Iranian refugee in Athens, Hamid Sadeghi, who has sewn his lips together in protest.
August 9, 2010
Today is the fifth day of this hunger strike where Iranian asylum seekers in Greece have sewn their lips in protest, explained below:
Thursday, 5 August 2010
Two Iranian refugees, whose asylum claims have been pending for years, are on hunger-strike since last Thursday morning (29/7) outside the premises of UNHCR Greece. In relation to this, the Head of the Office, Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, made the following statement:
“The despair of the Iranian hunger-strikers stems from the lasting problems of the asylum system in Greece, which violates the principles for a fair, efficient and effective examination of asylum applications. Their claim for a final decision about the status of political refugee is absolutely fair. It should be noted that more than 45,000 persons have been waiting for years their cases to be examined at second (and final) instance. The appeal committees, that had been operating, even in a limited way, until the fist semester of 2009, were abolished by the P.D. 81/2009. This led UNHCR to decide not to participate in the asylum procedure and criticize the relevant legislation. Today, we await the adoption of a new P.D. that, inter alia, will re-establish the appeal committees, with a view to examine all pending cases. Our Agency, which participated in the preparation of the new legislation, is trying to have the P.D. adopted before summer and for the committees to be able to start work in autumn. In addition, the new law which will transfer the asylum responsibility from the police to a civil Asylum Service should be voted by the Parliament as soon as possible.
Despite UNHCR efforts, the initiative for the adoption and implementation of these legislative changes is with the Greek State. Therefore, it would be irresponsible if we “promised” to the hunger-strikers but also to other asylum-seekers that hold a “pink card” when the appeal committees would start working again.
We have explained all the above in detail to the hunger strikers, as well as to their partners that stand by them, during repeated meetings that UNHCR staff and me personally had with them in the last two weeks. We also explained to them that we cannot help them at this stage, since there are no committees to examine their claims. The anticipated participation of UNHCR in the committees that will be created will constitute a guarantee for a more fair examination of the asylum claims. We understand fully that this explanation does not satisfy the hunger-strikers, since it does not provide an immediate solution to their problem. But this is the reality. A different response would be misleading and raise false expectations.
I would like to stress that we defend the right to a peaceful demonstration, as is the current case. In the meantime, we are in regular contact with the NGO “PRAKSIS” that provides doctors and psychologists to look after the hunger-strikers, because what is most important is the life of those people”.
* Below is a response from the Greek Government:
Ministry of Citizen’s Protection
Response to Amnesty International Report
Athens, July 28, 2010
Amnesty International recently issued a report focusing on the detention of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers in Greece. Presenting twelve recommendations to the Greek government which it believes would improve human rights protection for asylum seekers and irregular migrants who are detained in the country.
The report is entitled ‘Greece: Irregular Migrants and asylum seekers routinely detained in substandard conditions’. It examines the Greek detention system with regard to irregular migrants, asylum seekers and vulnerable groups, and points to the legal and procedural deficiencies in the system. Amnesty International in its report recognizes the challenges faced by Southern European countries which face large flows of irregular migrants and asylum seekers, but deems the response of European states as ‘repressive, showing a consistent pattern of human rights violations linked to the interception, detention and expulsion of foreign state nationals, including those seeking international protection.’
First of foremost, the new Government of PASOK sees the issue of migration and asylum as one of its key areas of policy, and is clearly committed to ensuring that changes are made so that the necessary standards on detention are met. In this end, we recognize that problems still remain with regard to these issues facing irregular migrants and asylum seekers, and we are committed in making all necessary reforms. This is why since the government changeover in Greece, in October 2009, serious steps have been taken towards the general overhaul of the Greek Asylum system and management of migration flows.
As mentioned in the Amnesty International report, the government early in its term set up two expert committees to draft procedures and laws to ensure that all migrants illegally entering Greece are treated in accordance with International and EU standards and guidelines. The first Expert Committee was set up to draft laws concerning the establishment of a new Asylum Agency which will be independent from the police and will be responsible for all administrative and policy related issues concerning asylum. The second committee is drafting a Law on the establishment of screening centres where arrivals will be screened in various points in Greece and directing vulnerable groups and asylum seekers to the various services that will ensure their protection.
While these reforms are taking place, Greece still faces major challenges with regard to illegal migration and asylum. At the external borders of the EU, Greece is the first country of entry to Europe for thousands of individuals seeking a better life or International Protection. In 2008 146,000 migrants were detected for illegal entry or stay in Greece. In 2009 126,000, and in the first six months of 2010 almost 58,000 people. At the same time in 2007 25,113 persons applied for asylum, in 2008 19,884, in 2009 15,928 and in the first 6 months of 2010 4,701. According to Eurostat Greece is ranked 6th in Europe in number of asylum claims despite its small number of population of 11 million people. In addition to this, according to Frontex 2010 annual risk Analysis, Greece accounts for 75% of all detections of illegal border crossings in the EU. In addition to this, the Dublin II regulation places a disproportionate burden on the country given the fact that Greece is usually the first point of entry of illegal migrants in the EU.
