European anti-torture committee criticises Greece's poor treatment of detained foreign nationals

20 Feb 2019

 

 

In their report published on the 19th of February 2019 the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment's (CPT) clearly highlight the poor treatment of foreign nationals at immigration detention centres. The report frequently references police brutality and inhumane and unsanitary conditions and explains that "such appalling conditions can easily be considered as amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment". The Committee calls for Greece to take “vigorous steps” to prevent ill-treatment of foreign nationals.

 

This is especially concerning as the "use of immigration detention in Greece has significantly increased. As of 30 April 2018, more than 8,200 foreign nationals were detained by the Hellenic Police under aliens’ legislation."

 

Below is an extract of the executive summary:

 

“Foreign nationals deprived of their liberty under aliens’ legislation

 

At the outset, the CPT acknowledges the difficult context and the significant on-going challenges faced by the Greek authorities in dealing with the high number of foreign nationals arriving in the country. Nevertheless, in light of the increased use of immigration detention, the Committee recalls that foreign nationals deprived of their liberty must always be treated humanely and with dignity.

 

The CPT’s delegation received a number of credible allegations of physical ill-treatment by the police, mainly consisting of slaps, punches, and kicks as well as baton blows. The allegations related primarily to detention places in the Evros region (i.e. Fylakio Pre-removal Centre, Fylakio Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) and Tychero Police and Border Guard Station) and on Lesvos (i.e. Moria Pre-removal Centre). Several allegations of verbal abuse, including racist language, by police officers were also received. The CPT recommends that vigorous steps be taken to stamp out ill-treatment of foreign nationals deprived of their liberty by the police.

 

The fundamental safeguards against ill-treatment (i.e. the rights of notification of custody, access to a lawyer and access to a doctor) remain ineffective and, for the most part, do not apply in practice from the very outset of deprivation of liberty. Interpretation services should also be strengthened, and custody records and complaints procedures improved.

 

Conditions of detention in most police and border guard stations visited remain unsuitable for holding persons for periods exceeding 24 hours, and yet they were still being used to detain irregular migrants for prolonged periods. At Isaakio Police and Border Guard Station, 41 foreign nationals were crammed together overnight in filthy - 5 - with less than 1.5 m² of living space per person. Overcrowding was also observed at Fylakio RIC and the CPT invites the Greek authorities to introduce alternative measures to detention in managing irregular migrants arriving in the country. Conditions in the pre-removal centres visited varied from good (Pyli on Kos), to acceptable (Amygdaleza), to poor (Moria) and even appalling (Fylakio). In particular, Fylakio Pre-removal Centre was severely overcrowded, with up to 95 foreign nationals, including families, children, and pregnant women, crammed together in a cell with little more than 1 m² of living space per person. In the CPT’s view, holding persons for several weeks or months in such appalling conditions can easily be considered as amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment.

 

The CPT specifically recommends that: occupancy levels be reduced drastically so as not to exceed an establishment’s capacity; facilities be clean and repaired; and every detained person be provided with appropriate food, a mattress and clean bedding, and sufficient hygiene products. Immediate action should be taken to ensure that vulnerable persons are transferred to suitable open reception facilities and that women and children are never detained together with unrelated men. Unrestricted access to outdoor exercise throughout the day should also be extended to all pre-removal centres in Greece.

 

As regards the provision of health-care services to immigration detainees, the CPT concludes, once again, that it was inadequate. In particular, in most of the detention places visited, the Committee noted chronically insufficient numbers of health-care staff and deficient interpretation services. Even the most basic medical equipment and medication was lacking; medical screening on arrival was not carried out systematically; and access to a doctor was still not effective in practice. The report makes a series of recommendations to address these deficiencies.

 

Regrettably, no decisive action has been taken by the Greek authorities to implement the CPT’s previous recommendations as regards the detention of migrant children. The Committee recommends that the Greek authorities fundamentally revise their policy regarding the detention of unaccompanied children both for reception and identification purposes and under “protective custody”. The CPT also recalls that the detention of children with their parents in police detention facilities – police and border guard stations, pre-removal centres or RICs – can have a negative psychological effect on a child’s development and well-being, particularly when the child is young. The CPT reiterates its recommendation to end the routine detention of children with their parents in police establishments upon their arrival in the country, and urges the authorities to pursue their efforts to increase significantly and rapidly the number of dedicated open (or semi-open) shelter facilities for unaccompanied children.

 

The CPT reiterates the importance of carefully selecting and training custodial staff in pre-removal centres. It is also necessary for all centres to be adequately staffed and, in this context, staffing levels at Fylakio Pre-removal Centre should be increased. Further, the Greek authorities should permit foreign nationals held by the police to retain their mobile phones in all pre-removal centres.

 

Finally, in the course of the April 2018 visit, several foreign nationals interviewed in private at three places of detention made credible allegations about the occurrence of push-back operations from Greece to Turkey by boat across the Evros River border, after they had been apprehended by Greek police and border guards. A number of them alleged that they had been physically ill-treated (including baton blows to the head) by police and border guard officers or (para-) military commandos during such push-back operations. From the information gathered, the CPT considers that, at least until early March 2018, these persons were not effectively protected against the risk of refoulement. The Committee recommends that the Greek authorities act to prevent any form of push-backs taking place, and effectively protect foreign nationals against the risk of refoulement.”

 

The full report can be found at https://rm.coe.int/1680930c9a

 

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