Up until October 19th, 2012, any migrant who had been detained in Greece as a result of not having legal papers to stay in the country, could be held for up to three months if they applied for asylum and six months if they did not, this was then extended to one year and 18 months respectively. The process of claiming asylum in Greece, both outwith and within detention centres is an arduous one, with little information available, a lack of lawyers and cases thrown out for spurious reasons, and even without reasons being given. Detention conditions have been condemned by both national and international agencies which have visited the camps, but little changes.
There are six main detention centres operating in Greece, with many more migrants held in prisons and in police detention centres. Currently 5,000 are held in the official migrant camps, with an unknown number being held in the 25 alternate facilities which are also being used to house migrants – although officially these are only used as short term measures, some detainees have been held in such facilities for months.. Dendias the Minister for Public Order who oversees the camps has announced a doubling of the current capacity of the official camps to 10, 000, although it should be noted that there are no plans to transfer those held in police stations, ordinary prisons and even shipping containers throughout Greece, but only to increase the total capacity.
Officially every detainee should have 4 square meters while held in detention, however many have but a fraction of that, with up to three detainees per square metre, so that the inmates do not even have room to lie down. Men, women and children are held together in some camps and within the supplementary facilities, sans-papiers share cells with convicted criminals.
Since the start of Operation Zeus in August 2012, police have been stopping people in the street and demanding their papers, detaining them if their papers are not found in order. No notification is given to their relatives by the police and migrants rely on NGOs to inform others of their detention, including any dependent children they may have, who are left uncared for. In March, Greek “undesirables” were added to those being held without trial in these camps. Access to lawyers or information about the asylum process is limited and even when such information is provided it is provided in Greek, which few migrants read well.
Resistance is growing within the migrants with riots and uprisings and currently nearly 2,000 migrants held at these camps now on hunger strike across Greece. But with little contact beyond the razor wire, there is a lack of information about what is actually going on in the camps, but what little news does get out shows a pattern of brutality, squalor, disease, hunger and despair.
Issues and Resistance in the Official Detention Camps
Amygdaleza – official population: 1,665
Amygdaleza, the first of the official detention centres, opened on the 29th April 2012, with shipping containers used to house the migrants which included unaccompanied children, held in mass dormitories Many have been locked up here for months on end, without access to lawyers and inadequate food and hygiene facilities. Despite this, it is widely reported to be the detention camp with the best conditions for migrants in Greece.
- On December 1st, 2012, migrants gathered in the yard at Amygdaleza, pulling at the fences and shouting slogans of freedom. The protest was quickly put down by riot police.
- On January 29th, 2013, Syrian migrants went on hunger strike to demand refugee status, in co-ordination with migrants also held at Petrou Ralli police detention centre. Some of the inmates had been held for up to fifteen months without access to asylum procedures.
- On February 21st, 2013 600 prisoners joined the hunger strike, in protest at the lengthening of time that sans-papiers could be held in detention.
- On February 23rd, 2013 riot police were called to the detention centre to violently end the hunger strike, beating the detainees with clubs. Teargas was used in enclosed rooms and and beat the detainees with clubs, resulting in some of the detainees suffering broken bones in their arms and legs.
- On April 6th 2013, a further mass hunger strike in protest at the conditions of detention in Amygdaleza began. The following day, two of the hunger strikers tried to kill themselves, one with broken glass, the other by drinking a bottle of shampoo. No ambulance turned up for hours.
Xanthi – official population: 440
Most of the inmates at Xanthi detention centre have been held since August after being picked up in the first round of the “Operation Zeus” sweep. As with all other centres conditions are deplorable with overcrowding, inadequate food and a lack of sanitory provision.
- On November 12th 2012, an afghan refugee sewed his lips together in protest at the extension of the length of detention.
Paranesti (Drama) – official population: 320
The detention centre at Paranesti, Drama opened on 29th September 2012. Each cell holds 40 people who have no access to outside, and with their mobile phones removed on detention, inmates have little opportunity to contact the outside world.
- On 25th January 2013, migrant attempted suicide by cutting his wrists with a razor blade, while other prisoners protested at the poor living conditions. Police were called to put down the revolt.
- On 8th April 2013, a migrant from Afghanistan climbed a tree and threatened to jump in protest at his continuing detention. He was eventually brought down by ladder.
Filakio (Orestiadas) – official population: 2,034
Nicknamed “Greece’s Guantanamo“, the Filakio camp near Orestiadas has been running several years, but it has seen a massive expansion in the last year. With migrants held 100 to a cell with men, women and children all imprisoned together, beatings are common and the lack of sanitary facilities, together with unwashed bedding leads to disease. Some inmates has been sleeping on the same bare mattress for months.
- On the 8th February 2013, migrants blockaded their cell doors and set mattresses on fire in protest at the extension of internment conditions. Violent repression from the police followed including drafting in police from the neighbouring area. Eight inmates were arrested.
