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Human Rights Watch sounds alarm for refugees in Greek centres

Officials say they have received no harassment complaints in centres, while refugees allege abuse in new HRW report.

Turkish-Greek border

Pregnant women and new mothers are among those fleeing war and economic devastation only to arrive in "appalling" detention-like conditions in Greek reception centres, according to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.

Published on Friday, the report accuses Greek authorities of subjecting thousands of newly arrived refugees and migrants, who entered the country by via land borders, to "living conditions [that] do not meet international standards".

The report highlights accusations of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of Greek police in three government-operated centres in northern Greece.

Among the thousands of refugees and migrants enduring decrepit living conditions in the reception centres are pregnant women, new mothers and survivors of sexual assault, the report alleged. Reported problems in the facilities were compounded by a lack of translators, it added.

Based on interviews with 49 asylum seekers and migrants, HRW's new report accused authorities of warehousing new arrivals in malodorous, dark cells.

"People told us they were being treated so poorly in these facilities that they felt less than human," said Hillary Margolis, women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"Greece has a responsibility to uphold basic standards of care for everyone in its custody, regardless of their immigration status."

Identified in the report as Leila, a pregnant 24-year-old Syrian said: "I desperately need to go to the doctor to see how my baby is, but the doctor here said, 'When you move to another camp, you'll see a doctor there.'"

Several interviewees told the rights group that they were subjected to or witnessed verbal harassment, while two alleged that police officers had beaten asylum seekers.

In response, Hellenic Police said they have received no complaints of violence, adding that they have "zero tolerance for human rights abuses".

Stranded

The accusations come at a time when other European countries have voiced their desire to return more asylum seekers to Greece in accordance with the so-called "Dublin rules". 


READ MORE: EU leaders fail to agree on migration deal


Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants are bottlenecked in Greece, unable to leave owing to sealed borders across the so-called "Western Balkan route". Those who do leave are only able to do so with the assistance of smugglers.

As of May, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) estimated that 60,000 refugees and migrants were in the country, including at least 14,000 who were stuck on Greek islands.

More than a million people arrived in the country in 2016, according to the UNHCR, while upwards of 15,000 have arrived by sea so far in 2018.

This year, a growing number of refugees and migrants have reached the country by crossing the land border with Turkey in the north. Last week, Greek media reported that four people went missing after their boat capsized on the Evros River, situated on the Greece-Turkey border.

Earlier this year, the Greek police said that 1,658 refugees and migrants were detained in March after crossing into Greece through the Evros River, which is situated on the Turkish border.

That number was more than five times higher than the same period in 2017, which saw only 262 people detained on the country's frontier with Turkey. 

Greek authorities have been accused of push backs on the border with Turkey.


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