Migration, refugees and asylum-seekers
Violations against migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers continued to be reported at Greece’s borders. Protection for refugees remained minimal. In October, the German non-governmental organization Pro-asyl and the Greek Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants published a report on the situation of refugees and migrants arriving by sea, which alleged systematic violations by Greek law enforcement officials in terms of both ill-treatment and denial of access to asylum procedures. Such violations were consistent with reports received by Amnesty International throughout the year. There were frequent reports of individuals attempting to enter Greece by sea, many of whom drowned in the process or were blocked by members of the Coastguard. Those who did manage to reach land were usually returned to their country of origin without legal aid, access to asylum procedures or having their cases individually examined.
Lawyers reported to Amnesty International that in practice asylum-seekers who did access the system could expect their application to be rejected at first instance and the number of individuals granted asylum remained very low. The review mechanism of rejected asylum applications was not independent.
The readmission protocol in existence between Greece and Turkey was used to return Iraqi citizens from Greece to Turkey in spite of the concerns of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, that Turkey often returned them to Iraq. Amnesty International considered this breached the prohibition of refoulement (the involuntary return of anyone to a country where they would be at risk of serious human rights abuses).
Detention of asylum-seekers, including children, continued. Conditions of detention continued to be reported as unhygienic and overcrowded. In December, a new reception centre was opened on the Aegean island of Samos, replacing the former detention centre where conditions had been notoriously poor.
In November, the long-awaited new asylum law came into force, covering the asylum procedure, the rights to work, education and health care for asylum-seekers, reception centres and vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied minors and survivors of torture.
Ill-treatment by police
Despite judgments from the European Court of Human Rights finding Greece in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, the number of alleged incidents of ill-treatment by police increased. Reported incidents mainly took place in police custody and appeared to reveal a pattern of discrimination in which the majority of victims came from marginalized groups, particularly migrants and asylum-seekers.
- On 8 June a Moldovan woman legally residing in Greece was allegedly ill-treated by police officers at the General Police Headquarters of Attica in Athens. The woman said that she had been repeatedly beaten, forced to strip to her underwear and had had clumps of her hair pulled out by police officers, who also threatened to destroy her residence permit.
- On 16 June video footage appeared on the website YouTube showing two young migrants at the Omonia police station in central Athens being beaten by police officers and being forced to insult and slap each other repeatedly. At least five officers were investigated in relation to the incident. Subsequently three further videos appeared online, depicting instances of ill-treatment, including sexual abuse, of detainees in police custody. One police officer, who was involved in two of the videotaped incidents, was remanded in custody pending trial.
Deaths in custody
Public debate about an increase in the number of deaths in prison and police custody reflected serious concerns about the lack of effective monitoring of treatment. At least 10 deaths in custody occurred in the period March-June according to the non-governmental Prisoners’ Rights Initiative. In August, Eleftherotypia (Free Press) newspaper reported that there had been 30 deaths in custody in the first six months of 2007. Although some of the deaths were drug-related or self-inflicted there were also cases in which the circumstances of death were disputed.
Prison ill-treatment and conditions
Overcrowding, poor standards of hygiene and ill-treatment continued to be reported in prisons and other places of detention. In April, the alleged ill-treatment of an inmate at the Malandrino prison in central Greece sparked protests which subsequently spread to 10 other prisons throughout the country. Prisoners in Malandrino reportedly said that the incident had been “the final straw”. Some alleged that their water supply had been cut off for three days, although the authorities denied this. According to media reports, the capacity of Malandrino prison is 280 inmates, while at the time of the incident 460 people were held there.
Trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation
Greece remained both a transit and a destination country for women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation. Nevertheless, the number of trafficked women and girls recognized as such by the Greek authorities remained unacceptably low, and resulted in women being unable to exercise their rights to assistance and protection. The few who were identified were able to exercise these rights only on condition that they agreed to co-operate with the authorities in criminal proceedings brought against their suspected traffickers. This failed to recognize women’s fear of reprisals and was at variance with the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which Greece failed to ratify and implement. Women were also not receiving the reflection period afforded them in Greek law, the purpose of which was to allow women to make fully considered decisions about the extent of their co-operation with the authorities.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defender and President of the Pakistani Community in Athens, Javed Aslam, faced possible extradition from Greece to Pakistan. Amnesty International was concerned that the Interpol warrant for Javed Aslam’s arrest originating in Pakistan may have constituted a tactic of judicial harassment to prevent him from defending the rights of six other Pakistani nationals in Greece who alleged that they had been abducted by agents of the Greek intelligence services in the aftermath of the London bombings of 7 July 2005. In March, the Supreme Court upheld a unanimous decision of the Athens Appeals Court that Javed Aslam should not be extradited to Pakistan. In April, the Supreme Court called for a rehearing of the case to begin on 4 May, apparently after learning from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs that no extradition agreement existed between Greece and Pakistan and that documents had passed unofficially between the Pakistani Embassy in Athens and the Supreme Court. Meanwhile Javed Aslam reported that pressure aimed at silencing him and other members of the Pakistani community in Greece about the alleged abductions continued. The Supreme Court finally rejected the extradition request. In July the investigation into the abductions was reopened.
Conscientious objection to military service
In a continuing pattern of harassment of conscientious objectors, a fifth attempt to arrest conscientious objector Dimitris Sotiropoulos, board member of the Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors, was made in May. Dimitris Sotiropoulos has declared his conscientious objection since March 1992 when he was first called up for military service. By the end of the year he had not been apprehended.
While the right to conscientious objection was usually upheld for those objecting on religious grounds, the rate of recognition of conscientious objectors for other convictions remained very low. There were also concerns that conscripts were not being informed of their right to perform an alternative civilian service, a service still punitive in nature and length.
Violations against the Romani community
Violations against the Romani community such as forced evictions continued to be reported by the local human rights organization, the Greek Helsinki Monitor.
- In July the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) expressed concern about the eviction of over 200 Albanian Romani families from their two settlements in Athens. The evictions appear to have taken place as part of a “cleansing” operation in advance of the building of a football stadium. The ERRC was concerned that in none of the cases were even the most rudimentary domestic or international legal standards concerning forced evictions applied. They took place despite the long-term intervention of the Ombudsman, who in October again wrote to the government urging an end to forced evictions.
Violence against women
In January Law 3500/06 on Combating Domestic Violence came into force. However, parts of the law were not fully in line with the duty of the state to protect the rights of women.
Amnesty International visits/reports
- Amnesty International delegates visited Greece in January and June.
- Greece: Uphold the rights of women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation (EUR 25/002/2007)
- Greece: Investigation not extradition: Threatened return of human rights defender to Pakistan highlights failures in investigation of alleged abductions (EUR 25/001/2007)