Komotini, - official population: 427
Migrants at the Komotini detention centre report being regularly beaten and having hot water thrown over them, as well as being insulted during prayer and being pulled out of toilets. Despite the extensive damage at the end of last year, the detainees were not moved and continued to live in the charred cells with no electricity, little natural light and bare electrical wires.
- On 23rd November 2012, an uprising started in the Komotini detention centre. Migrants smashed windows, burned mattresses broke iron bars from doors and beds and caused extensive damage to the facility. Teargas was used to put down the uprising, while from the outside, people heard gunshots as the police struggled to control the situation.
Corinth – official population: 1,022
The detention centre in Corinth opened in July 2012. In October 2012, a delegation inspecting the conditions under which migrants were held in Corinth reported there was no warm water, migrants have insufficient food, no access to information or lawyers, many lack medicine they need to take and thus remain sick in their cells; when on occasion doctors were called, no interpreters were available to allow the inmates to properly communicate with them. Adults and unrelated children are held together in the same cells which house between 60 and 80 people in cells 120m square, where they are locked up twenty three hours per day.
- On 18th November 2012, a hunger strike started against the long detention periods and conditions in the centre. Riot police were called to put down the protests who teargassed the hungerstrikers in their cells, as detainees baracadded the doors to protect themselves and set matresses alight to counteract its effects.
- On 10th March, 2013, a Syrian refugee who was caught filming the guards beating other inmates on his mobile phone was taken to his cell and severely beaten. His phone was smashed.
- On April 6th 2013, migrants in Corinth joined the coordinated hunger strike across the Greek detention centres.
- On April 9th, 2013 two migrant detainees climbed up a chimney at Corinth detention center threatening to jump if they were not let free. After long negotiations they were talked into coming down.
- On April 10th,2013 riots started in the centre after police beat a detainee who refused food as part of the ongoing hunger strike in protest at the lengthening of detention
- On April 18, 2013, a Moroccan detainee jumped from second floor of Corinth detention center.
Other places where Migrants are held
- In October last year, eleven migrants were severely injured and required hospital treatment after police violently put down a protest at the temporary holding facility at Igoumenitsa. The facility at the time held 90 migrants – triple the official capacity of 30. Fifteen migrants who were charged with escaping from the facility were acquitted after the court ruled that the harsh conditions including being locked up twenty four hours per day was a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.
- On November 20th 2012, migrants held at Mytilini police station went on hunger strike at the overcrowded conditions and long detention periods. Even those not detained, as the capacity for detention on the island has vastly exceeded capacity, face violence and intimidation as they are frequently attacked as they sleep rough on the streets – young children and pregnant women among them.
- In December 2012, an investigation into the situation at the holding camp on Samos found 41 migrants, including eight women and seven children locked up together without mattresses, blankets or hygiene products and sharing a single toilet.
- An investigation into the conditions of detention at Vatopadi police detention centre in December 2012 found that food consisted of only inadequate, uncooked dry meals, the sanitary infrastructure was insufficient, which coupled with the overcrowding, where 38 migrants were held in two cells, contagious diseases such as scabies was rife and there had been 14 suicide attempts in 3 months.
- In February 2013, 51 refugees from Syria and Palestine, including 14 children and two pregnant women were held in a shipping container in Chios with a total area of 35 square metres for nearly a week. The following week, 60 refugees were held in the same container.
- On the 12th February, 12 detainees at Nikaia joined a hunger strike after a fellow inmate was beaten when he requested that he was transferred to a cell which was adequate for the number of people being held. The detainees were forced to sleep due to overcrowding, which saw 12 people being held in a cell designed for three.
- On March 14th, 70 refugees held at Drapetsona police station started a hunger strike against the extended detention periods. Already two of the detainees had been held there for nine months solely because of a lack of papers.
- On the 24th April, 17 refugees on Lesbos started a hunger strike in protest at being held in the yard of the police station with no facilities under constant exposure to the sun.
- On the 25th April 2013, a hunger strike began at the police detention centre in Moshato. The migrants here are held for months on end with only one mattress between two, in squalid and overcrowded conditions, with no access to either lawyers or outdoors.
- In Grevena Prison, in northern Greece, a doctor’s report issued on 25th April refers to twenty eight inmates with”serious physical injuries“,some caused by tazers, after they were beaten by guards and police from the Special Suppressive Counter-terrorism unit (EKAM) earlier this month.
- On April 29th, 580 inmates at the Larissa detention centre began a hunger strike in response to the illegal conditions under which they were held together with a lack of basic health and social care, after a letter that they had sent to the Justice Department, signed by 600 inmates fell on deaf ears.
Clean rooms, clean beds, warm showers – none of that will change anything. Don’t help us if that’s all you’re going to ask for. What we need is freedom.
Eritrean migrant held in detention