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» The truth may be bitter, but it must be told«the Situation of Refugees in the Aegean and the Practices of the Greek Coast Guard. Edited by: Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants, Athens

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» The truth may be bitter, but it must be told«the Situation of Refugees in the Aegean and the Practices of the Greek Coast Guard. Edited by: Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants, Athens Edited by: Förderverein PRO ASYL (Friends of PRO ASYL), Frankfurt am Main Stiftung PRO ASYL (Foundation PRO ASYL), Frankfurt am Main Postfach , D Frankfurt/Main, Germany Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants, Athens Derigny Street 26, GR Athens, Greece Translation: Hannah Perowne, Susanna Thomas, Jan Dörfel Published in October 2007 Ordering Adress: Förderverein PRO ASYL e.v. Postfach , D Frankfurt/Main Germany phone: , fax: PRO ASYL: Donation account no , Bank für Sozialwirtschaft Köln, BLZ , IBAN: DE , BIC: BFSWD33XXX Table of Contents 4 Introduction 6 Summary, conclusions and demands 1. The practices of the Greek coast guard: systematic human rights violations 9 The experiences of refugees: maltreatment and denial of access to the territory 9 Lesbos: Abandoned 9 Lesbos: Two attempts 10 Lesbos: Five attempts 10 Samos: Broken ribs 10 Samos: Beaten up 10 Chios: Torture during interrogation 11 Lesbos: Return of a minor to Turkey 12 The structure and mandate of the Greek coast guard 15 The dead refugees of Mitilini 2. Evros Region: refoulement at the land border 17 Ms. Z.: Illegal expulsion and subsequent detention 3. Deportation orders, detention and detention conditions 19 Law and practice 19 The detention of minors 20 Problems highlighted in the detention centres on Chios, Samos und Lesbos 21 Inhumane detention conditions 21 Mersinidi: Detention centre on Chios 22 Samos: Detention centre Samos-City 24 Lesbos: Detention centre Pagani-Mitilini 25 Minors in Mitilini 26 The readmission protocol between Turkey and Greece Patras Gateway to Western Europe? Digression: Notes on the asylum system in Greece 30 Applications submitted and granted 30 Asylum procedure 31 Reception and procedure in cases of unaccompanied minors 33 Annex: Excerpts from interviews 37 Appendix: Results of the journey from 4-8 October List of abbreviations Table of Contents 3 Introduction Asylum seekers are being sent back to Greece from Germany and other European countries without their applications for asylum having been thoroughly examined. The legal basis for this is the European Dublin II Regulation under which the state through which the asylum seeker entered European territory is responsible for processing the asylum claim. For a large number of people, particularly those from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia, the escape route leads them across the Aegean into Greece. In the course of our research we interviewed more than 100 refugees. Among them were a significant number of refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of them had attempted to reach one of the Greek islands in the Mediterranean off the Turkish coast. In other cases, the refugees reported their experiences in crossing the border in the Evros region between Turkey and Greece. We conducted interviews on islands in the northern Aegean with the following organisations: There are two main routes into Greece from Turkey: one is across the Turkish-Greek land border in the northeast of the country, in the Evros river region. The other route lies via the Mediterranean: refugees attempt to reach one of the Greek islands situated only a few kilometres away from the Turkish mainland. The islands in the North Aegean, particularly those of Chios, Samos and Lesbos are important points of entry to the EU for arriving by sea. In the past few months PRO ASYL has become increasingly concerned about reports from asylum seekers who, during hearings in Germany, state that whilst in Greece, they were given no opportunity to file an asylum claim in accordance with the requirements of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Furthermore, the numbers of refugees reporting maltreatment and attempted refoulement by the Greek coast guard has increased. Between 12 th July and 14 th August 2007, a delegation from PRO ASYL undertook a fact-finding mission in order to examine the circumstances in the area. During the trip PRO ASYL was accompanied and supported by the Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants. The focus of our research was access to the Greek territory, reception and detention conditions of newly arrived refugees on the islands of Chios, Samos and Lesbos and the particular situation of minors. The research trip included a visit to the Greek detention centres (Special Holding Facilities for Aliens) in Chios, Samos-City and Mitilini and interviews with refugees, officials in charge from the local authorities, representatives of the coast guard and representatives of human rights groups from the islands in question and