LAWYERS’ GROUP ANNOUNCEMENT / Greece: A legal diversion

A declaration by the Group of lawyers for the rights of migrants and refugees regarding the recent Opinion of the Legal Council of the State, in Greece, by which the detention of the aliens, whom are under deportation to their county of origin, could be extended until the alien is removed from the country.

The recent No 44/2014 Opinion of the Legal Council of the State, by which it was granted that the detention of the aliens, whom are under deportation to their county of origin, could be extended, by imposing on them the measure of mandatory stay in a detention area until the alien is removed from the country, is unfortunately a legal diversion that not only institutionalises the long-term detention of migrants under deportation, but also holds the migrants indefinitely until the deportation is achieved.

According to the provisions of article 76 of the 3386/2005 Law, as it was amended in the summer of 2009 by the Minister of Public Order Dendia, and the subsequent provisions of article 30 of the 3907/2011 Law, an alien that is under the procedure of deportation to his/her country of origin could be detained for a maximum of 6 months. In exceptional cases the detention could be extended for another 12 months. Extending a detention period of up to 18 months was in any case problematic, with respect to whether it is in accordance with the international conventions that are binding for our country and especially with article 5 of the European Convention on the Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (ECHR), which requires that the procedure of deportation must be completed in the shortest amount of time in order for the detention to be justifiable. We should indicate here that in the past, the maximum period of detention was up to 3 months. While there are plenty of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights that have found that in cases where the deportation could not be performed within a reasonable time, the detention, even for a few weeks, was illegal.
The Government already implemented the policy of general detention against the undocumented or illegally incoming aliens by exhausting the maximum detention time of 18 months, since August 2012 with the Xenios Zeus operation. For that reason they instituted new detention centres, where thousands of aliens that cannot be removed from the country immediately, are concentrated for long periods of time, a phenomenon that justifies the use of the term “concentration camps”. The ultimate goal is to force aliens under deportation to be removed from the country “voluntarily”. This is achieved by issuing travel papers on their own initiative, despite denials by their diplomatic authorities. Long-term detention in combination with the internationally recognised degrading conditions that have resulted in repeated uprisings in the detention centres, serves the above purpose. In other words, the prolonged detention periods are being used as a means of compulsion against migrants so they return to their countries of origin, the same countries that they abandoned so they could invest in a future that would save them from war and famine. This February, the 18 months detention period was completed for 300 migrants who had not been deported, while 7,500 more were detained in various police-sponsored detention centres. Police authorities asked the opinion of the Legal Council of the State about the possibility of stipulating a 7-day deadline for departure to the migrants and extend their detention for 18 more months if they violate the deadline. In this way, police could bypass their legal obligation to postpone the deportation and release the detainee who had completed the maximum 18 months detention period, according to article 24 of Law 3907/2011.
The Legal Council of the State proceeded in another legal diversion. Ignoring a previous ECHR decision (John v Greece 10-5-2007, p. 33) and the relative reports of Greece’s Ombudsman (like the one of September 2006), that found the extension or the imposition of another detention after the completion of the maximum detention period was illegal, they granted the Opinion that it is possible to “transform” the detention into the “restrictive measure” of compulsory residence in the detention place. Unfortunately, the above legal Opinion is beyond any legal or common sense; it is beyond any limits of legitimacy and unambiguously follows a police-state rationality.
With this Opinion, migrants under deportation will be detained indefinitely until their deportation is enforced. Should these same measures be extended to public debtors until they could pay their debts, against drug addicts until they stop doing drugs, or against any other citizen category upon which the state imposes obligations that cannot be fulfilled? If the imposed laws treat migrants who are released as public enemies, should these same policies of concentration camp confinement be applied to the homeless, poor, and other crisis stricken people?
We should think about whether this is the future of our country. A country filled with concentration camps, with “growth” of detention areas and with prison guards instead of free people.
Regrettably, and with sorrow, we see that the views of extreme racist groups that now face the law, have deeply influenced even the highest ranked servants of the State, who are entrusted to defend the legality, preserve the duty of law, and respect human rights.
We call for the judicial authorities to react. By the law and by their position, they have the duty to verify the legality of any decisions issued that would extend the detention period in compliance with the above Opinion. Judicial reviews of Opinions, such as the aforementioned, are necessary to prevent further serious human rights violations that are predicated on the vague meaning of “public interest”, which ultimately legitimises a state of exemption and enables extreme and dangerous policies.

GROUP OF LAWYERS FOR THE RIGHTS OF MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES

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... is like a “paper boat”. We chose this as a metaphor for what we want to create and for the situation of refugees and migrants in Greece. The paper boat is a folded boat able to swim – for a while. Then you have to build a new one to go on travelling. A paper boat is symbolic for the journey of life, vulnerable but in your own hands and to be recreated again and again. It is simple, but it carries many hopes and dreams. It can dance on a turbulent sea. It belongs to everybody. And it might become the small version – like a first draft – of a welcome-space.

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