Irregular migrants stuck in Greece because of EU policies – UN expert

The plight of the growing number of irregular migrants trapped in Greece on their way to other European Union destinations requires a EU-wide approach focused on human rights, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, has said.

He also urged the Greek Government to step up its efforts to ensure that the rights of all migrants within its territory are fully respected.

“As the large number of irregular migrants stuck in Greece is mainly a result of EU policies and practices, there is a strong need for solidarity and responsibility-sharing within the EU in order to ensure full respect of the human rights of all these migrants,” Mr. Crépeau said at the end of his recent visit to Greece.

The visit was part of his yearlong study on the management of the EU external borders, which has already taken him to Brussels, Tunisia, Turkey and Italy earlier this year.   

During his visit, many Greek interlocutors expressed to him dismay at the reluctance of other EU countries at taking on a number of migrants stuck in Greece with little possibility of being returned home, and little chance of being integrated in the local labour market and society, given the economic crisis the country is going through.

“While the role of the EU in managing the migration flows in Greece is crucial, the Greek Government also needs to adopt and implement a comprehensive migration policy which has the human rights of migrants as its framework,” Mr. Crépeau said.

The Greek authorities, Mr. Crépeau said, should “undertake all the necessary measures to combat discrimination against migrants. I am deeply concerned about the widespread xenophobic violence and attacks against migrants in Greece, and I strongly condemn the inadequate response by the law enforcement agencies to curb this violence, and to punish those responsible.”

Mr. Crépeau drew special attention to the Greek Government’s new policy of systematically detaining everyone they detect irregularly entering the Greek territory, including unaccompanied children and families. “There does not seem to exist a clear, coherent strategy as to what to do with irregular migrants who are not clearly and easily deportable,” the rights expert said.

Unaccompanied or separated migrant children are often released from detention, without any particular status, and without the appointment of a guardian, even though the public prosecutor is supposed to appoint guardians to all unaccompanied children.

“I met migrant children who lived in abandoned buildings or under highway overpasses, without any proper status and without any institutional support apart from the action of some civil society organisations,” Mr. Crépeau said. “It is contrary to the human rights framework to pursue a policy that leaves individuals in a state of legal limbo such that one cannot build a future of any kind and can only live day after day at a level of precarious survival, in constant fear of arrest, detention and deportation.”

The UN expert acknowledged the EU’s extensive support to the Greek authorities in the realisation of their Action Plan on Migration and Asylum, and commended the Greek authorities for the plans regarding the future civilian asylum service and first reception service.

For the UN Special Rapporteur, such measures could effectively quickly screen in migrants with vulnerabilities, such as asylum seekers, children, migrants with illnesses or disabilities, victims of trafficking, victims of violence, persons in need of family reunification, if properly implemented.

The measures could also help reduce the hardship experienced at present by many migrants by allowing individual assessment of migrants for whom detention is necessary and the reasons why it is necessary, and the release all the other migrants with an appropriate status.

“I am concerned however by the lack of appropriate staffing and budget yet dedicated to these two services, and I urge the Greek Government and the EU to work together in order to ensure their swift operationalization,” the Special Rapporteur said.

During his nine-day visit, the expert visited Athens, the Evros region bordering Turkey, the Aegean island of Lesvos, and the western port city of Patras. He met with Government representatives, civil society organisations, international organisations, the EU’s representation in Greece, as well as migrants themselves, including in detention centres.   

The study, launched by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, will result in a special report which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2013.

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