Amnesty International accused Greek authorities of ignoring the rights of asylum-seekers and migrant workers. In a report released on Thursday, Amnesty said that very few of the tens of thousands of refugees looking for a better life in the EU find that life in Greece.
Greece has long been a major point of entry to Europe for people from Africa and Central Asia, but the 11-page Amnesty report details the perilous and inhumane conditions in which many people arrive in Greece and in which they are kept once they arrive.
Border crossings, often taken across the River Evros near the border between Greece and Turkey, are highly dangerous. One anonymous account recalled how an inflatable boat carrying seven people sank when Greek police arrived in a patrol boat and began pushing the boat back toward Turkey. One officer took out a knife and stabbed the boat, forcing everyone aboard to swim back to Turkey.
If the migrants or refugees manage to reach Greece safely, they often have no place to stay and have no access to resources to properly declare themselves as refugees. Under international and EU law, the report says, asylum-seekers must be able to submit their applications as refugees and be able to access "a fair and effective procedure to determine whether or not they are entitled to international protection."
Instead, asylum-seekers face arrests and abuse by increasingly active xenophobic groups who have carried out racially charged attacks. One case described two men who threw Molotov cocktails into a Pakistani-owned barber shop and attacked and stabbed a Greek customer at the store.
Those who do attempt to submit an application for asylum end up lining up for days outside the asylum offices for a chance to be the one out of 20 people, on average, who is accepted into the country among all applicants.
"Men and women were sitting or lying down in the mud and rubbish, some of them had been there for two or more days," the report said.
"Such is the desperation in the queue, that fights can break out as people jostle for a position. 'Sometimes they end up in hospital,' said a man from Bangladesh."
“Greece’s failure to respect the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers is taking on the proportions of a humanitarian crisis," John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's director of Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement. "Against a backdrop of sustained migratory pressure, profound economic crisis and rising xenophobic sentiment, Greece is proving itself incapable of providing even the most basic requirements of safety and shelter to the thousands of asylum-seekers and migrants arriving each year.
"The current situation in Greece is totally unworthy of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning European Union and so far below international human rights standards as to make a mockery of them," Dalhuisen continued.
Economic problems in Greece have not helped the situation. The report admitted that the harsh austerity measures and depressed economic climate contributed to the "heightened xenophobic feelings" that have given far-right wing groups more power. The Golden Dawn party, which takes an aggressive anti-migrant stance, gained 18 seats in the last election.
The burden on Greece is great, the report admitted, and it is increasingly difficult for it to deal with it alone. However, this cannot excuse the impediments that deny people their rights, the xenophobic rhetoric, or the racist attacks. It is time that Greece and the EU act to put an end to the violations of the rights of asylum-seekers and migrants, Amnesty concluded.
On Tuesday, Amnesty issued another report, this one accusing Italy of similarly exploitative practices in dealing with its migrant workers.