The Greek authorities must halt a mass police crackdown on "irregular migrants" and allow for effective access to asylum-seeking procedures to those in need of international protection Amnesty International said today following reports that more than 7,500 foreign nationals have been arrested in Athens since last Thursday.
A large number of those arrested were reported to be of Asian, African and North African origin. Many have since been released because they were found to be legally residing in Greece.
According to Greek police, around 2,000 of those rounded up were found with no papers and were placed in administrative detention. People are being held in overcrowded conditions at the Attika Aliens Police Directorate or at other police stations in Athens. Others have been transferred to police academies in Northern Greece which are being used as detention facilities.
"While Greece has the right to control migration, it does not have the right to treat people in the street like criminals purely because of the colour of their skin," said Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Programme.
"The scale of the police operation in Athens at the weekend raises serious concerns about discrimination on the basis of perceived ethnicity."
According to reports some people were transferred to police stations despite showing police papers proving their legal residence in Greece.
One of the men arrested on Saturday told Amnesty International that he was held at Petrou Ralli in a room with around 170 people. He said he was only given water on the day of his arrest and later could only eat bread because religiously inappropriate food was provided. Many detainees were sleeping on the floor and because of the overcrowding many were taking it in turns to sleep.
In view of the sharp rise of racially motivated attacks against foreign nationals in the past year, Amnesty International said it is concerned that such a massive and discriminatory operation will fuel further attacks and xenophobia
"Greece may be going through financial difficulties while at the same time facing one of the highest migration flows among the EU countries, but these police sweep operations violate international human rights standards and should stop immediately," said Jezerca Tigani
"Such arrests may put at risk of deportation individuals who are in need of international protection but are unable to apply for asylum."
Two men (from Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire) were arrested and detained during the recent sweep operations and sent to Attika Aliens Police Directorate (known as Petrou Ralli) where they were detained until last night when they were transferred to another facility in Northern Greece.
An Amnesty International delegation met with the two men last month while they were queueing outside Petrou Ralli to apply for asylum.
One of them told Amnesty International how he has repeatedly requested to apply for asylum during his detention at Petrou Ralli and that his requests were ignored by the police.
"The Greek authorities must ensure that anyone wishing to apply for asylum is provided with effective access to it. They must also act to ensure that immigration-related detention is used only as a last resort. Those detained should be notified of their grounds of detention and of their rights and ensured access to their lawyer and the outside world," said Jezerca Tigani.
Asylum-seekers in Greece often face serious obstructions when attempting to access asylum procedures. The vast majority try to apply for asylum at the Attika Alien’s Police Directorate at Petrou Ralli in Athens. Only a small number of applications are registered by the authorities each week.
Long queues of asylum-seekers wait in appalling conditions for two to three days outside the Directorate to lodge asylum applications each Saturday morning.
An Amnesty International delegation witnessed the poor conditions in immigration detention centres in Athens during a recent visit to the country last week.
The organization's delegates visited six detention facilities in Athens including Petrou Ralli. While the wings visited at Petrou Ralli were clean at the time of the visit, the facility was in need of repairs. In two other facilities, those of New and Old Elliniko, conditions were inhuman and degrading.