from Athens and Patras. Committee for Solidarity with Refugees in Chios Movement for Human Rights Solidarity with Refugees in Samos PROS FYGI Initiative for Solidarity with Refugees in Mitilini/Lesbos. Further conversations were held with: Representatives of police authorities (Chios, Samos and Mitilini) and the Prefecture in Mitilini; Representatives of the Greek coast guard; Representatives of the UNHCR in Greece; Representatives of the Civil Society Organizations who play an important part in the reception of refugees and the asylum procedure: Greek Council for Refugees (GCR); Medical Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims; Ecumenical Program for Refugees; Network for Social Support to Migrants and Refugees (Athens) and Association for the Support of Youth, ARSIS (Athens) The research team consisted of the lawyer Marianna Tzeferakou (Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants in Athens), Günter Burkhardt (Managing Director of PRO ASYL), Karl Kopp (Director for European affairs from PRO ASYL and member of the board of the European Council for Refugees and Exiles ECRE) and the journalist Elias Bierdel (Borderline Europe). The fact-finding mission was financed by a grant from Foundation PRO ASYL and Förderverein PRO ASYL (friends of PRO ASYL). The following report is based primarily on conversations that took place during this fact-finding mission, as well as on observations made on site. Complementary information is supplied by several publicly available documents. 4 Introduction This report forms part of a series of fact-finding missions (to Spain/Morocco, Italy, Slovakia/Ukraine) about human rights violations committed at the external borders of Europe, conducted by PRO ASYL. It considers and analyses the human rights situation at the Turkish-Greek border, the practice of detention on the three Greek islands of Chios, Samos and Lesbos, and in part addresses the horrendous shortcomings of the Greek asylum system, as it operates both in the country and at the border. It is the publishers view, that these critical findings have to be placed within a European context. The border which we visited is one of the external borders of the European Union. The European Union bears responsibility for what is happening there. inner areas of the EU to the outer borders and from there to unsafe countries outside the EU. For these reasons, the construction of an asylum system in Greece and the European Union is essential. This system must be based on the principle of the absolute respect for human rights and asylum law, as proclaimed by the heads of state in Tampere in October If this is not the case, then Europe is jeopardising its achievements in human rights development of which it is rightly proud at its very own borders. The present asylum policy of the European Union gives the clear impression that its core objective is the protection of Europe from refugees rather than the protection of refugees. European member states wash their hands of the responsibility for refugees, while humanitarian dramas unfold at the borders of Europe, illustrating the decreasing commitment of EU Member states to guarantee even basic human rights standards. Consequently the solution of the problems outlined in this report lies not only with Athens but also with Brussels and in the capitals of the most influential EU member states, such as Berlin, Paris, and London. EU regulations which state as a general rule that asylum seekers have to apply for asylum in the first EU member state which they enter, create inhumane conditions for refugees and clearly illustrates an denial of solidarity with EU member states at the outer borders of Europe, such as Greece. The fact that in 2007 Greece, which is a seventh of the size of Germany, has registered more asylum seekers than Germany, clearly illustrates that Europe s asylum system does not operate on the basis of fairness and solidarity. The countries in the centre of Europe protect themselves more and more effectively against refugees. Refugees who manage to arrive in another EU country via Greece are being returned to Greece. The consequences of this policy are evident: While the EU countries which only have internal borders, particularly Germany, shirk responsibility for a humane refugee policy, the EU member states at the outer borders of Europe increasingly fend off refugees in a brutal manner. This leads to a double transfer of responsibility from the Wall inscription in the former detention centre on Lesbos Introduction 5 Summary, conclusions and demands Human rights violations at the Greek border The refoulement of refugees at sea We were able to glean the following patterns of serious human rights violations committed by the Greek coast guard from our interviews with refugees from a wide variety of countries of origin in and outside the detention centres in Chios, Samos and Lesbos. Refoulement by the Greek coast guard within national territorial waters and at the external borders of the EU is occurring on a systematic scale. This practice seriously endangers the life of those