UNHCR PRESS RELEASE 2-10-07

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Tuesday, 2 October 2007

UNHCR requests

O      Immediate closure of the centre for detention of illegal migrants in Samos

O      Reception conditions conducive to basic human rights principles

O      Effective access of refugees to the asylum procedure


SAMOS – “The current conditions in the centre for administrative detention of illegal foreigners in Samos offend the human dignity in terms of living conditions, sanitation and general infrastructure, expose Greece’s profile at the international level and constitute a breach of human rights obligations”, said Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, Head of the Office of UNHCR in Greece.

On the occasion of the its new visit to Samos – in the framework of the office’s mission schedule to border areas of Greece – UNHCR invites the State, anew, and particularly the unified now Ministry of Interior and Public Order, to take all necessary actions for the immediate closure of the current centre. In parallel, UNHCR requests the state to allocate the necessary funds for the recruitment of the required personnel for the new detention facility, as well as for its necessary equipment, so that its inauguration may lead to an essential progress in the detention conditions.

In the meantime, and taking into account the intolerable situation of the 391 detainees found in the current facility, among whom there are many women with infants – the current capacity being for 120 persons – UNHCR asks the competent ministry and the local police directorate to move to necessary actions for the centre’s decongestion.

UNHCR’s mission team also noted the particular concerns pertinent to refugees and the right to asylum. “For our fellow men escaping flight and persecution – on account of their beliefs, their origin or their religion - to be able to seek asylum, they must be confronted with people ready and willing to listen, before they are driven to detention or deportation procedures”, underlined Mr. Tsarbopoulos. The same applies to those who were forced to flee from their country because of generalised violence and mass violations of human rights, such as in the case of the 2,2 million Iraqis currently in flight. For all these people, the 1951 Geneva Convention, the European Convention for Human Rights, as well as the Greek law, provide for the right to asylum and explicitly prohibit deportation or refoulement, actions which would set their lives in danger.

The Eastern Aegean Sea islands have met, this year, a steep rise in arrivals of migration flows, in which persons falling in the refugee definition may be found. In Samos only, 3,549 migrants entering irregularly have been arrested from the beginning of the year and until the end of September 2007, while the total number for 2006 was 1,580 persons. A rise has also been seen in tragic incidents involving deaths at sea: from 9 drownings and 10 persons missing in 2006, this number has risen to 44 deaths and 54 missing only until September this year. Samos reports, among them, the highest numbers: 36 deaths and 34 missing.

In this particularly heavy climate, the services entrusted with border control measures and the deterrence of illegal migration (in the case of the Greek islands, the Coast Guard and the police), are called to make all the necessary efforts so that the unobstructed access of those deserving international protection to the asylum system is granted. This becomes all the more demanding, as refugees follow the same routes and the same methods of entry into Greek territory, as other migrants do.

This is the reason why the establishment of appropriate reception conditions for illegal entrants become imperative, in order to allow the early identification of persons wishing to seek asylum, as well as the identification of other persons with particular needs, such as unaccompanied minors, victims of trafficking, persons suffering from severe illnesses, victims of torture, the elderly. Such a reception infrastructure requires that irregular migrants be provided with appropriate information on their rights and obligations, particularly on their right to seek asylum, in their language and with the help of interpreters, that the appropriate legal counselling be given, as well as the necessary medical care or psychological support.

UNHCR has identified serious inadequacies in all entry points, as far as issues of information, interpretation and legal aid of irregular migrants are concerned, issues which constitute necessary requirements for the effective access to the asylum procedure. Particularly problematic is the situation of interpreters, as they are neither sufficient in number, nor able to cover all the languages spoken by potential asylum seekers. UNHCR hopes for an improvement of the situation, with the creation of the special leaflet for asylum seekers – prepared also with its contribution – in six languages, and shared with all police directorates in the country, for distribution to irregular entrants.

It is worth noting however, that in the case of Samos (and recently, of Mytilene), several positive steps have taken place, as far as the provision of information and the legal counselling to migrants and refugees are concerned. This ought to be attributed to the efforts of the prefecture (with whom UNHCR cooperates, in the framework of an EU-funded programme under EQUAL), and the awareness of the local community. The “Platform of dialogue” which operates for the reception and the care of the immediate needs of incoming migrants constitutes a “good practice” which should be replicated in other border areas.

Finally, for the essential improvement of the reception conditions, respecting also the rights of asylum seekers, UNHCR has cooperated with the Prefectures of Samos, Chios and Lesvos, as well as with the Ministries of Public Order and Merchant Marine, in the formulation of a special Programme of Reception and Management of mixed migration flows. The relevant proposal has already been submitted by the Prefecture of Samos (who will also be the coordinator of the programme’s implementation) for funding to the EU.  On this occasion, UNHCR would like to congratulate the Prefect of Samos for his support to this important endeavour.

“So long as the phenomenas which generate flows of uprooted people are not addressed in their root causes, so long as the unfair distribution of world wealth and the armed conflicts bring the poor countries of Africa, the Middle East and Asia to their knees, no deterrent measure, no wall is able to stem the speedy rythms of world migration”, concluded Mr. Tsarbopoulos. It is a moral duty of every democratic society, but also a legal obligation of each state which has ratified the Geneva Refugee Convention, to secure reception conditions that will allow, among other, the unhindered access to the right to asylum.

END

For more information, contact:

Ketty Kehayioylou, PI Officer, UNHCR Athens

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