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May 6, 2014
May 6, 2014

Criminalisation of Migration in Greece

Author: Anna Giralt Gris Translator: Anna Papoutsi
Category: Borders
This article is also available in: elesfrpt-pt
Criminalisation of Migration in Greece

Detention centers for migrants, a name used to denote the modern concentration camps, are only the tip of the iceberg of a complex plot aiming, among others, at the criminalisation of migrants, in order to profit from it.

How can someone fleeing war or poverty be converted into a criminal? By making laws, fences and prisons. What for? For creating the figure of the enemy, by equating undocumented migrants with criminals that must be detained or expelled. This idea of the “enemy” is deliberately used to “appease” a population that has previously been intimidated and, thus, to implement, with full popular support, the measures that governments consider necessary.

An EU-funded criminalisation

This year, the European Commission has increased the allocation of funds towards the so-called “Justice and Home Affairs” by 30%, reaching the € 6,901 million.

Two new funds called “Internal Security Fund” (2014 – 2020) and “External Borders, Asylum and Migration Fund” (2014 – 2020) replace 3 older funds: the “European Refugee Fund”, the “European Fund for the Integration of third-country nationals” and the “European Return Fund”.

Although a portion of this money will be used, or should be used for the so-called integration, a good part of it will serve to militarise the external borders of the EU and finance security companies. The “Internal Security Fund” will finance, among others, the “European Border Surveillance System”, better known as EUROSUR, that means: money for security companies who, since several decades, are promoting this booming business.

After the barbarism perpetrated in Lampedusa, where more than 300 migrants died, the slaughter of Ceuta, the blades of Melilla or the murdered in the Aegean, it is hard to believe that these funds really try to promote integration and combat crime. The figures speak for themselves: over 23,000 dead in the past 10 years in the Mediterranean.

The language used in the reports of the Commission makes it clear that its priority is the safety and protection of the population against the “threats” that they themselves have created, a lamentable hypocrisy:

“The proposals of the European Commission on the budget for Justice and Home Affairs 2014 – 2020 are essential for creating a Security, Freedom and Justice Area, as well as a more open, safe and supportive Europe”.

And here is another gem from the Official Journal:

“The Committee believes that the European Union provides significant added value to these policies, because the management of migration flows and security threats are scopes that Member States cannot address themselves”.

The EU strategy regarding these issues is very well explained and documented in Claire Rodier’s latest book, “The Xenophobia Business”. Broadly, it explains how the business with borders, fences, prisons, and everything that has to do with the supposed safety started, since the 80s, when, at the same time, the free travel area within the EU and the exclusive Schengen club were created. The first, the free travel area within the EU allows the free movement of persons, merchandise, capital and goods between the member countries and the second is somehow a police response to the “lack of security” generated by the first. A great absurdity!

The book also explains the role of FRONTEX, the European Agency for the Management of External Borders, and how its budget increased fivefold since its founding in 2005 up to 2010. It develops and documents the idea that outsourcing functions allows for others to do the dirty work, bringing about what the author calls a new form of colonisation, the domination beyond borders. And also, how 9/11 was a turning point towards relating, forever, migration issues to security. It is a highly recommended reading for understanding how this network works.

The Greek case

Greek politicians, aided by the mainstream media, have promoted racism and xenophobia among the population, in order to radicalise the measures against migrants and refugees. No need to go too far to remember the propaganda spread by the right-wing New Democracy (the largest party in the governing coalition) during the electoral period (2012), when Samaras said he would take back the cities that the migrants had occupied. This propaganda still continues under the police operation called “Xenios Zeus”, which was launched in August 2012 and so far has resulted in the arrest of over 80,000 migrants, of which approximately 5,000 have been imprisoned, without having committed any crime other than the mere administrative offense to not have the proper documentation. “Xenios Zeus”, in Greek, means “Hospitable Zeus”, nothing further away from reality.

