GREECE: Zero Tolerance, Zero Concern

  • by Apostolis Fotiadis (athens)
  • Thursday, July 30, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

Large numbers of people arrested on the naval border with Turkey and throughout the country this month have been taken north on the pretext that they will be moved to new detention facilities. They are transferred northeast to Evros, the river that marks the narrow territorial boundary between Greece and Turkey, and then forced to cross over into Turkey, according to groups supporting migrants.

On Jul. 17 authorities transferred 30 people from Chios island 152 naval miles east of Athens and right on the naval frontier with Turkey to a new detention centre in Kavala, a small city in the north of Greece, a few hours drive from the Turkish border.

'Still, the regional police commander in Kavala, when asked by the Greek Ombudsman, insisted that no such centre was open in the area,' Natassa Straxini, a lawyer and member of the Solidarity Committee for Refugees (Lathra) on Chios told IPS. 'Some days later the deportees contacted relatives in Greece from Istanbul. From them we learnt that they had been taken to Evros and then boarded on boats during the night and sent illegally back to Turkey.'

On Jul. 23, activists prevented authorities from transferring 63 migrants from Lesvos island, situated just north of Chios, to the north of Greece, by blocking access to the ferry.

On Jul. 26 members of Lathra and of the local organisation of the Greek Communist Party attempted a similar action against further transfers taking place on Chios. The police and coast guard removed the protestors, and loaded two busloads carrying 51 migrants on the ferry Theofilos to Thessaloniki, the second biggest city in Greece, 500 km north of Athens.

Among them was a 15-year-old Somali who got separated from his mother at the detention centre on the island. Authorities ignored his lawyer's pleas to exclude him from the deportation.

The next day Naya Tselepi, a passenger on the same ferry, circulated an email which IPS has seen, describing how the 51 migrants remained in the hold of the ship handcuffed for the duration of the trip.

'They have been kept there, in boiling temperatures breathing the boat's fumes since we left Chios. We arrived in Thessaloniki 21 hours later. When they disembarked some of them seemed semi-unconscious but despite their condition policemen mistreated them in order to force them to board the buses.' The buses drove to Sufli, a small town in Evros region, very close to the border with Turkey.

Human Rights Watch has described two more such operations this month.

'In a large-scale police operation from Jul. 16 to 18, police in Athens surrounded what appeared to be several hundred migrants, and isolated them inside an abandoned courthouse,' HRW says in its report. The police arrested anyone who left the building, including people who may have been in need of protection, the report says. The whereabouts of those arrested remains unknown.

On Jul. 12, police destroyed a makeshift migrant camp in Patras, 215 km southwest of Athens, where Afghan refugees had resided for over 12 years. 'In the days before the camp was destroyed, the police reportedly arrested large numbers of migrants and transferred an unknown number to the northern part of the country,' HRW reports.

Five days later Human Rights Watch members met with several Afghans, including 12 minors, hiding in a forest near the city in abysmal conditions.

In yet another incident Markos Hatzisavvas, member of a pro-migrant group in Hania, the second largest city on Creta island, 145 naval miles south of Athens, described how authorities refused to grant Kurdish migrants access to asylum procedure.

'Last Monday after long negotiations we managed to meet the people, and 17 out of 45 signed asylum applications in the presence of lawyers and policemen,' he told IPS. 'We were redirected to the central police authority in order submit the applications, and while on the way there the refugees were quickly loaded on buses and transferred to Athens.'

From there they were taken to Komotini, close to the Evros border. Hatzisavvas says their deportation was halted after journalists, lawyers and MPs protested to local authorities. But he fears it has only been delayed, and that the refugees are in great danger. 'Some of them are PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) members; if they are sent back to Turkey they might face harsh persecution.'

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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