Amnesty accuses Greece of inhuman migrant treatment

Amnesty accuses Greece of inhuman migrant treatment

Amnesty accuses Greece of inhuman migrant treatment

A man walks past a pro-migrant graffiti in Athens. A Greek police officer (inset) conducts a body search on an immigrant. Amnesty International accused Greece of endangering migrants’ lives. REUTERS photos

Amnesty International accused Greece yesterday of endangering the lives of undocumented migrants and refugees and detaining them in “inhuman” conditions, as the crisis-racked country cracks down on illegal immigration.

In a statement released a few days after 21 migrants died trying to cross the Aegean Sea in a boat, the rights group’s Greek branch accused the police of repeatedly jeopardizing migrants’ lives by turning back intercepted boats, even knifing one group’s inflatable dinghy and sending another boatload back with no life vests.

“Amnesty International has received reports that even people fleeing from conflict and wars in countries such as Syria are being pushed back to Turkey at the river Evros,” the natural boundary between Greece and Turkey, the group said. “The situation in Greece today is totally undeserving of the Nobel Peace Prize recently awarded to the European Union,” the group’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, John Dalhuisen, said.

Amnesty said it had visited a number of detention centers in July and August and found conditions to be “inhumane” and “demeaning,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Amnesty reported the testimony of a group of Syrians who said Greek police had intercepted their dinghy in June in the middle of the river Evros. The migrants said the police vessel began to push the dinghy back toward the Turkish side of the river, and a policeman struck the inflatable boat with a knife and sank it.

Xenophobic attacks on the rise: Rights groups

In another alleged incident in August, a group of Syrians were put in boats on the river without life vests. When they reached the Turkish side, 15 of the 40 people originally in the boats were missing, the group said.

Other migrants spoke of insurmountable obstacles in lodging asylum claims, as Greek authorities would only accept a small number of applications, exposing the remaining would-be refugees to arrest and detention.

Human rights groups warn that xenophobic attacks on migrants and refugees are on the rise in Greece, where economic hardship and crime have fueled the rise of far-right and vigilante gangs. Greece has seen a surge in neo-Nazi activity, with the far-right Golden Dawn party winning an unprecedented 18 seats with 7 percent of the vote in June parliamentary elections.

Greek authorities and Frontex, the agency that helps border authorities from different EU countries work together, have tried to stem the flux of migrants since 2010.

Exploitation in Italy

In a separate report, Amnesty International has alleged widespread exploitation of foreign migrant workers in Italy, saying they often receive less than the minimum wage and sometimes are not paid at all, The Associated Press reported.

The group said that studies have found a “pattern of labor exploitation” of migrants across Italy, particularly in southern farming areas. The group credits Italian investigators for prosecuting some “extreme” cases of exploitation, but contends less serious abuses often go unpunished.