News / Europe

Rights Group Accuses Greece of 'Abusive' Crackdown on Migrants

Immigrants living in Greece take part in a rally in front of the parliament as they protest against racism attacks in Athens, August 24, 2012.
Immigrants living in Greece take part in a rally in front of the parliament as they protest against racism attacks in Athens, August 24, 2012.
Selah Hennessy
Greek police carrying out a crackdown on irregular migration are accused of conducting abusive stop and searches and detaining thousands of people, according to a report published Wednesday.  Human Rights Watch says people are being treated unfairly based on their race or ethnicity.

“There are police patrols deployed daily in the center of Athens who are stopping people presumed to be undocumented migrants," says Eva Cossé, a Greece specialist at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "If you take a look in the center of Athens you will see police officers with 10, 20 people who look like migrants behind them.”

Afterwards they are detained on police buses, brought to police stations and held for hours, she said.

The operation called Xenios Zeus was launched in August in a crack down on undocumented migrants in Athens.  In its first six months police forcibly took 85,000 foreigners to police stations to verify their immigration status. 

According to Human Rights Watch, no more than six percent were found to be in Greece illegally.

Greek authorities say it is necessary to bring foreigners to the police station to identify forged documents and verify photocopies of documents.  But Cossé says police are casting their net too far.

"It is proven that when police operations are based on stereotypes and not intelligence and information on where criminals gather, where there is criminal activity or undocumented migrants, of course the effectiveness of the operation raises concerns,” she said.

Cossé says xenophobia is on the rise across Greece and Operation Xenios Zeus is only fueling animosity towards foreigners.

She says Greece should be investing in providing proper training to the police so the operation successfully targets undocumented migrants.

“Police officers participating in Operation Xenios Zeus are not receiving any training on how to identify who is legal, who is undocumented, any training on asylum issues.  So it is very important for police to provide the necessary training,” she said.

Cossé says the police in Athens say they are open to the recommendations made by Human Rights Watch.

The treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in Greece was also highlighted by Amnesty International, last month.  In its annual global report, it blamed the economic crisis for stoking tensions.

Amnesty International highlighted new laws, including allowing the detention of undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers on grounds such as suspicion of carrying HIV.

Police were also given the power to extend the detention of asylum-seekers without charge.

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