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Discriminatory Practices Against Minorities

Discriminatory Practices Against Minorities

Firstly, the issue here is about the discrimination against the Roma people, who are denied access to the fundamental rights and social services. About half of the Greek Roma population live in squalid camps. Around 80% of Roma houses are not connected to electric power, 31 Roma settlements had no access to running water and 26 had no access to a sewage system. Due to the payment default the authorities (e.g. in Aspropyrgos and Spata) refuse to provide them with electricity and running water under the same conditions as applied to the non-Roma population. 45% of the Roma men and 57% of the Roma women are illiterate. 28% of the young Roma have never attended school. Only 6% of women and 17% of men continued their education after the age of 16. 38% of the Roma women had no health insurance (for the non-Roma women the figure is 7%). 32% of the Roma women face discrimination when looking for work.

Many Roma people do not have documents, and they are not included in the official civil records. The Government refused to financially assist the Roma, who could not pay the mortgage fees for the houses purchased, due to the income decline (in 2002-2008 60000 Euro worth of mortgage were take out by 7854 Roma families ).

There have been cases of Roma evictions. In early months of 2014, 74 Roma families in Halandri (near Athens) were at risk of being evicted. On September 30, Romani community in Athens staged a riot, blocking the streets and setting fire to rubbish containers, in protest to attempts at their forced relocation. In 2013, Roma evictions in the same village was suspended only after Human Rights Council intervened. The reluctance of the local school authorities to accept the Roma children into the schools is known, as well as their segregation into separate grades in Aspropyrgos and Sofades. 8 out of 10 Roma children are forced to leave school before completing their education. In 2014, Roma were affected by new licensing requirements for merchants. Many could not bear the burden of paying out 500 euros every two months in addition to tax.

Greece is reluctant to comply with Council for Human Rights recommendations regarding compensating Roma victims of police brutality or unlawful eviction.

There is also a problem with the registration of the Turkish and Macedonian minorities' associations. Muslims are being discriminated in the public sector and in the military. Turkish language is restricted even in places of their dense population. Since 2013, Greece halted three education support programmes for Roma and Mulsim children in Thrace. There are only two schools with bilignual education in the region. As a result, Mulsim students are forced to study in Greek-language schools. Since 2011, Thessaloniki University has been unsucessfully trying to license a Turkish-language faculty.

The authorities recognise only three religious denominations as public entities - the Orthodox Church, the Thracian Muslims and the Jewish community. The remaining denominations do not have this status, and therefore cannot own real estate as a religious structure. Ceremonies held in their houses of worship will be void without a special permit issued by the Ministry of Education. The most serious situation concerns the Muslims who do not have any legal mosques outside Thrace (more than 100 illegal mosques are under the threat of being shut down). The corresponding cemeteries, too, are absent. As for Thrace, the authorities appoint imams without the consent of the communities.

A survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, dedicated to violence and bullying in schools and published in February indicated that 33% of children were subjected to bullying from their classmates or teacher because of their ethnicity.

Another common discriminatory practice is racial profiling during ID checks – the so-called Xenios Zeus programme , launched in 2012 by the police and continuing in 2013-2014.

LGBT community also faces discrimination. Greece remains one of the few EU member states where same-sex relations are prohibited even as a civil partnership (civil partnership law for heterosexuals has been adopted in 2008). ECRI special resolution in 2013 did not improve the situation. On July 23, 2014, European Court of Human Rights ruled that the civil legislation of Greece violates the European Convention of Human Rights, since the laws do not provide for same-sex civil unions.

Compulsory HIV testing of alleged prostitutes, drug addicts and migrants, introduced in May 2012 and continued (with the exception of a break in the April-June) in 2013, was followed by photographs and personal data of HIV-positive persons published in the media, under the pretext of “ the public health protection”. In a number of cases, transgender people were fined for prostitution on the basis of their appearance. Since June 2016, a group of lawyers criticised the government that after the conclusion of the agreement on refugees between the EU and Turkey, a large number of refugees were forcibly sent back to Turkey. Lawyers draw public attention that Turkey is not a safe country for refugees. In addition, the Greek government was accused of not issuing and accepting applications for asylum claiming that Turkey is a safe country. Other sources argue that the Greek armed forces were permitted to use armed force to stop sea vessels. Based on these instructions in 2016 the Greek Coast Guard repeatedly fired on boats with refugees.

