Detention centers in Greece
Greece, as the east gate of Europe for the immigration flows of Middle East is facing the issue of irregular immigration for many years.
The increased number of wars and conflicts of the past years enlarged the problem and increased the difficulties for Greece. According to the Dublin Agreements that caused a “dead end” for immigration, a huge number of irregular immigrants were framed in Greece, on the road to West and North European Countries. Despite the EU, that didn’t show wiliness on solving the problem, also the local governments didn’t take any measurements in order to face the economical, political and, mainly, social impact that caused from the presence of a large number of immigrants, mismatching the capability of this small Country. In addition to this, Greece is always blamed for the conditions of detention in the installations, near the borderline and the violation of human rights there (with over 100 convictions on UCHR) , decided always to keep away from the problem and never improved the policy and the installations.
After the Debt Crisis and the political problem that appeared by the rise of the far right group of GOLDEN DAWN, based on its anti-immigration rhetoric, the State Policy was changed, and turned into an aggressive policy against the immigrants.
The plan ZEUS has been executed since August of 2012 in the center of Athens, aiming on “cleaning” the City of the irregular immigrants in order to “answer” the rhetoric of GD, under a big wave of criticism by the left parties and the humanitarian organizations.
This was the time that the New-Type Detention Centers were founded, mainly, on the Northeastern of the Country, near the Greek and Turkish Borderline, on Thrace. According to the plan, daily dashes at Athens would capture all the immigrants, deprived legalization, and send them to the Detentions Centers away from Athens. The plan couldn’t and didn’t intent the total number of the total number of irregular immigrants in Athens –1,5 million as the Prime Minister false mentioned on a very xenophobic statement that he made comparing with the amount of unemployment in Greece !- because the capability of those installations was just for a few thousands of them. The real goal was to cause “pogroms” and frighten them in order to keep them away from the Cities and, especially, the center of Athens. It was motivated by populism, answering to the wave of xenophobic feelings that were caused on conservative masses, expressed already at the 2012 Elections when far right parties enlarged their impact.
Even today no marks of any official and objective immigration policy is detected in Greece. And the new installations that the State constructs, cause fear about the conditions and the dimensions of the cells and the yards, that remind “Guantanamo” conditions!
Policies that amplified the local racist and far right groups
The Detention Centers were funded at the most appropriate area of Greece at that time without any serious planning. A number of Police academies, concentrated on a specific area, were closed and were replaced by “modern prisons” causing many problems and reactions to the small provincial local communities. The region of Thrace is also an area with Muslim minority populations and many special sensitive issues according to the Multicultural character of the society.
The place is also appropriate because there are totally different procedures about asylum or voluntary return for the immigrants at the first reception centers (and the pre-departure centers), in comparison with the immigrants, hosted at the Detention Centers, according to ZEUS program.
The founding of the Detention Centers, gave to Golden Dawn, the ability of organizing and recruiting people for its first “guild raids” at the area of Thrace, although, there was no presence of those far right groups until then, mainly, because of the specialty of this common life between several part of populations. So, among the protesters against the founding of the Detention Centers and the fears about discriminations for the immigrants and their human rights, appeared groups of GD, protesting for totally different reasons (against any presence of “foreigners”) taking advantage of the feelings that caused on the conservative audience.
The problems that caused were obvious a few months later when attacks and injuries against many parts of the population and, especially, against Muslims observed at the area. A place with no far right attacks, which protected the past years the achievement of a multicultural society, acquired the racist activity of G.D.
In addition, the anti-immigration feelings of a small part of the society were provoked by the presence of the immigrants inside the centers. The fact that some academies were closed and replaced by “modern” prisons, the incoming welfare that was lost, the social resources that they use and all those usual incidents that enlarge the far right rhetoric, appeared at that area.
Functioning of the Centers, usual problems, administration
Some months after the installation of the Detention Centers (called officially as “Hosting Centers”) the community lost its interest about the Center and left them, try out to improve the conditions inside the center. This was not easy because the whole policy and functioning of those installations is not reasonable.