seeking protection, apart from subjecting them to risks on return to Turkey. The coast guard attempts to block small boats carrying refugees and push them out of the national territorial waters. In order to do so, they circle the boats with their own boats causing waves. These risky maneuvers can result in the death of refugees. Refugees who are already in Greek territorial waters or even at the Greek coast are being driven back into Turkish waters. Their dinghies are deliberately damaged, so that they can, at best, return to the Turkish coast. Refugees are being refouled by the coast guards and deposited on so-called»dry (i.e. uninhabited) islands«. The Greek coast guard systematically abuses newly arriving refugees. In one reported case (on Chios island), the degree of maltreatment amounted to torture (serious beating, mock execution, electric shocks, pushing a refugee s head into a bucket full of water (»submarino«).»refoulement«of refugees at the border in the Evros region In the Evros region (Greek-Turkish border), refugees are arrested upon arrival by the Greek border guard and detained without official registration. They are held, deprived of their fundamental rights. They are detained without contact to the outside world (incommunicado) for several days and are then illegally and forcibly returned to Turkey, where their life and liberty may be at risk or where they are at risk of deportation to their countries of origin. The conduct of the Greek authorities violates international refugee and human rights law. The practices of the coast guard and border police constitute a serious breach of the principle of non-refoulement contained in article 33 (I) of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of refugees, article 3 (I) of the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT), and the right to protection against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment contrary to article 3 European Convention for Human Rights, (ECHR) and article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as articles 5 and 14 of the UDHR Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, etc. Furthermore, the Greek authorities endanger the lives of refugees. This violates the international obligation of the Greek State to respect the right to life, as enshrined in international human rights instruments (art. 2 ECHR, art. 6 ICCPR, art 3 of the UDHR). The excessive use of force, ill-treatment and torture as carried out by the Greek coast guard constitutes a flagrant violation of international human rights instruments and violates human dignity (art. 3 ECHR, art. 7 ICCPR, art. 3 UNCAT, art. 5 UDHR). Illegal deportation orders and detention The administrative practice at the border deprives refugees and other persons in need of international protection of their rights and exposes them to serious risks. The police arrest all new arrivals, including asylum seekers and particularly vulnerable individuals such as victims of torture and human trafficking, disabled persons, pregnant women, minors and refugees from countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. They are all issued with automatic deportation orders without a hearing, without any examination of their entitlement to protection. This practice effectively constitutes a denial of access to the asylum determination procedure. Subsequent to the deportation order a detention order is issued. Detention is not the exception, it is the rule. At the time of our fact-finding mission, there were 18 unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan and Somalia detained in Samos. In Mitilini, there were over 30 unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan in detention. The youngest detainee was ten years old. The authority responsible for minors, the»prosecutor for Minors«had not been informed, although this is provided for by law in the case of deportation orders, detention and release 6 Summary, conclusions and demands of juveniles and children. In practice, unaccompanied minors are left homeless and without any protection after release. The maximum period of administrative detention is three months. Although deportation orders cannot be implemented in the majority of cases, and deportation has to be suspended (with the effect that detention would have to cease according to Greek law), those concerned remain in detention. This administrative practice appears arbitrary. The length of detention is determined by the respective police authority concerned. There are no professional interpreters any of the three islands visited. At the police stations, amongst the coast guards and in the detention centres, fellow detainees are usually used as interpreters. In Samos, the Arabicspeaking owner of a shop acts as an interpreter. Legal assistance is not provided by law during the administrative process. Detained refugees have very little opportunity to receive qualified legal advice: In the detention centres we visited, there was only one person providing legal advice on a very limited basis. The local support groups have no access to the detention