According to human rights organisations, the main problems of the asylum system in Greece lie in the difficulty of gaining access to the asylum procedure. Although Article 13 (1) of Law N. 3907/2011 provides for 13 regional asylum offices to be established in Attica, Thessaloniki, Alexandroupolis, Orestiada, Ioannina, Volos, Patra, Heraklion, Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes and Leros. Only 7 of them were operational, however. In addition, the Attica Regional Asylum Office in Athens continues to receive the vast majority of asylum applications, while it is not in a position to register all applications in a timely manner. Thus, persons in need of international protection, but who failed to apply for asylum seeker status, are not protected from arrest, detention and deportation.

At the same time, among the applicants there are vulnerable groups of the population, such as unaccompanied minors, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, as well as victims of torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological and physical violence. According to the Refugee Service, such cases take precedence in registration.

In addition, there are other problems - inadequate conditions, lack of identification and support for people with special needs, unofficial expulsion of people, etc. There is no targeted national strategy to promote refugee employment and, therefore, many of them live in poverty. The situation can be summarised as follows:

  • Administrative detention and expulsion of illegal immigrants continues to occur, although in most cases these are people who simply could not apply for asylum seeker status.
  • Many refugees are immediately returned to Turkey, although many of them can be threatened there.
  • Overcrowding in detention centres often leads to the maintenance of criminals and illegal immigrants in the same institutions.
  • The concentration of refugees in certain localities, especially on small islands, leads to an increase in xenophobia and racist violence by the local population, causing a decline in tourism and a decline in the standard of living in these regions of the country.

It is worth mentioning about the attitude towards refugee children. After the Greek authorities reported in June 2016 that there were 22,000 refugee children of school age, the Ministry of Education issued a circular for compulsory registration of all refugee children (3-15 years of age ). This rule establishes that refugee children will attend school directly in the reception centres, and not in the schools themselves.

The legal regulation of this issue caused criticism from the Greek Helsinki Watch on the grounds that this decision promotes segregation “inside the society and is very similar to the practice used with Roma students.”

Refugee centres in Iasmos, Mytilini, Filakio, Komotini, Tuchero, Metaxadese, Amouddalez and Corinth, have been criticised for poor food quality, unsanitary conditions (due to lack of funds to pay for cleaners), lack of medical care and hot water, difficulties in obtaining access to phone and toilet facilities, as well as fresh air. In some places children were kept together with adults.

From December 2013 to February 2015, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Greece eight times for inhuman and degrading conditions in immigrant detention centres.

The Greek non-governmental organization National Council against Racism and Intolerance (RVRN) registered incidents of racist violence by the police. In 2016, RVRN recorded 6 incidents committed by law enforcement officers. In 4 cases, unaccompanied juniors were victims, and in 2 cases, asylum seekers were victims. The organization records a system of degrading treatment during the verification of documents of refugees and migrants.

One of the victims, for example, describes that a law enforcement officer at Victoria Square in Athens checked the documents, returned them to him and then kicked him. The victim said that he did not understand why this incident occurred, and that he is afraid to report this to the police.

In 2019-21, there continued to be reports of excessive use of force, torture, and other mistreatment by law enforcement officers. The last quarter of 2019 saw a spike in reports of such incidents against individuals during arrest and detention, journalists, and students protesting the repeal of a longstanding law prohibiting police officers from visiting college campuses. Arbitrary strip searches have been reported in a number of cases as part of the abuse. The fact that these repeated incidents were not isolated, as well as the pervasive culture of impunity for such actions, were of serious concern.

The criminal and disciplinary investigation into the September 2018 death of leftist activist and human rights activist Zach Kostopoulos following a violent attack continued to drag on. The initial criminal investigation resulted in charges against six individuals, including four police officers, for causing grievous bodily harm resulting in death, but no trial had been initiated by year's end.

The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) remained concerned at the dire situation of the Greek prison system and insufficient action to tackle the prison crisis. It considers that the rehabilitation of the Greek prison system should be one of the priorities of the Greek Government. He is also deeply concerned that ill-treatment by the police remains a common practice throughout Greece and that the existing system for investigating allegations of ill-treatment cannot be considered effective.

