Ombudsman's Recommendation, Conclusion No. 12280/01/2.2
|Citation / Document Symbol||12280/01/2.2|
|Cite as||Greece: Ombudsman, Ombudsman's Recommendation, Conclusion No. 12280/01/2.2, 2001, 12280/01/2.2, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3f4f86824.html [accessed 28 August 2014]|
|Comments||This is a summary in English provided by UNHCR Athens.|
Summary of facts: "Medecins du Monde" requested the Ombudsman's intervention about the bad living conditions, inadequate access to asylum procedure and insufficient infrastructure in the premises of detention of illegal entries in the island of Kos. Main problems were bad hygiene conditions, lack of food provisions, crowded premises and inadequate medical care. These conditions raise serious doubts about the respect of basic human dignity and protection of political refugees, according to the petitioner.
Detention procedure: Port Police arrests illegal immigrants, notes their names and personal belongings, following a personal search, as per law. The Ombudsman considers that personal search is necessary to avoid future divergences concerning money in possession of these arrested. Further to this, these persons are detained, awaiting prosecution on illegal entry. Usually the Public Prosecutor refrains from prosecution and the accused are handed over to the police awaiting deportation or asylum application. Detention by port police may last between 1-3 days and by police for weeks even.
Detention conditions: The Port Police premises is a 15 m² area with toilet. On the day of the visit, on 7.9.01, there were 3 guards and 13 aliens, including women and a baby arrested the night before. Most of them were on the way to the police detention area. This room had in the past served for 10-fold number of aliens, leading to stay in the open air of some of them. A major problem is that there is no provision for feeding the detainees who receive food thanks to voluntary offer of some hotel owners and the Red Cross. State authorities have, according to the Ombudsman, shown lack of flexibility in resolving this issue.
Medical screening is non-existing throughout this procedure, save from the occasional voluntary preventive medical examination of 'Medicins du Monde". This voluntary offer is not enough and cannot replace the obligation of state medical screening. According to the Mayor of Kos, private doctors examine occasionally immigrants, free of charge, and medical mergencies are transferred to the local hospital.
Detention conditions in the Police: The detention premises are small and situated in the old police headquarters. Though clean and aired, they can house a maximum of 15 persons. Women and children are kept separately, in a former hotel building within the town. Men are kept in a deserted – rather under seizure – entertainment club, called "Aegean" outside the town. It is a single large area with some toilet amenities, arranged with 130 mattresses, in good conditions. The detention center is dark and inadequately aired. Police is planning to open more windows. The area is guarded by 1 policeman. A major problem is that, for security reasons, detainees cannot get out in the yard, though an enclosed yard has been arranged. The possibility of movement in the open air is, however, a fundamental condition for a decent treatment.
Bathrooms are new but poorly clean due to continued mass arrivals. There is lack of contact with the outside, save with lawyers. It is necessary to install a card phone.
The sum foreseen for daily food of detainees (3 eu/day) is not enough for adequate provision of food.
Permanent medical care is also lacking here. Emergencies are sent to the local hospital but the number of detainees requires a more permanent solution with the presence of a doctor. Expenses on medication, up till recently covered by the Red Cross, are now taken over by the Municipality.
Access to the asylum procedure: In private discussions with the detainees, the Ombudsman found out that they had no opportunity to be informed by the authorities or to apply for asylum. Two Iraqis wanted to be recognized as refugees and repeatedly expressed fear of persecution in Iraq. One of them asked the Ombudsman's representatives to intervene so as to apply for asylum. Detainees generally showed fear and mistrust of Greek authorities and lack of communication, due to the absence of interpreters. The Red Cross representative confirmed that access to asylum was restricted to those assisted by lawyers or speaking English.
The Police Director informed the Ombudsman that the files of those who had applied for asylum were on the way to Athens and that the a/s would later be transferred to the Lavrion center. Till then, they were kept under police watch. The Ombudsman considers that this is equivalent to detention and goes against Greek and international legislation on asylum seekers detention.
A) Despite the large number of illegal entries detained in some Greek islands, the problem thus arising is considered by Greek authorities as a local and one off problem. Instead there is a need for central coordination given that this trend will continue and increase. The deterrence of illegal entries is a matter of Greek foreign policy but their handling represents an administrative infrastructure problem. It is necessary to create a single coordinating body for such cases, which gives guidance but also decides finally. It would be desirable to institute decentralized reception centers; such centers, though, are resisted upon by the local society. Till a long term solution is found, certain measures are recommended: a) basic decent living (in terms of food, heating, health care, space, movement possibility) is not only humane but also a constitutional provision (art. 2 para.1, 5 para 1, 7 para.2 and 22 para. 3) b) Greece has been often condemned for lack of offering such conditions. The existing premises are obviously not enough and priority should be given to finding other premises or improving existing ones.
B) Moving from the detention area of port Police to that of the Police is not necessary. A single place of detention should be envisaged. In any case port police area is obviously inadequate. The problems in the "Aegean" premises (heating, card phone, movement in the yard) should find solution. The area is though small beyond the minimum requirements.
C) A ministerial decree doubled finally the amount for the food of detainees by the Police and constitutes a positive step. As far as detainees by Port Police are concerned, expenditure for their food has been finally covered by the region, but under the budgetary item for natural disasters; it should be instead covered by the Ministry of Merchant Marine budget.
D) Medical care is not adequate. We recommend that preventive medical screening of all arrested illegal entries is conducted and that a doctor is present daily for some hours in the detention areas. The Prisons' Code stipulates medical examination for each prisoner and should be applied, by analogy, in the present case.
E) In terms of refugee protection, Greek stance concerning illegal immigration and avoiding abusive asylum applications render difficult and almost impossible access to asylum for those in genuine fear of persecution. Absence of facilitation to access to the asylum procedure, especially of "endangered" ethnic groups (Afghanis, Iraqis, Sierra Leonese, Sudanese) violates the Geneva Convention. We consider that to respect its international obligations in terms of asylum, Greece should allow for the presence of interpreters in detention areas and sensitize port police and police officials to the asylum procedures. Contact of detainees with the outside world by phone is necessary. In case of mass arrivals and when police staff is not enough, NGOs dealing with refugee matters should be brought in to assist the authorities. Aliens who have applied for asylum are practically always detained, even when no charges against them have been brought. This increases over-population in detention centers and goes against Greek and international asylum legislation. Given the increases number of illegal entries, it in necessary to take steps so as to speedily resolve their legal status, i.e. use more often the accelerated procedure of P.D. 61/99, while preserving all safeguards of fair hearing and judgment of applications. A better training of competent police staff is thus needed. A central coordinating institution for all matters pertaining to illegal entries, including asylum is the only solution allowing to dealeffectively with the current opacity of asylum procedures. It is also desirable to separate the authority competent for controlling the entry into the national territory and fighting illegal immigration with the one treating asylum applications, as foreseen by the EU draft directive on the procedures for granting asylum status.
The only immediate measures taken by the involved authorities, was the transfer of detainees by the port police to its detention area. MPO recognized the inadequacy of police detention premises and expressed the wish for a speedy implementation of the reception areas foreseen by Law 2910/2001. The Ministry of Health did not reply to the Ombudsman's recommendations.