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  • Rory O'Keeffe

Greece and EU policy of refugee detention is unjustifiable; torture

Human Rights Watch warns that the Greek government is failing to provide protection to women and girls in the Aegean detention centres, leaving them exposed to harassment, threats of gender-based violence and health risks.

Its report also highlighted insufficient security, poor hygiene and sanitation facilities, and failures in the system to identify and address the needs of vulnerable people.

Hillary Margolis, HRW’s women’s rights researcher, said: ‘There is no excuse for failing to meet even the most basic standards for protection of women and girls almost two years after the EU-Turkey deal entered into force. The risks to women’s health and safety in Moria are dire, and as winter arrives, they will only get worse.’

As noted previously here, the major issue is that EU (including Greece) policy is to detain rather than to protect men, women and children who have fled war and violence. This alone would be enough to ensure failings in service provision, and inhuman treatment of people, as staff (and perhaps most particularly police) are encouraged to think of these people not as vulnerable people in need of help, but as ‘interlopers’ who are somehow breaking laws or otherwise unreasonably and unacceptably imposing on Greece (and the wider EU).

It is exactly this kind of attitude – which directly stems from the decision to lock refugees up as if they were criminals – which leads Greek police to inflict extreme violence on refugees, and causes representatives of ECHO to tell aid workers that refugees are ‘being pampered’ in this response (despite the fact that people were left to die in outdoor camps last winter) and tell members of the public on Lesvos that ECHO’s job is to ‘keep Europe safe’ from refugees.

The Greek government, meanwhile, embarrassed by what has happened to it in relation to the Greek economic collapse, and desperate to ‘prove itself’ to the EU and the Greek public by ‘achieving’ in this response, happily pretends that there are no problems on the islands.

Even then, however, the picture is not complete. Because in fact EU policy – which the Greek government is happily carrying out – is not only to imprison and degrade innocent men, women and children, but also to deliberately make conditions in the detention centres as bad as possible, to discourage other people from arriving on the islands.

In this review service you are reading, the intention is to guide – the author is happy to note ideas and facts to help inform – but generally not to ‘accuse’. However, in this instant there is little choice: the EU, and included in that the Greek government, is deliberately torturing refugees in order to try to force people to stay in other parts of the world where their lives are in danger.

There is no excuse for Moria camp being at three times its capacity (or, for that matter, for Vathy at Samos to be at four times its capacity), and there is no reason why people are being forced to sleep on concrete in summer tents, in December.

There is no possible excuse or justification for water and electricity being available for less than three hours a day, in a developed state in the richest political bloc ever to have existed.

The situation on the mainland may well be down – at least in part – to the Greek government’s basic incompetence and the fact that governments are not designed to respond to humanitarian crises (though there is also a certain degree of deliberate action in making the mainland unpleasant for refugees).

But on the islands, the privations and hardships suffered by refugees are imposed deliberately, by the EU and the Greek government. And the deliberate imposition of hardship and privation is torture

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