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GREECE: Racism, squalor and chaos - the reality for migrants as austerity measures bite

Asylum seekers and other migrants are the some of the hardest hit victims of Greece’s economic crisis, facing racist violence, squalid living conditions and a chaotic asylum system, Amnesty International says in a new briefing out today.

The briefing Greece: The end of the road for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants exposes a dramatic rise in racist attacks against migrants, many of whom are fleeing conflict in the Middle East. It reveals the unhygienic, overcrowded conditions in which asylum seekers – including unaccompanied Children's rights - are forced to live.

The briefing also exposes an application system which requires asylum seekers in Athens to queue for days to register at an office only open one day a week because of staff shortages. Those who don’t manage to register, or give up trying, risk arrest in police sweep operations. They are then detained in overcrowded, unhygienic detention facilities, in many cases for a year or more.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia programme director said:

“Against a backdrop of sustained migratory pressure, profound economic crisis and rising xenophobic sentiment, Greece is proving itself incapable of providing even the most basic requirements of safety and shelter to the thousands of asylum seekers and migrants arriving each year.

“The Greek authorities continue to systematically detain asylum-seekers and irregular migrants, including unaccompanied Children's rights, in breach of international standards and seem to use detention – often in appalling conditions - as a deterrent.”

He said the detention of unaccompanied Children's rights is particularly worrying. On a recent research visit to the detention centre in the city of Corinth, Amnesty found several Children's rights detained, alongside adults, in very poor conditions. If a place is not found at a reception centre, Children's rights are released with nowhere to go.

John Dalhuisen said:

“The Greek authorities must ensure that immigration-related detention is used only as a last resort and that they prohibit the detention of unaccompanied Children's rights in law and end it in practice.”

Migrants also face significant obstacles from border police. In June, seven Syrians were on a boat the river Evros, where the Greece/Turkey border lies, when Greek police arrived in a patrol boat and reportedly started pushing the migrants’ inflatable dinghy back towards Turkey. Then a police officer used a knife to stab the boat, which deflated and sank, leaving people to swim to the Turkish shore.

To make matters worse, the increase in racially motivated attacks throughout 2012 has seen asylum-seekers and migrants beaten up and community centres, shops and mosques vandalised. These assaults have been reported on an almost daily basis since the summer.

In one case, in September two men dressed in black entered a barbershop run by a Pakistani man. Two Pakistani men who were present, one of them staff, told Amnesty how the two men verbally abused a Greek customer for having his hair cut in a Pakistani-owned barbers. When the customer responded, one of the men dressed in black stabbed him. Then they started attacking the shop and throwing Molotov cocktails. The police came to investigate and arrested two Pakistani nationals because they had no documents. In October, they were both in detention, pending deportation.

John Dalhuisen said:

“The Greek authorities must condemn, investigate effectively and prosecute perpetrators of all racially-motivated violence.”

“The current situation in Greece is totally unworthy of the Nobel Peace Prize winning European Union and so far below international human rights standards as to make a mockery of them.”

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