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Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture
Report on Greece reveals truly shameful situation
"The delegation received several consistent and credible allegations of informal forcible removals (push-backs) of foreign nationals by boat from Greece to Turkey at the Evros River border by masked Greek police and border guards or (para-)military commandos.""
3.6.18
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The Council of Europe's: Preliminary observations made by the delegation of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) which visited Greece from 10 to 19 April 2018 (pdf) contains evidence of very serious cases of poor treatment, physical violence, poor psychiatric centres (with the regular use of restraints), inadequate health care, lack of legal advice and appalling conditions.

While this CPT report is directed at the Greek authorities - who are now directly responsible - the EU shares much of the blame for the ongoing situation and continues to issue instructions from Brussels. The EU ran the response to the crisis from 2105-2017 and has provided 954 million euro in aid to Greece so far. And Frontex are responsible with the Greek Coast Guard for border management and EASO (European Asylum Support Office) are present too. [1]

Psychiatric establishments

"The delegation notes positively that, in most of the establishments visited, patients spoke well of staff, and that hardly any allegations of ill-treatment of patients by staff were received.(...)

Most of the establishments visited by the delegation are seriously understaffed.(...)

One of the most serious findings during the visit concerns the widespread practice of excessive use of mechanical restraints. A combination of factors has converged to result in a situation which needs to be urgently reviewed. These factors include low staffing levels, a lack of appropriate training on restraints, a lack of strict criteria for the use of restraints in line with international standards, inappropriate restraints methods and inadequate or absent recording of the use of restraints (...) [emphasis added]

The delegation urges the Greek authorities to carry out a review of the use of mechanical restraints in all psychiatric establishments, including private institutions, with a view to bringing the policy and practice in line with the specific standards of the CPT. The delegation would like to be informed of the steps taken to review and improve the situation." [emphasis in original] (..)

"The delegation invokes Article 8, paragraph 5, of the European Convention for the Prevention of Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Convention) and calls upon the Greek authorities to put an immediate stop to the practice, at the Psychiatric Unit of Evangelismos General Hospital, of placing people in need of intensive care and supervision in the corridor." [emphasis in original] (...)

"Transfers of individuals by the police to an establishment for psychiatric assessment remain a problem, which the CPT has already pointed out previously. The police should not be the default transportation option for such cases. Persons with health-care needs should, primarily, be transported by health-care staff. As is borne out by interviews with patients, health-care staff and police officers themselves, the police are not the appropriate service to carry out such transfers. The delegation heard of the frequent use of tight, painful handcuffs, sometimes for extended transfers, lasting many hours, from remote locations. It also heard one allegation of excessive use of force by the police during such a transfer." [emphasis added] (...)

"In the delegation’s view, the practice concerning the use of the so-called “blue” or protective cells is totally unacceptable and must cease immediately. These basement cells are unfit for holding persons for any longer than the shortest time necessary to address an acute situation to prevent self-harm or harm to others. The delegation observed, however, that patients are placed in these cells for periods of several days, stripped naked, and left unattended for hours, which resulted in them defecating and urinating in the cell." [emphasis added]

"The delegation invokes Article 8, paragraph 5, of the Convention and urges the Greek authorities to immediately put an end to the current practice regarding the use of the “blue” or protective cells at Korydallos Prison Psychiatric Hospital. It is totally unacceptable to place people naked, without supervision, and for extended periods, in these cells." [emphasis in original]

Foreign nationals deprived of their liberty under aliens’ legislation

"It is positive that the vast majority of persons interviewed by the delegation spoke well of police staff. Nevertheless, the delegation received some isolated allegations of physical ill-treatment and excessive use of force by police officers in some of the pre-departure centres visited, mainly consisting of slaps, punches and kicks to the head or other parts of the body. For instance, at Moria Pre-departure Centre, a foreign national complained to the delegation that he had received baton blows on both knees by one of four masked police officers who had been called to intervene inside the wing during the night, some two weeks prior to the delegation’s visit. This incident was supported by medical evidence consistent with the allegations made, and had been observed by all other persons detained in the same room." [emphasis added]