This massive influx of migrants evidently poses a considerable financial burden on the country. Greece lacks the capacity and infrastructure to receive such high numbers and also to provide the necessary services for irregular migrants and asylum seekers and vulnerable groups. This problem is indeed one of the main issues the government is currently facing and should not be undermined, as is the case in the Amnesty International Report. Indeed, the EU Commission in a recent visit to Athens has acknowledged this burden, and has committed to support the government in its efforts to ensure the necessary protection to all relevant groups. The EU sees this problem as a European problem rather than one of Greece and has committed to assist.
Parallel to the structural reforms mentioned previously, the government since October 2009 has been working on some other temporary measures which have and will improve the standards for illegal migrants, asylum seekers and vulnerable groups.
These temporary reforms include:
- Pagani Centre for unaccompanied minors was closed on 26 October 2009 because of inadequate conditions
- A temporary centre for unaccompanied minors was opened in Amigdaleza and was approved by the CPT. Unaccompanied minors when identified are sent there temporarily before a guardian is assigned to them.
- A new detention centre with a larger capacity at the El. Venizelos airport will be completed in 4 months. This will ensure better conditions for persons who are detained
- 4,000 irregular migrants who did not have a criminal record were released from detention
- Irregular migrants and asylum seekers aiming to leave or enter the country with false documents who are held in prolonged detention because they cannot pay the 87 euros fine for judicial expenses, will not have to pay the fine and will not be detained beyond the 8 day period . A legislation provision which is currently being prepared by the Ministry of Justice will regulate this.
- A provision is included in a new draft law currently under preparation which provides for the creation of an independent Office which will deal with cases of ill-treatment by police, and will be under the direct authority of the Ministry of Citizen’s protection
- In the next training period of the Police force (September-October 2010), officers will be trained on International and EU standards concerning illegal migrants and asylum.
- Request for European Commission funding for a creation of a pool of interpretersRequest for European Commission funding for Legal AidRequest for European Commission funding for the improvement of information materials for asylum applicants and irregular migrants
In conclusion, we would like to reiterate that in view of the vast numbers of irregular migrants and the limited infrastructure and funds, the process of change is one that cannot take place overnight. The process is a gradual one which will require much work, and assistance. The new government is determined to ensure that these changes are made both on the short-term and long term phases of reform. Finally, in the spirit of EU solidarity and common burden-sharing, Greece and all EU countries will be able to make better guarantees in protecting the rights of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and vulnerable groups.
* * UPDATE for August 13, 2010
In an unnecessarily confrontational act, Greek police attacked these Iranian refugees. Two of the protesters , Hamid Sadeghi (whose lips are sewn) and Vahid Farsh-Baaf were hand cuffed and shackled around the ankles by the police and are said to have been taken to an unknown location. Greek police also arrested the other three protesters, Sadegh Farahani, Faraj Qolami and Raouf Paak-Teenat and took them to a police station which is located directly next door to the Iranian embassy in Athens where the Iranian embassy staff were brought to ‘identify’ them. The Iranian embassy staff reportedly insulted, harangued and booed the three detainees and then with cheers and hoorahs, they thanked Greek police in their efforts to “capture Iranian anti-regime ciminal”.
Greek Secret Police, Geniki Asphalia, is also said to have gone to the home of another Iranian refugee, Yanni Azami and now have an all points bulletin for her immediate arrest. Ms. Azami who is the person responsible for reporting on the recent events and has been compiling all the evidence against the inhumane treatment of the refugees is Greece, is now in hiding.
Iranians who have contacted the European Union to complain about this situation have been told to ‘‘. They also recommended that they talk to Greek authorities. Though the EU officials have been notified of the situation in Athens, the response has been bureaucratic at best and nonchalant at worst.
Please go to the above mentioned link to put in a complaint about Greece’s treatment of our refugees: Please chose: ‘Citizen’ for Category, ’Asylum’ for Theme, and ‘Iran – Refugees in Greece’ for Subject. Here is a suggested text:
“Iranian refugees in Greece have been in hunger strike for 17 days now because the UNHCR has not responded to their request for asylum for years now due to a glitch in the Greek law. In the meantime, they are being treated very badly by the Greek authorities. I would like to know how Greece, as an EU member and a refugee host country, can ignore the most basic rights of refugees. This is an urgent matter so please respond as quickly as possible.”
* * Late update: below is a video after the release of the protesters. Several were taken to a hospital to force them to stop their hunger strike.
Below: Video from August 11th.
Below: Video from August 7th.
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Ministry of Citizen’s Protection – Hellenic Government Response to Amnesty International Report – @Refugee
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TheVeni1 On-line complaint to EU about #Greece Arrest of #Iran Asylum seekers @UN #Refugee #Iranelection #HumanRights #amnesty