Greece, like other southern European countries, is the gateway for many refugees and asylum seekers into the EU. But human rights group Amnesty International says these migrants are often abused by Greek authorities.
Greece is a gateway for immigrants into the EU
A report released by Amnesty International on Tuesday blasted Greece for its treatment of irregular migrants and asylum seekers, saying the government often treats them as criminals and violates their human rights.
The report details several cases of asylum seekers and irregular migrants, or those without legal status, being held for long periods of time in cramped detention quarters while their cases awaited review.
"Greece completely forgets that asylum is a right and not a crime," Monika Lueke, general secretary of Amnesty International in Germany, told Deutsche Welle. "If Greece ignores the asylum regulation then Greece can be taken not only to the European Court of Human Rights, but also to the European Court of Justice for violation of European Union law."
According to the report, those detained often lacked access to clean water, medical treatment or legal representation, and that some cases involved unaccompanied minors.
In the report's conclusion, Amnesty calls on Greek authorities to undertake a "comprehensive overhaul" of its legislation and policies relating to migration and to use detention only as a measure of last resort, as stipulated in European and international law.
Lueke says Germany needs to stop sending immigrants back to Greece
Andreas Takis, Greece's secretary-general of migration policy and former ombudsman on human rights, said that many incidents like those mentioned in Amnesty's report are true, and that they are "important and not pleasing at all to the Greek administration."
"To be sincere, this is not something different, it's just kind of a repetition of very intense problems that the previous government, and the previous-previous government were also facing," he said.
He added that the government was already in the process of reforming its asylum laws, and that it was considering moving authority over detention centers - many of which are on islands on the frontier - from local authorities to the federal police.
But Lueke said that despite commitments from the government to reform the system, nothing has yet changed.
"Our people have been to the (detention) centers, and they have been devastated by what they saw," she said.
Poor treatment of immigrants has led to unrest in Greece
Greece's geographical position at the very southeast of the EU makes it a magnet for migrants fleeing poor social or political conditions in their home countries. Most arrive through the land and sea borders with Turkey.
While many irregular immigrants are arrested shortly after they enter Greece, some manage to continue on to other EU countries, including Germany. The German government has sent many of these migrants back to Greece, which both Lueke and Takis agree is wrong.
"(Irregular migration) is not a special burden of Greece, but a special burden of the whole EU," Takis said. "And in this sense, Greece receives very intense pressure of a problem which is not national, but a community problem."
Lueke, meanwhile, called on the German government to stop sending back irregular migrants and asylum seekers who first entered to Greece, because "the German government must know that the conditions for asylum seekers in Greece are miserable."
Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Rob Turner