ATHENS, Greece – Another tragic incident happened earlier this month in the black hole of the Greek immigration system: Pakistani refugee Aftab Beig attempted suicide in Korinthos detention facility, the United Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat (KEERFA) reported.
“Prolonged detention, uncertainty because of lack of information, no social and psychological support affect the mental health of migrants,” Spyros Rizakos, head of the Athens-based NGO Aitima that offers legal counseling to asylum seekers, explained to The Globe Post.
Three years ago, the Greek government radically opposed detention of migrants without documents.
“Detention centers – we’re finished with them,” Deputy Interior Minister Yannis Panousis, who used to be in charge of public order and civil protection, announced at the time.
However, amid persisting internal political conflicts and the increase in the number of migrants over the past two years, it was mainly the left-wing politicians who replaced ministers in the Greek government, leading to tightening regulations of the detention system.
Mental Health at Risk
Conditions in the Greek detention centers have been criticized by human rights groups for years.
The reports on self-harm incidents attempted by refugees in Greek detention facilities have provided some shocking details: a “minor drunk a shampoo in an attempt to commit suicide”; “ a 20-year-old Syrian refugee saved from hanging himself with sheets”; a “man from Morroco swallowed a razor in an attempt to end his life.”
“Most of the detention centers are without hot water and heating during winter,” a report by the Aitima group, dubbed “Forgotten,” said.
The organization established that most of the detention centers in Greece have neither interpreters nor social workers or psychologists.
“Doctors visit detention centers only in very urgent cases,” the report said.
Last February, a 45-year-old man died in Petrou Ralli detention center in Athens. According to inmates testimonies, it was the “denial of medical treatment from police officers” that preceded his death.
During a visit to Attica-based detention facilities, The Globe Post was able to confirm that migrants are staying in dire conditions.
“We came from Iraq, traveling a long way to find peace on European soil. But we ended here, in jail, without knowing what is waiting for us,” a woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Globe Post.
In many cases, migrants have also reported police violence in detention facilities. In its recent report, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) urged the Greek authorities to take a “determined action to tackle the problem of police ill-treatment.”
Children and Minors in Prison
Amygdaleza pre-removal detention facility in northern Athens has been widely known as the most controversial migrant jail in Greece. Refugees are detained there in white containers surrounded by fencing.
Amygdaleza is also home to several dozens of unaccompanied minors.
“The mental challenges that youth face under detention are serious. Withdrawal, high levels of stress, frustration and symptoms of depression are some of the most commonly traced signs that we encountered,” Antonis Antoniou from Arsis, the Association for the Support of Youth, explained to The Globe Post.
The association has reported that conditions under which minors are kept are far from ideal.
Apart from unaccompanied children, Greek authorities detain mothers with toddlers. In some cases, witnessed by The Globe Post in Elliniko detention facility, mothers and children get separated.
“There is very limited access to basic, fundamental rights such as the right to dignity, education and free expression in Greek detention facilities,” Mr. Antoniou said.
It exposes the “cultural identity of the minors, which under stressful conditions can lead to a feeling of desperation, uselessness, and loss of purpose,” he added.
Dramatic Increase of Detained
According to the latest reports, there were 3.676 migrants detained in mainland Greece — the number has doubled since last May. However, it doesn’t reflect the situation on Greek islands, such as Samos, Lesbos, and Kos, where new so-called pre-departure centers were built.
“Such a dramatic increase in the number of people detained in pre-removal centers across the country in such a short period of time is alarming but not surprising,” Eva Cossé, an Athens-based researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told The Globe Post.
Greek authorities have been jailing refugees from war zones for a long time.
Ms. Cossé recalled the case of a 33-year-old Kurdish mother of four from Syria, who was detained at the Moria hotspot on Lesbos island.
“My hope is dead since they brought me here,” the woman told the HRW at the time. “We saw all the terrible miseries [in Syria], but my children and I haven’t seen jail [until coming to Greece].”
While nine detention centers will soon be “empowered” with 155 new staff, including doctors, psychologists, and translators, it has become apparent that the Greek government has failed to fulfill its promises to close the facilities.
“Syriza’s [the main leading left-wing party] first announcements in 2015 were not implemented, especially the announcements regarding closing detention centers,” Mr. Ryzakos said.
“The main reason is that if you keep the same legislation on detention [based on the EU Return Directive], then you cannot give up detention centers,” he added.
Mr. Ryzakos believes that another reason behind the “unrealistic promises” is financial.
“The pre-removal detention centers had been created with E.U. funding. If they were closed, then Greece would have to return the funding,” he explained.
However, the head of the main local NGO that deals with detention centers in Greece, called the employment of 155 additional staff “a positive step.”