HRW slams Greece for abusing migrants as EU demands Turkey help

Greece came under pressure to end "abusive" treatment of undocumented migrant workers.

HRW slams Greece for abusing migrants as EU demands Turkey help

Greece came under pressure on Tuesday to end "abusive" treatment of undocumented migrant workers as the EU border agency Frontex urged Turkey to help stop an increasing flow of illegal migrants reaching it by sea.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Greek authorities of detaining migrants, including children, in poor conditions while blocking their access to the asylum process and even forcibly expelling people to neighbouring Turkey.

Greece is trying to cope with the swelling number of migrants, many of whom arrive by boat via Turkey seeking a better life in Europe.

Nearly 50 percent more made the journey in the first half of this year, compared to the same period last year, a senior Frontex official said.

Frontex Deputy Executive Director Gil Arias-Fernandez said Greece needed Turkey to take back illegal migrants that have crossed its territory. With similar agreements in place with their north African neighbours, other EU members Italy and Spain have cut down numbers of risky sea arrivals, he said.

"As long as the Turkish authorities do not cooperate, things will not become much better. This is a crucial element," Arias-Fernandez told a news conference.

About 14,000 migrants arrived by boat in Greece in the first half of 2009, Arias-Fernandez said, adding that eastern Aegean islands close to Turkey such as Lesvos and Samos were the top destinations.

"The trend and the situation will not change dramatically for the rest of the year," he said.

More migrants cross into Greece by land, but most of them come from Albania and are sent back. Some 18 percent fewer migrants crossed Greek land borders in the first half of 2009.

The EU has long tried in vain to convince Turkey, which aspires to become a member nation, to do more to control departures from its Western coast towards Greece.

"Abusively detaining"

Greece itself came under criticism over migration on Tuesday as Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it was abusively detaining and expelling migrants and needed to reform its asylum laws.

Although Greece is one of the main entry points of immigrants to Europe, it granted asylum to only 379 people out of nearly 20,000 asylum requests in 2008; one of the lowest acceptance rates in the EU.

"Greece's abusive detention and illegal expulsion of migrants has gone unchecked for too long," said HRW researcher Simone Troller.

"But with a new government in place, ending this abuse, protecting migrant children and reforming asylum practices should be urgent priorities for Athens," he insisted.

Socialists, who won a snap election this month, have pledged to crack down on illegal immigration while at the same time granting citizenship to all immigrant children born in the country.

HRW urged the EU to push the new government to improve the condition of asylum seekers.

"Clearly, people who need protection are not safe in Greece," said Simone Troller, researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Greek police brigadier general Vasilios Koussoutis, who took part in Frontex's news conference, said this was not true. "When (people) are in danger in their own country they are never sent back," he said.

Last Mod: 14 Ekim 2009, 03:22
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