People that have not committed any crime were encapsulated on a prison, police officers and staff compelled to function as prison guards instead of hunting the common crime by the time that the State Policy was not obvious or stable, but transformed many times, making the presence of the immigrants much harder. The maximum limit of staying in the Centers, for those that requested political asylum instead of choosing the voluntary return to the origin Countries, was increased many times until the number of 18 (!) months, in order to cover all those cases and avoid them of releasing. Finally, the detention time became unlimited, causing many problems for the immigrants. On every change of the law about the maximum limit of detention, the immigrants protested with hunger strikes and in some Centers, away from Xanthi, there were serious conflicts and riots. The custody of the immigrants is not criminal but administrative and this is the reason that when it exceeds 18 months is considered as irregular, according to our law civilization.
The Detention Center in Xanthi was the most peaceful with no conflicts, mainly, because of the Commanders behavior, which is quite unusual for the general spirit at Greek Police Body. Although he was denied many times giving any interview, according to the instructions of the Ministry, the general idea is that there is an unusual respect of the inmates and their human rights, and many efforts for improving the conditions in that “modern prison”. This is the reason that the protests are a few only, all those 2 years.
The affect and the positive reaction of the local community. Solidarity and voluntary offer for the inmates
The second night after the installation of the Detention Center in Xanthi, the local GD members “visited” the houses of local politicians, protesting, for the Centers , trying to demonstrate their- newly appeared- political power. A few days later, for the first and only time in Greece, all the parties, the Parliamentarians and the local labors, were signed a common statement against any racist and xenophobic activity of GD and any other far right group in the area. The parliamentarians that were asked answers that it was a common context for the minimum of democratic principles against the first incidents of the GD activity at the area, that expressed the willingness of the local community and the need of protecting the achievements of common life in a multicultural society at the area of Thrace.
Soon, the community adapted to the functioning of the Center, according to a totally wrong policy, that was successful for the government. They succeeded to improve its image in front of the conservative audience and voters in the Capital, when they realized that the center of Athens was “cleaned” by the presence of most of the “illegal” immigrants. It was a huge loss because they made this xenophobic feelings, an official State Policy.
Back to the local community: The local Orthodox Church organized collections of needed supplies for the inmates, controlled by the administration of the Center, networks of voluntary offer were shaped like medical services. Unexpectedly, people from left parties collaborated with the local church, in order to help those people. The School of Greek Language functioned too soon and many volunteers, teachers and other scientists, organized the lessons that took a very normal shape and continuity. Organizations, movements and social bodies collaborated with the Administration and the Commander in order to improve the conditions and show solidarity. The conditions for the inmates were improved and became much descent for the human being.
Haroula, student and volunteer at the School of Greek Language, answered about her participation at the projects that “There are some fights that you don’t choose them. They choose you” giving the context of the way that the community took advantage of the “positive” police administration and collaboration spirit in order to improve the conditions of the immigrants, inside the Center.
The absence of objective policy in Greece, the affect of a progressive spirit by the local community
After the installation of the Detention Centers, the State Policy about irregular immigration has not changed. Most of the citizens and political parties realize that it is considered by the absence of any objective policy or effort to solve problems. Although the agreements of Dublin, have framed Greece as the first European Country for the Middle East flows, the goal of the Greek government is to postpone facing the problem and hiding the number of the irregular immigrants in Greece with the program ZEUS or other similar projects for other areas. The implementation of Dublin 3, which could defuse the problem, is a very detailed and complicated legal issue for the whole Europe but it is not solved so far, even there were recently some positive decisions of the European Court of Human Rights
The installation of the Detention Centers is part of this same policy that dictated the building of Walls at the continental boundaries and caused many humanitarian tragedies in the borderline River of Evros or the Aegean Sea. The installations of Detention Centers on small towns near the borderline, in its initial stage (the second year some of the Centers were installed at many other provincial towns) caused many political and social problems.
After the first shock, some of the communities reacted with xenophobic feelings, some of them more controlled and the “case study” of Xanthi was an exception of causing friendly reaction. The action that was created was helpful for many reasons as a good practice for the future.
The inmates were relieved in many problems and the local community accepted the impact of the presence of a Detention Center in a more positive way. The whole spirit of the local community prevented from the political problems and the racist feelings that were caused in many other areas. The reaction and the spirit of solidarity, even the actions of the Center Administration, represent the total attitude of the local community, which is formed by the common living of different parts of population, depending on origin, religion, language and habits.
Author Yiannis Sidiropoulos