centres. The detainees cannot establish contact with the outside world (there is no accessible phone in Samos and Mitilini and mobile phones are confiscated). Detainees are not informed about their status and their rights not even after release from detention. They do not understand the documents attesting release. The deportation orders are handed to them in Greek. There is effectively no possibility of appeal against deportation orders and detention. Although provided for by law, in practice this right can rarely be exercised. The issuing of deportation orders and the subsequent detention of any person arriving irregularly at Greece, including all persons in need of international protection, constitutes a breach of international refugee law and human rights. This practice also leads to violations of the principle of non-refoulement. Their official registration as asylum seekers or persons in need of international protection is not required for their protection (art. 33 (I) of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of refugees, art. 3 ECHR, art. 3 UNCAT, art. 7 ICCPR, art. 3 and 14(I) of the 1948 UDHR ). Furthermore, penalties must not be imposed on refugees on account of their illegal entry into or presence in a contracting state (article 31(1) Geneva Convention). The entire administrative procedure for refugees and migrants at the border violates fundamental human rights, in particular the right to a fair hearing and the right to access to a fair procedure and the right to an effective appeal (article 5(2), 5(4) 6(1) ECHR, article 13 ICCPR, article 7, 8 UDHR). Apart from that, the Greek authorities are in breach of article 5 of the EU Reception Directive according to which asylum seekers have to be fully informed about their rights. The detention of persons in need of international protection violates international standards. Persons should not be detained (Art. 31 of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of refugees, art. 5(I) ECHR, art. 9(I), 14(I) ICCPR, art. 3 and 9 UDHR, art.7 (I) of the EU Reception Directive). Furthermore, the detention of particularly vulnerable individuals with special needs of assistance and protection constitutes a major violation of basic human rights and dignity. The detention of minors constitutes a flagrant violation of international law pertaining to the protection of the rights of the child (art. 37(b) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNHCR guidelines on refugee children). Greece is furthermore in violation of the minimum standards relating to the protection of minors, as prescribed by EU law (namely article 17, 18 and 19 of the EU Reception Directive). Inhumane and degrading conditions of detention Detention conditions on all three islands visited constitute inhuman and degrading treatment. No special provisions are made for vulnerable groups, such as minors, torture victims, victims of trafficking, disabled persons or persons with physical and psychological problems. Medical treatment offered in the detention centres of Chios, Samos an Mitilini is wholly insufficient. Access to exercise yards and to fresh air was not being regulated in Mitilini and Samos. Very often doors were kept locked for several days. In Mitilini, refugees from Arabic countries were being denied all exercise in fresh air at the time of our visit. In all three centres, there are serious concerns about the quality of drinking water and food. Sanitary installations are extremely dirty and partially broken. There are insufficient toilets and shower facilities for the great number of detainees. Detainees are not provided with sufficient sanitary articles for their personal hygiene. They are not provided with appropriate clothes. There are no central meeting rooms, and no activities are offered. In the cells, which we were able to inspect, there was no furniture apart from beds. None of the buildings provides shelter against the heat Summary, conclusions and demands 7 in the hot summer months and against the damp and cold in winter months. Detention camps are overcrowded. This factor renders the already inhumane living conditions even more unbearable. Detention of persons under these conditions constitutes inhumane and degrading treatment in breach of fundamental human rights (art.3 ECHR, art.7 and 10(1) ICCPR, art. 9 of the 1948 UNGA Universal Declaration of Human Rights). We make the following demands: The protection of human rights in Greece: Human rights, as embodied in international human rights instruments, as well as in European and national legislation, must be respected. These include the guarantee that no-one is returned to persecution (principle of non-refoulement), the right to life, the protection from torture, the prohibition of arbitrary detention, the right to a fair procedure and fair hearing, and respect for the best interest of the child. Full respect of the principle of non-refoulement: The European Union must ensure that the EU-member state Greece fully respects the principle of non-refoulement. All acts o
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