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Greece: Alleged ill-treatment and fear of forcible deportation of Iraqi refugees

Geneva, 05 April 2007. The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) together with the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), a member of the SOS-Torture Network, express their deep concern about the alleged ill-treatment and fear of forcible deportation of Iraqi refugees.

 According to the information received, on 22 February 2007, a group of 54 Iraqis, who crossed on a boat illegally from the Turkish coast into the Greek island of Chios, were arrested and detained in the Chios Temporary Reception Centre for Aliens. A few days later, 13 of them belonging to families with small children were released and ordered to leave the country and the remaining 39 men and 2 women were kept in detention. The police authorities reportedly ignored the UNHCR special directive on Iraqi refugees and hence did not explore if some of the detainees wanted to seek asylum.
It has been a well established practice that the authorities dissuade such detainees from filing asylum applications; if detainees do insist and file, the authorities prolong their detention for the full three month period allowed by the law, and try to use a fast-track procedure of reviewing the asylum applications so as to reject them and deport the applicants before having to release them. If no applications are filed the authorities release them with orders to leave the country on their own within several weeks. Then, potential asylum seekers file asylum applications in Athens, where they live free and wait for a regular review of their application, also able to seek legal assistance.
In view of that, the 39 Iraqis reportedly intended to file asylum applications upon their release. For the first time though, on 29 March 2007, the police authorities gave them orders to leave the country but did not release them. Instead they escorted them via Athens to the Thessaloniki Transfer Center so as to deport them to Turkey in application of a bilateral protocol of re-admission. Upon their arrival in Thessaloniki, on 30 March 2007, the Iraqis reportedly said that they wanted to file asylum applications, but they were allegedly denied that right. A legal support team managed to see three of them and was informed that all wanted to file applications as they had left Iraq fleeing persecution for various religious, ethnic or political reasons. The lawyers informed the police in writing in the evening of 30 March 2007 and an oral assurance was reportedly given that all those wishing to file applications will be allowed to do this.

However, according to the information, at of 31 March 2007, the Iraqis were told to pack and board a bus that would leave at to take them to the Greek-Turkish border. Those who protested and refused to board the bus, insisting to file asylum applications, reported to have been beaten by a group of police officers.

According to the information, police authorities eventually took the 41 applications, plus 8 additional ones from Iraqis and Iranians detained in the same facility.  However their communication with the detainees and asylum seekers was reportedly not carried out in a language they can understand but in English, which only one of them could understand but not speak fluently and had to translate back and forth to the other detainees. More significantly, no doctors reportedly examined those who reported having been beaten. Hence, there has been no possibility to independently verify the ill-treatment allegations.

The asylum seekers remain in detention, as is the practice in Greece for foreigners who file asylum applications after first being detained. This practice is applied even to Iraqis, despite February 2007 Revised UNHCR Directives, calling for granting refugee status or subsidiary (depending on the region they come from) to Iraqis asylum seekers in view of the prevailing situation in Iraq.

Furthermore, the facility of the Transfer Center is not equipped to receive a large number of detainees for several weeks and only few detainees are deported within a few days. The Iraqis reportedly have to sleep on mattresses on the floor in overcrowded cells. Moreover, the facility has no provision for meals so the asylum seekers were allegedly given money to purchase food from an individual who came selling foodstuffs.

OMCT and GHM recall that the Council of Europe Anti-Torture Committee (CPT) documented similar cases during its visit in August-September 2005 and reported them in a report on Greece released in December 2006; in view of the serious related concerns, CPT also carried out an additional ad hoc visit in Greece, in February 2007, visiting mainly detention areas for foreigners awaiting deportation.

OMCT and GHM are very concerned about these reports and urges the authorities to grant asylum to these Iraqis in strict implementation of the Revised UNHCHR Directives and immediately release them. Furthermore, OMCT and GHM call upon the authorities to launch a thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations of ill-treatment, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them to trial and apply the penal and/or administrative sanctions as provided by law. Finally, OMCT and GHM urge the authorities to fully implement the CPT recommendations to prevent inhuman and degrading conditions of detention of asylum seekers in Greece.

Contact:
OMCT: +41 22 809 49 39
GHM: +30 210 347 22 59

World Organisation Against Torture

P.O. Box 21-
8, rue du Vieux Billard
CH 1211 Geneva 8, Switzerland
Tel.: 0041/22 809 49 39 / Fax: 0041/22 809 49 29
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