This tough and arrogant discourse legitimised, for some, at the time, any violence against migrants. Violence by members and supporters of Golden Dawn against migrants did not come from nowhere; it was encouraged by New Democracy. It should be remembered that it was during the PASOK of George Papandreou’s government, that the first official detention centres were planned. Although for years inhumane prisons for migrants already existed in old police barracks, disused military facilities, warehouses and police stations, the then Minister of “Public Safety” Michalis Chrisochoidis declared that the government would respond to the “immigration problem” by punishing the culprits and putting them in the new detention centres that would be built. So the responsibility for what is happening today is fairly shared between the alleged democratic parties, which have always used migration issues for electoral purposes.

Prisons without laws

In Greece, according to the Ministry of Public Order and Civil Protection, there are 6 official detention centres, but multiple testimonies, investigations and reports verify that prolonged detention happens also in police stations and border crossings –sites not fit to hold anyone– raising the number of these centres to 25 to date.

According to the police, in February 2014 there were 6,500 migrants and asylum seekers detained in the 6 “official institutions” (Amygdaleza, Corinth, Komitini, Xanthi, Drama and Filakio) and 300 in police stations around the country.

Officially they are called “pre-removal facilities”, but most of the detainees are never deported; on the contrary, many of them, after going through this hell, obtain political asylum. So why are they detained? The answer is not simple, but it can be summed up in one word: business.
Greece has been consistently condemned for violating treaties on Human Rights, conventions concerning the rights of asylum seekers, and above all, for degrading treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in detention. Agencies such as the CPT (European Committee for the Prevention of Torture), and more recently, the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, consider the detention conditions inhumane and denounce the repeated abuse and torture. In this report by the Greek Council for Refugees, you can find a very good summary of all the reports and complaints made to date and also the references of the global detention project.

These prisons operate in a changing legal framework where the only purpose seems to be the criminalisation and the suffering of the migrant population. The articles that are gradually included and modified are increasingly xenophobic, exclusionary, racist and harmful.

In Greece, migrants and asylum seekers are systematically detained for not having the proper documentation, but they can also be detained if they are considered a danger to public health. The maximum time that a migrant or asylum seeker may be detained for is 18 months, an exception of the EU return policy that Greece has turned into a rule. However, a recent change in the law allows for this period to become undefined. In February 2014, when the legal maximum of 18 months of detention for the first arrests of the “Xenios Zeus” police operation was about to expire, the government pulled out of its sleeve a new “legal” provision: they could indefinitely detain those who do not collaborate with the law, increasing in this way the torture that is caused by being detained in inhumane conditions without knowing for how long.

Inhumane conditions

Rebecca Harms, president of the Greens in the European Parliament, on a recent visit to Greece, in November 2013, reported this barbarism: “It is unacceptable, people in detention centres suffer hunger and don’t have enough to eat, I can confirm it myself. They have no medical care or relations with the outside. It is something that the European Union cannot tolerate”.

The latest report on the conditions in the centres in April 2014, has been published by the Doctors

Without Borders (MSF) Greece, along with a convincing video:

The most common violations of human rights in Greece are the following:

  • Detention without trial.
  • Irregular procedures, without translations, without lawyers, without information on the duration of detention or asylum procedures.
  • Torture, humiliation and sexual abuse by police officers.
  • Cells without sanitary conditions, without access to sunlight, unventilated and overcrowded.
  • Unsanitary conditions in the centres.
  • Without or with very limited access to the patio.
  • Very restricted access to bathrooms, total lack of hygiene products and warm water.
  • Food of deplorable quality and too little.
  • Lack of communication with the outside world.

These complaints are mainly related to the “detention centres” that are supposedly “fit” to accommodate migrants and refugees. But prolonged detention also occurs in police stations according to Bahman, an Iranian refugee who, after having been arrested twice and having spent three months in the basement of a police station without seeing the sunlight, managed to get political asylum. Bahman recounts how asylum seekers are treated: “It was very hot, we were in an underground cell. It was not a camp, these were cells in police stations and most of them were in the basement. In the winter with the humidity it is very cold and in the summer the heat is stifling, the lack of ventilation makes the air un-breathable. These are places without outdoor access, there is no patio. You are only allowed to go to the bathroom twice a day for 2 hours. From 10.00 to 12.00 and from 16.00 to 18.00. We were about 20 or 25 from different countries: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria…” But for Bahman the worst thing were not the conditions of his detention but not knowing how long he would have to be detained for in such conditions:

Bahman, refugee from Iran

“The worst thing is that you do not know what they will do to you. The police never give you any information, they don’t tell you if you’ll be there for 3 months or 1 year, or whether you will be deported. You go to sleep at night and when you wake up in the morning someone has disappeared. The police takes them, deports them”.

