Thursday, August 06, 2009

Greece's disappearing child refugees raise concern

Questions still remain about the fate of 12 under age refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq who disappeared from a shelter in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city. According to reports in the Greek press the 12 were part of a group of 13 minors taken by ferry from a detention centre on the island of Mytiline on Tuesday to stay in shelters run by NGOs in the northern port town.

However, staff at the Arsis shelter for young people stated that 12 of the 13 had signed papers giving themselves permission to leave. The case came to light when Greek member of parliament, Giannis Zogias visited the shelter only to be told that most of the refugees had gone.

According to employees of the Arsis foundation, which is funded in part by the Greek ministry of the interior the document in question is a declaration that the minors have no parents and so are their own legal guardian. Otherwise they have the right to stay in the shelters until they come of age

The fate of the group remains unknown, though probably they have made their way to Athens in order to make their way to Italy according to source quoted in Greek national daily, Rizospastis. The same source also said that over the last month more than 40 young refugees had signed similar documents and had left the Koinoniki Alleleleggi (Social Solidarity) Shelter which is run by the Thessaloniki city council.

The Greek government’s treatment of refugees has repeatedly come under fire by the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, Amnesty International and the European Union for failing to abide by international agreements on the treatment of immigrants and refugees. Currently, less than 1% of those who apply for asylum are granted it.In addition European human rights groups such as Pro - Asyl and the European Commission for the Prevention of Torture have documented numerous cases of mistreatment by members of Greece’s police force and Coast Guard.

In July Arivan Osman Abdulach, a 29 year Afghan refugee died of injuries sustained after allegedly being beaten by members of the Greek port police in the northern port of Igoumenitsa in April.

The issue of immigration as become a political hot potato for the ruling New Democracy party following its recent poor showing during this year’s European parliamentary elections. Stung by loss of votes to the far right LAOS party, Greek prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis has announced a new “get tough” policy on illegal immigrants. Actions have included clean sweep operations in the centre of Athens and swifter procedures for the deportation of immigrants without papers. In addition the government has ordered that deportees be not given the right to appeal.

However, critics of the government’s new policies have pointed out that the country is violating both European Union law and international accords on human rights.

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