The conclusions of the 2019 CAT delegation's visit to the country further demonstrate that two major problems - prison overcrowding and chronic understaffing - continue to exacerbate many additional deficiencies in prisons. The Greek authorities are currently unable to meet their minimum obligation to ensure the safety of both prisoners and staff. Prisoners, not staff, control the wings and create increasing levels of violence and intimidation among prisoners. Cases of prisoners being hospitalized due to severe (and sometimes fatal) injuries inflicted by other inmates are common in every institution visited. The situation at the men's prison in Corydallos remains the most unstable and disturbing. The four large wings, each housing between 230 and 431 inmates, were often staffed by a single prison warden who clearly had no authority or control over the inmates. There was a sense of lawlessness in the prison, and many inmates met with possessed knives to defend themselves, knowing that staff would not be able to help them. Many incidents of violence went unreported and were not even noticed.

In Nigrita prison, there have been a number of credible reports of physical abuse of foreign prisoners by prison staff, supported by outside guards around the perimeter of the prison. Staff should be told that such behavior will not be tolerated. In addition, prison perimeter guards should be trained in the proportionate use of force, and strict records should be kept of all uses of force.

Ill-treatment by the police, especially against foreign citizens and persons from the Roma community, remains a common practice throughout Greece. The CPT delegation had received numerous credible allegations of excessive use of force and unjustified brutality during apprehension, as well as physical and psychological ill-treatment of criminal suspects during or in the context of interviews with police officers. The alleged ill-treatment consisted primarily of slaps, punches and kicks, as well as blows to the body and head with batons and metal objects. There were also some allegations of beatings with sticks on the soles of the feet (falagka) and of putting a plastic bag over the head during police interrogations, reportedly in order to obtain confessions. None of the individuals alleging ill-treatment were allowed to make a phone call or contact a lawyer during the initial police interrogation. In addition, there were numerous reports of verbal abuse of detainees, including racist/xenophobic remarks made by police officers.

In February 2019, in its decision in H.A. and Others v. Greece, the ECtHR "expressed the view that 'protective custody' in police custody can continue for long periods of time, during which the juveniles concerned cannot be identified by lawyers working for NGOs." Shortly thereafter, in April 2019, Human Rights Watch reported that "despite this ruling, as of March 30, 82 unaccompanied children were still being held in so-called 'protective custody' in police stations or immigration detention centers across the country." Human Rights Watch found that detained children were forced to live in unsanitary conditions, often with adults they did not know." On June 13, 2019, the ECtHR once again ruled that Greece and six other countries violated Article 3 and Article 5 § 1 of the European Convention as a result of the conditions of detention of unaccompanied migrants in Greece. The ECtHR stressed that the shortcomings of state authorities are particularly serious when it comes to unaccompanied minors as "persons who are particularly vulnerable because of their age". This is the second decision on this issue in four months, indicating a deterioration in the situation. According to Human Rights Watch, "as of May 31, 123 unaccompanied children continued to be held in police station cells or immigration detention centers across the country." Thus, as of the end of March, 43 more children were detained than at the end of March, just as the court ruled against this practice for the first time."

On February 28, 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a statement saying that the borders with the EU were open and that Turkish forces would no longer obstruct refugee access to Greece. Thousands of migrants began gathering on the Turkish side of the northwestern land border with Greece near Edirne on February 29. The number of crossings by boat also increased for several days, with 1,200 people arriving on the Greek islands on March 1 and 2, for example. In response to these events, the Greek authorities increased the number of police and military personnel guarding the border with Evros and intensified patrols of the shipping routes between Turkey and the Aegean islands, particularly Chios, Kos, Lesbos and Samos. In addition, on Sunday, March 1, 2020, the Greek Government National Security Council decided to effectively suspend for a month access to the asylum system for persons who crossed the border illegally, a measure with no legal basis or justification. In the first few days of March, there were clashes at the Kastana border crossing, including reports of live fire, and on March 4, 2020, one migrant was killed and several others injured.