After living in this hell Bahman got political asylum, even so, with the paper in his hand and the official abandonment of the “criminal class”, his future is very uncertain, the Greek system does not provide a clear path or a network of support for him to start a new life as a refugee.

Bahman, refugee from Iran

“It is terrible, in the end, with or without documents you are nothing. What is the crime for which they imprison you for 18 months? For leaving a country full of difficulties or for escaping death? Here they detain you for these crimes, but it is clear that these are not crimes”.

Abuse, torture and deaths

Mohammad is a minor, despite being 16 years old, he was detained for 18 months in a juvenile facility under terrible conditions and then got political asylum; this is his testimony:

“I’ve seen a lot of suffering, I saw a person who cut his own throat with a knife and no one was helping. The police said: let him die”.

Mohammad also relates how the police woke them at night, put them in a row outside the cells and beat them with batons. The beatings and tortures, physical and psychological, are institutionalised practices and are applied through different methods. Abbas, an asylum seeker from Afghanistan also shares his experience:


“It was very hard. After spending two months in the police station in Glyfada, Athens, they took me to Aspropirgos, and for the 6 months I spent there I did not see the sun light. After these 6 months I was moved to the detention of Komotini, in the north of Greece, and I could see the sun light again and then I realised that I was still a human being”.

The non-existent medical care and the suicides

The deaths of detainees have also been in the news during this past year. The last two cases happened in the Detention Centre of Corinth. In both cases, medical neglect and negligence were the causes of death.

Farhad spent 18 months in the centre of Corinth and there he witnessed several cases of medical negligence. When he was in there he filmed some images that were used to show the conditions and provide testimony for cases of suicide attempts that have occurred within the centre. Farhad tells us about one of his fellow inmates at the centre: “He had kidney problems, before being detained his kidneys were already destroyed. After a while it became worse because he never received medical attention, there was no doctor to visit him and this is why he died”.

The former secretary general of Doctors of the World in Greece, Nikitas Kanakis, explains the difficulties his team has to face when working at the centre of Corinth. Doctors do not have direct access to patients, they can only visit them if the patient’s complaint is approved by the guard. This fact, coupled with the harsh conditions described above and the uncertainty about the time of the detention causes extreme situations. According to Kanakis, “people live under tremendous stress that affects their mental stability, the way they see things, that’s why we have so many suicide attempts. It is a sort of Guantánamo”.

Riots and hunger strikes

During 2013 several revolts have broken out, and recently, in April 2014, due to the implementation of the new law, when the detainees of several centres found out that they had to spend an indefinite time in there, they protested.

The other way to claim their rights and raise awareness of the bad conditions in which detainees live in is to go on hunger strikes, but most are aborted with beatings. When Farhad and some of his companions began a hunger strike in the centre of Corinth and had their mouths sewn, the police took them to the hospital and, after beating them, unstitched their mouth to make them stop their hunger strike in a violent manner. In this video you can see his testimony.

Privatisation and the business

The Greek government has announced the privatisation of the security of 2 detention centres and are now in the tender procedure, receiving offers from interested companies, including the cruel British multinational G4S, a leading company in security and criminal activity.

The criminalisation of migration and the generation of fear among the population are not only about “containing the migratory flows”; they are mostly about corporate interests, since it happens to be a very profitable and growing business, with a high share the market. In 2009, the turnover of the “global security” was estimated at € 450 million; this is the industry of surveillance, security systems, deportation flights, management and security prisons…

The cruel repression techniques that governments and businesses are experimenting on migrants and asylum seekers are techniques that will be put in place in the system, they will be perfected and applied on the entire population.

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Criminalisation of Migration in Greece by Anna Giralt Gris is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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