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UN anti-torture envoy says conditions in Greek detention centres often ‘appalling’ November 9, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Yunanistan.
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Conditions in Greek prison and police station detention facilities are often “appalling,” with severe overcrowding and limited access to health care, the United Nations’ top anti-torture envoy said Wednesday.

Manfred Nowak, who spent 10 days touring prisons, police and border guard stations, migrant detention centres and prison hospitals across the country, said Greek detention facilities were “in a situation of crisis,” with some holding three times more people than their capacity.

Nowak said he received numerous and consistent allegations of beatings by police during or after arrests, but that there was little forensic evidence and few cases of ill-treatment that could be defined as torture.

“My main concern is what I would call a veritable detention crisis, a detention emergency, presently in Greece,” Nowak told a news conference, stressing that while the country’s prison system can hold a maximum of 9,100 people, there are more than 12,000 prisoners. Of those, 57 per cent are foreigners.

“In all prisons visited, I witnessed a situation of severe overcrowding,” Nowak said.

The problem is partly caused by the fact that many illegal immigrants in the EU enter the bloc through Greece, which puts an unfair burden of the problem on the country, Nowak said, while the situation also is exacerbated by the fact that 41 per cent of those being held are in pretrial detention.

Under Greek law a suspect can be held for up to 18 months pending trial. However, they are housed with convicts rather than separately, a practice which Nowak described as “a clear violation of international law.”

With hundreds of illegal immigrants crossing into the country each day, the migration situation has compounded the problem.

In the first eight months of this year, nearly 90 per cent of illegal immigrants arrested across the European Union were caught in Greece, up from 75 per cent last year and 50 per cent in 2008, Nowak said.

“In my opinion, Greece should not carry the burden of receiving the vast majority of all irregular migrants entering the European Union,” he said. “This is a truly European problem which needs a joint European solution.”

Under a treaty known as Dublin II, EU countries can send migrants they catch on their territory back to the first EU country they entered — which is often Greece. But Nowak urged other EU countries to suspend their return of migrants to Greece.

Due to the pressure of sheer numbers, many police station holding cells were being used to detain illegal immigrants for up to six months, rather than just a few days.

Nowak said that in nearly all those he saw, the cells were severely overcrowded, sometimes holding four times more people than their capacity.

“Overcrowded, filthy, very, very bad ventilation, lighting: the general conditions were just appalling,” he said.

Nowak urged Greece to combat overcrowding in the prison system by reforming its criminal justice system, reducing long sentences and decriminalizing certain offences, particularly those related to drugs.

He also appealed to the government “to finally establish a truly independent and effective mechanism to investigate all complaints about police misconduct” and reform the “dysfunctional asylum system.”

The U.N. envoy visited Greece following an invitation by the government and carried out unannounced visits to detention facilities of his choice.

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