In a damning international report the Greek government was severely criticised for systematically denying refugees rights and turning a blind eye to abuse of those seeking asylum on its territory.
The German based PRO-ASYL (National Working Group for Refugees) report on the country claimed theat the situation was out of control and the the state had reneged on its international treaty obligations to treat asylum seeker humanely.
In the report published in October Karl Kopp, head of PRO - ASYL referred to a number of violations by the Greek government of refugee’s rights, including the summary deportation without hearing of thousands who had entered Greek territory from Turkey and the ill - treatment of other refugee by the police and border guards. One such example was given by A 34-year-old Iraqi Turkoman from Kirkuk who said that he made 10 attempts to cross into Greece before succeeding.
"One time I crossed the river into Greece and arrived in Komotini," he said. "They put us in jail for five days and then took us to the river and pushed us back. We were 60 persons. They put us in a small river boat with a motor in groups of 10. They did it in the middle of the night. It was raining hard, and the Greek police started beating us to make us move more quickly. I saw one man who tried to refuse to go on the boat, and they beat him and threw him in the river. They beat us with police clubs to get us to go on the boat."
It should be noted that the land crossing from Greece and its traditional rival Turkey is littered with anti-personnel mines and that between 1997 and 2006 61 people lost their lives due to land mines.
In addition the PRO - ASYL report outlined the unwillingness of Greek authorities to accept asylum seeker’s applications. In the first six months of 2008 the authorities issued 8,387 decisions concerning asylum applications of which all 8,387 were rejected. During the same period just 71 of 2,886 appeal decision resulted in the granting of refugee status under the Geneva Refugee Convention. In 2007 just eight of the 25,111 claims proved successful.
Also simply getting access to offices dealing with asylum applications can be a risky business. On 25th and 26th October 2008 one immigrant died in custody and several were hospitalised after 3000 desperate asylum seekers applying for papers at the Petrou Ralli police station in Athens clashed with police. The police station had ceased to accept applications from the 3rd October for an unspecified period of time according to the Greek ombudman so leaving those without documents with the possibility of arrest and deportation.
In addition refugees deported to Greece from other European Union countries under the Dublin II accord have also had their rights violated and sometimes face violence at the hands of the police according to human rights organisations. A joint report published in 2007 by the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and Greek Helsinki Monitor wrote of the case of Noori, an Afghan asylum seeker transferred from Austria to Greece in December 2007.
“The policemen hit my face and the back of my head until I began hitting myself to make them stop. I thought that it is the same everywhere, the police is as bad. I thought of throwing myself out of the window in order to end my life. “
The situation has gotten so bad that that the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees has recommended that no asylum seeker be deported back to Greece from within the EU. Indeed Germany and Norway have already suspended such deportations in some cases citing concerns over human rights violations.
In a recent article on immigration in Greece for Time, Greek officials argued that the small Balkan state can not handle what is a pan European problem, however, such claims have to be seen in the light of the state’s ability to suddenly find 28 billion euros to prop up the country’s banking system in the wake of the global credit crisis.
Despite all this the conservative New Democracy government is unlikely to act to ease the plight of refugees at a time of rising domestic unemployment and embroiled as it is in the latest finance and influence peddling scandal to hit the prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis’s administration since being re-elected in September 2007.
PS. I just came across this comment on the Al Jazeera video posted above.
"Giati de tous petane pisw sth 8alassa?
Arketa me tis oumanistikes malakies , de ginete o ka8e apovlitos apo th koloxora tou na erxete edw.
Gia th metanasteush yparxoun diakratikes simfonies opws px me th Voulgaria pou erxontai oi an8rwpoi kai mpainoun se doulies kanonika kai me kanonikous mis8ous.
H paranomh metanasteush prepei na timwrite me 8anato epi topou . "
"Why don't we throw them back in the sea? enough of this humanistic b#llshit. It's just not on for every scumbag from his f#cking country to come here. As far as immigration is concerned there are discreet agreements, such as the one with Bulgaria by whuch people come and get work normally at regular wages.Illegal immigration should be punished by death.. on the spot."