“Xenios Zeus” and the new detention and deportation regime
Mr. Dendias, the country’s public order minister, in August 2012 launched a large-scale sweep operation to arrest and deport illegal immigrants in Athens. At a news conference in August, he compared the influx to the invasion of the Dorians 4,000 years ago.
The police operation called ironically „Xenios Zeus“ – after the god of hospitality – began on August 4th, 2012. During three months the police temporarily arrested 48.402 migrants of which 3.668 were finally detained. Only every 13th arrested person could finally be detained because all the others had regular residence permits. The police usually first arrests masses of persons, transfers them to police stations and then after many hours controls their papers. The police controlled and arrested migrants in this period not only in public space but also in shops, internet cafes and in private homes and hotels. They searched 419 houses of migrants within the three months.
According to accounts from detained refugees the authorities transfer during the heights of their sweep operation everybody to the new detention centres while in the periods in between arrested migrants are brought to near by police stations or detention centres in Attica region.
With the beginning of “Xenios Zeus” former police schools (Komotini & Xanthi) and army campy (Corinth & Drama) were over night transformed into mass detention centres. Within only a few days 400-800 persons were locked up in each of them. Local NGOs alongside UNHCR mainly criticise that during this kind of mass arrests and detention persons in need of international protection could disappear and remain unprotected. Furthermore, NGOs complain about problems to access the new detention centres. In cases were they succeeded entering them, it has been criticized that there were persons falsely detained (minors, persons with legal residence permits etc.), there was no access to legal information or legal aid (one lawyer of GCR in Komotini and Xanthi covering 1.500 detainees and none in the other detention centres), detention conditions were inhuman and access to asylum and / or the appeals board was non-existent. Severe human rights violations were reported at least from one of the detention centres (Corinth) where police violence was close to systematic. Following the opening of the new detention centres in Northern Greece, the authorities also transferred arrested migrants from the border to turkey and from Igoumenitsa (border to Italy) there. Most of the detainees are locked up behind these bars since more than three months.
From August 2012 to October 3.666 persons have returned to their countries of origin from Greece, some of which were deported while others returned „voluntarily“. In October out of 1.531 returns 717 were deportations (The majority of the deported comes from Pakistan, followed by Albania and Bangladesh) and 814 were „voluntary returns“ conducted with the co-operation of IOM.
I prefer to die at home in dignity than here alone. Home there will be someone to cry on my grave”, Omar from Sudan explained to me last February. The politically persecuted tried many months to apply for asylum in Athens – unsuccessfully. He lived in an abandoned fabric together with other homeless refugees and tried to survive in dignity by recycling garbage. When we first met he was already preparing his return to Sudan. I asked him how he took the decision. “Some weeks ago the police appeared once more here in the fabric. It was very cold and rainy. I didn’t run away. I am too old and also I have never done something wrong. They pulled me into the rain. Then they ordered me to lie in the mud, the face turned down into the wet garbage. They beat me and kicked me. Then one officer stepped with his feet on my head and pushed my face into the dirty mud. Then I thought it’s enough. I cannot bear this anymore. Until today Omar has never called back to tell us that he is alive.
Concerning the new detention centers see:
Press Release of the UNHCR Greece concerning their criticism towards the new detention centers – such as Amigdaleza 01.05.12
Press Release of the NGO AITIMA about the detention center in Corinth 13.09.12
Article of Infomobile about protest in front of the detention center of Corinth
Article by Infomobile on Drama detention centre
Report of the Greek Refugee Council on the detention centers in komotini and Xanthi (August/ September 2012) – in greek
Concerning the mass arrests see:
Press Release of Amnesty International 09.08.12
Press release of the Greek Council of Refugees (GCR) 09.08.12
Press Release of the Hellenic League for Human Rights 24.08.12
Hellenic police statistics on deportations