop skin problems, the food is substandard and there is a  lack of privacy for women.  Many of those detained have asked to seek asylum in Greece, but the system is overwhelmed and is unable to process these claims speedily enough, especially as hundreds of people continue to arrive each week.

 “The current situation in Greece for desperate asylum seekers is perverse. People fleeing danger are detained in unacceptable conditions while they await a likely return to unsafe Turkey or languish in the dysfunctional Greek asylum system,” said Eva Cossé from Human Rights Watch, reiterating the organisation’s concerns regarding the flaws of the EU-Turkey deal. 

ECRE shares such concerns, emphasising that the examination of asylum claims cannot be based on the assumption that Turkey is a safe third country. ECRE continues to assert the fact that the deal is unethical, illegal and unworkable. It has urged the EU and Member States to step up efforts to provide adequate reception accommodation capacity in Greece and warned that the limited capacity to register asylum claims could and is leading to a denial of access to the asylum procedure and potential refoulement, in violation of international refugee law.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 15 April 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.