UN to Greece: end automatic detention of migrants, improve reception standards

The UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has called on the Greek government to end the automatic detention of migrants arriving on the Aegean islands, to improve living conditions and ensure the rule of law is upheld in detention centres, and to do more to protect and provide for migrant children.

Following the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal at the beginning of April 2016, open reception centres were converted into closed camps and thousands of people were detained, an issue highlighted by numerous human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. [1]

Conditions in the camps are appalling, a problem compounded by the massive overcrowding of many of those on the Aegean islands.

Greek government figures released today show that there are 5,388 "guests" held on island of Lesvos, where there is capacity for 3,500 people. On Chios, 3,316 "guests" are being held in a camp intended to hold 1,100; on Samos there are 1,351 people in a centre designed to hold 850; and on Kos 1,531 in a 1,000-person centre. [2]

Currently, deportations back to Turkey are unable to take place following the departure of Turkish liaison officers from the Greek islands after the attempted coup against Erdogan's government. [3]

The UN Committee's report was published on 26 August, along with reports on the UK, Lebanon, Pakistan, Paraguay, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. It begins by highlighting various positive moves made by the Greek government in recent years - for example, strengthening possible sentences for hate crimes and adopting anti-human trafficking laws - before moving on to note its concerns and recommendations.

These cover austertity measures, statistical data, the situation of minorities, the anti-racism legal framework, the implementation of anti-discrimination measures, racist hate speech and hate crimes, blasphemy laws, Roma, labour discrimination against migrant workers and ethnic minorities, and "mixed migratory flows: migrants, asylum seekers and refugees".

On this last point, the Committee notes how "the recent migrant crisis has put a heavy burden on the State party" and "welcomes the many steps taken in this regard", but goes on to highlight its concerns and make a number of recommendations:

"23. The Committee calls on the State party to increase its efforts to implement the specific rights of persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution arriving to its shores. The Committee also calls on the State party to ensure the respect of the rights of migrants arriving in the same migratory flows as refugees and asylum-seekers. These efforts could be stepped up also through strengthened international cooperation, in particular by EU countries. The Committee further urges the State party to:

(a) Eliminate automatic detention of migrants arriving to the Islands after the conclusion of the EU-Turkey statement, introduce alternatives to detention, ensure that those deprived of their liberty enjoy due-process, and take measures to convert the reception and identifications centres on the islands into open centres;

(b) Take immediate measures to improve the living conditions in reception and identification centres and ensure that everyone in these centres has access to medical care, interpreters, adequate food, and social support;

(c) Uphold the rule of law in reception and identification centres and redouble its measures to protect everyone staying in these centres from all forms of violence;

(d) Expedite its efforts in developing a solid guardianship system and appoint qualified guardians to unaccompanied children;

(e) Facilitate access to education for all migrant children, and to this end increase the necessary human, technical and financial resources, and provide training to teachers and other personnel involved;

(f) Ensure regular and clear flow of information on immigration and asylum procedures to all migrants arriving to the State party, facilitate access to such procedures as well as to legal aid, and ensure individual assessment of the asylum applications as well as due process guarantees throughout the asylum procedure, including protection from refoulement;

(g) Implement the National Action Plan on Migration and Asylum while pursuing collaboration with UNHCR, OHCHR, the ILO, and civil society organizations, and inform the Committee in its next report on the evolution of the socio-economic indicators on access to health care, education, housing, and employment by migrants;

(h) Take measures to accelerate the implementation of the Emergency Relocation Mechanism that would relocate asylum seekers from Greece to other EU countries."

See: United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 'Concluding observations on the twentieth to twenty-second periodic reports on Greece', 26 August 2016 (pdf)


[1] Amnesty International, 'Greece: Refugees detained in dire conditions amid rush to implement EU-Turkey deal', 7 April 2016; Human Rights Watch, 'Open Hotspots Again', 25 April 2016
[2] Summary statement of refugee flows at 08.00 05.09.2016 (pdf)
[3] Patrick Kingsley, 'Turkish police withdrawal from Greece stalls EU migration pact', The Guardian, 31 August 2016


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