Updated: Jan 26
As some refugees settle and find employment in Greece, they can find it very challenging to adapt to its culture, language and social norms. Now-resident refugees, from Morocco, Algeria, Syria among other countries, continue to face a ‘culture of disbelief’ and illegal hostilities. They are subjected to degrading treatment such as frequent stop and searches from police officers who demand to see documents which show their legality to reside in the country. Refugees face a challenging time from authorities with some reported to be beaten with clubs and sticks for somewhat menial things. The issue is even worse for new arrivals as they get penalised for committing what the police call ‘illegal immigration’.
Almost as soon as the rubber boats touch shore, their dream of an instant change to a life of safety flashes by them; they are forced to live in detention centres for months on end, despite the Internal Protection Alternative (IPA) saying detention should only be imposed for the “minimum necessary amount of time”. The facilities refugees are held in are described by Human Rights Watch (HRW) as “cramped” and “inhumane” with extremely poor standards of hygiene, shortages of non-food items like clothing, clean mattresses, and blankets and what Asylum in Europe describes as continuing issues of overcrowding in some quarters. Access to healthcare in such centres is challenging and this problem is exacerbated by an acute shortage of essential medical resources, and substandard detention conditions, the organisation continues.
Police detain individuals assumed to be migrants in central Athens.
Source: Human Rights Watch
But what is the Greek government trying to achieve with these arbitrary moves on refugees? Well, the Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi argues it is necessary to give back “dignity to people seeking international protection” and the “safeguarding and restraint for illegal migrants who are to be returned”. However, the violation of basic human rights which occurs in these camps is something that both human rights watchdogs and foreign governments must be looking at eagle eyed. And it’s not just removal centres refugees are being forced into- police stations have often been used by the Greek authorities to detain asylum seekers. Refugees and forced migrants have reported similar harsh conditions here too. The Directorate of the Hellenic Police says there were 863 people being held in detention facilities at the end of 2020 and 149 of this number were asylum seekers.
In September, Greece announced the first of five new “closed” migrant camps. These camps are so-called “closed” because they have surveillance cameras, x-ray scanners and magnetic doors that track refugees’ activities for monitoring purposes and restrict any potential violence that could occur. The EU has committed 276 million euros ($326 million) for the new camps on Greece's five Aegean islands -- Leros, Lesbos, Kos, Chios and Samos -- that receive most migrant arrivals from neighbouring Turkey. The police’s intentions could be questioned with their use of heavy-handed tactics on the streets against refugees. They are often subjected to fights with the authorities, who raid the refugee squats. They often demand legal papers as evidence for their residency.
Refugees arriving on Lesbos. Source: CAFOD Blog
The police’s intentions could be questioned with their use of heavy-handed tactics on the streets against refugees. They are often subjected to fights with the authorities, who raid the refugee squats. They often demand legal papers as evidence for their residency. The authorities are found justifying their wrongful actions by giving the excuse of protecting national security. It is an increasing problem among Moroccan and Algerian refugees who live in Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki. However, many refugees say that police tactics used in the city are considerably better than they are further south, in the capital, Athens, where there is even greater dissatisfaction against incomers.International human rights bodies Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized Greece for excessive use of force by authorities and the ill-treatment of migrants, asylum seekers, and minorities who are undocumented. In 2012, a radical immigration policy named Operation Xenios Zeus was unveiled by the Greek government. Its aim was to get police doing stop and searches on immigrants around the country, leading to the detention of approximately 37,000 so-called ‘illegal’ migrants in its first year of rollout. A key characteristic of Xenios Zeus is the use of police powers to verify the legal status of people presumed to be illegal migrants. As Rozakou (2017) says, the operation has shown to become “proclaimed total institutional visibility and control” from authorities. Immigrants are no longer undocumented, Rosakou adds, but they are stringently recorded, detained and finally deported. Yet the launch of Xenios Zeus has fuelled negative stereotypes that the Greeks are xenophobic towards strangers and of serious institutional racism in the system.
Source: The Daily Sabah
I spoke first-hand to immigrants who had endured some of the brutal tactics used by police, from being interrogated for legal papers to violently uprooting them from their small camps in the city. One young Moroccan man said he was assaulted by police in his dug out at an abandoned warehouse because of his illegal residence there. “They kicked and hit me and my friend I live with a lot of times. The police here have no respect- they are pigs.” He also showed me his permanent pair of glasses broken at the hinges, meaning now he couldn’t see well. “Look”, he said, “those people broke my glasses and now I can’t see. Why did they have to do that to me? Really. There’s no reason.”
Another man, from Algeria, also said that whilst out walking or riding his bike near his squat, he has been stopped and abused by police on several occasions. “At night, sometimes they come and randomly check for my documents. When I say to them ‘I am a refugee from Algeria and I have no papers’ they get really angry and they start hurting me. It’s really horrible.”Incidences like these occur on regular occasions across the country among refugee populations every day thanks to the Greek government’s unforgiving zero-tolerance approach. It’s a divisive issue among politicians and the people alike with one side arguing these measures are essential in rooting out undocumented migrants and tackling threats to the country’s security from potential criminals while others welcome their move into the country, realising the dire situation unfolding back home which forced them here and their want to support these people to enjoy a better life in Europe. However, unfortunately the issue is not going to be one which is solved easily and will require the consensus of all parties involved to come up with a plan which works well for the government and refugees living in the country.
About the Author
Tom has worked at a refugee centre in Derby since 2018, sorting out donations of clothes for refugees in Calais, France and Greece and volunteered at a food distribution centre in Thessaloniki, Greece over summer 2021. He recently graduated with a BA in Journalism at Derby University. In his free time, he enjoys playing tennis, listening to hip hop and RnB music and travelling.