In March 2020, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) found that the conditions of detention in which migrants were being held in certain facilities in the Evros and Samos island areas could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. Their report again highlighted structural flaws in Greece's immigration detention policy. Migrants continue to be held in detention centers consisting of large barred cells, overcrowded beds, poor lighting and ventilation, dilapidated and broken toilets and washrooms, insufficient personal hygiene and cleaning supplies, inadequate food and no access to daily outdoor exercise. The situation is further exacerbated by extreme overcrowding in some of these facilities. In addition, migrants are not given clear information about their situation. The CPT has again found that families with children, unaccompanied and separated children, and other vulnerable persons (with physical or mental illnesses or pregnant women) are detained in such appalling conditions without adequate support.

Over the years, non-governmental groups and the media have consistently reported on the illegal return, including through physical expulsion, of groups and individuals from Greece to Turkey by Greek law enforcement officers or unidentified masked men who appear to be working in tandem with border officials. Reports from 2020 have documented numerous incidents in which Greek Coast Guard officers, sometimes accompanied by armed masked men in dark clothing, illegally removed migrants, including those who had entered Greek territory. They threw the migrants into the sea in inflatable boats without motors and towed them to Turkish waters.

Non-governmental organizations and the media have also reported persistent allegations that Greek border guards collectively expel and remove asylum seekers across the Evros land border with Turkey. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on June 10, 2020, that it was "closely monitoring" the situation at the Greek border and reported receiving "persistent reports" of migrants being arbitrarily arrested in Greece and sent back to Turkey. The IOM said Greece should investigate. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on August 21 that he was "deeply concerned by a growing number of credible reports that men, women and children may have been unofficially returned to Turkey immediately after they entered Greek soil or territorial waters in recent months," and urged Greece to refrain from such practices and seriously investigate the reports.

Another consequence of events unfolding after February 28, 2020, was the decision of some prosecutors to file criminal charges against migrants for illegal entry into the country. Law 3386/2005 on the Entry, Residence and Social Integration of Third Country Nationals in Greek Territory states, under Article 83, paragraph 1, that "third country nationals who enter or attempt to enter Greece without legal formalities shall be punished by imprisonment for at least three months and a fine of at least one thousand five hundred euros (€1,500)." In the past, in practice, prosecutors have used their discretion under Section 83(2) of the Act not to bring criminal cases against illegal migrants. In 2020, prosecutors in Alexandroupolis County and Lesvos Island filed criminal charges against some migrants, but these cases have yet to go to trial. Similarly, 12 juveniles from Afghanistan were also charged, but their cases were delayed by the Juvenile Court on March 5, 2020, due to a lack of interpretation services. However, the state prosecutor in Orestiada County (north Evros) most systematically filed criminal charges and sought sentences against migrants who entered the country with an irregular status.,/p>

Between February 28 and March 14, 2020, a one-member court in Orestiada sentenced 103 people to prison on the basis of the aforementioned ruling. In 19 cases, which involved women, the sentences were suspended and administrative deportation procedures were applied (the delegation met with many of them in Filakio). In the remaining 84 cases, 79 men were sentenced to terms of imprisonment of up to four years and a fine of €10,000, and five women were sentenced to terms of imprisonment of three to three and a half years and a fine of €5,000. All cases were brought before the court under the "flagrante delicto" procedure and were therefore heard within 24 hours of the person being apprehended. 18. The CPT has serious concerns about the way in which these cases were handled. For example, on March 14 (Saturday) at 6 a.m., two Turkish men arrived in Greece and were detained near Neo Heimonio and taken to the Orestiada police station at 9:40 a.m. that day. They had a hearing early that morning (at which they claimed that they did not understand the proceedings and that they had no opportunity to speak with their lawyer), at the end of which both were sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of 10,000 euros. In another case, a family from Afghanistan was arrested on February 29 and the husband was sentenced the same day to three years and six months and a €4,000 fine, while the wife received a suspended sentence of three years and a €5,000 fine, which at least allowed her to stay with two children (aged 11 months and 2 years), although in an immigration detention center. Neither of these persons, nor any other persons met by the delegation, were allowed to make a telephone call to inform anyone of their situation while in police custody. According to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Article 31), States must not impose penalties on persons who come directly from a territory where they might be persecuted. Under this article, they must be given the opportunity to "show good cause" for their illegal entry. Furthermore, "the deprivation of liberty of a migrant in an irregular situation for the offence of illegal entry [...] should not take precedence over the application of the [EU] Return Directive, including its guarantees of fundamental rights". Finally, also in light of the state of Greek prisons, this new practice is highly questionable.

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