Conditions at the pre-departures detention centres

"remain very poor at the centre in Moria; repair works are required and persons are locked in their rooms for around 22 hours per day. At Fylakio Pre-departure Centre, material conditions are unacceptable. In one of the cells, the delegation met 95 foreign nationals, including families with young children, unaccompanied minors, pregnant women and single adult men, who were detained in about 1m² of living-space per person. The cell was severely overcrowded (many persons were required to share mattresses), filthy and malodorous. Hygiene was extremely poor, hygiene items were not distributed, and the provisions for children were insufficient. The other cells showed similar poor material conditions. Access to outdoor exercise was only granted for 10 to 20 minutes per day." [emphasis added]

"In the view of the delegation, holding persons for up to months under such appalling conditions might easily amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. These conditions are particularly unsuitable for families with young children, unaccompanied minors and pregnant women, due to their particular vulnerability, and present a risk for their security and safety. On 17 April 2018, shortly after the delegation’s visit, a total of 640 persons were detained at the centre for an overinflated capacity of 374 beds." [emphasis added]

"As regards the provision of health-care in the Pre-departure centres and in the Reception and Identification Centre visited, the delegation found that the available resources are totally inadequate compared to the needs observed." (...) {emphasis added]

"Similar to the situation observed in 2016, the delegation noted that, in all places of detention visited, police officers and health-care staff face significant difficulties in communicating with detainees, mainly on account of the total lack of interpretation services. Steps should be taken without further delay to remedy this shortcoming. Further, access to information is insufficient in all pre-removal detention centres visited and the provision of legal aid is inadequate." [emphasis added]

"In its 2016 visit report, the CPT criticised the continued and routine detention of unaccompanied minors in police establishments (...) However, from the information gathered during the visit, it notes that unaccompanied children are still held under so-called “protective custody” for up to several weeks until their transfer to a dedicated open shelter facility, which is mainly due to the totally insufficient number of open shelters available. The delegation recalls the Committee’s position that unaccompanied children should not, in principle, be deprived of their liberty and calls on the Greek authorities to increase efforts to end their detention in police establishments." [emphasis added]

And finally "pushbacks" by masked Greek police and border guards or (para) military commandos

"The delegation received several consistent and credible allegations of informal forcible removals (push-backs) of foreign nationals by boat from Greece to Turkey at the Evros River border by masked Greek police and border guards or (para-)military commandos. In a number of these cases, the persons concerned alleged that they had been ill-treated and, in particular, subjected to baton blows after they had been made to kneel face-down on the boat during the push-back operations. These allegations, which were obtained through individual interviews with 15 foreign nationals carried out in private, all displayed a similar pattern and mainly referred to incidents that had taken place between January and early March 2018, whereas some dated back to 2017. The persons who alleged that they had been pushed back from Greece to Turkey had again entered Greek territory, and had subsequently been apprehended by the Greek police. The report will elaborate further on the issue of push-back operations.

The delegation wishes to recall that the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights entails the obligation not to send a person to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would run a real risk of being subjected to torture or ill-treatment (refoulement). This obligation is applicable to any form of forcible removal, including deportation, expulsion, informal transfer and non-admission at the border, and in respect of return to any other country to which the person may subsequently be removed (so-called chain refoulement). The information gathered during the visit suggests that – until early March 2018 – a number of foreign nationals were not effectively protected against the risk of refoulement. The delegation urges the Greek authorities to prevent any form of push-back."

NOTE: The latest Hellenic Police figures show that the number of refugees on the Greek islands (31.5.18) has risen to 16,689 with 9,336 on Lesvos with an official capacity of 4,077, and Samos with 3,358 refugees and a capacity of 925.

[1] The main aim of the EASO is to facilitate the improved protection for asylum seekers and coordination between member states.In the case of a large intake of asylum seekers within a specific country. See "hotspots" state of play December 2017 including EASO presence and the role of Frontex.

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