ATHENS/BRUSSELS/NEW YORK—A decision by Greek authorities to detain migrants indefinitely is an appalling sign of the country's harsh treatment of migrants, worsening their already desperate situation, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières said today.
The decision, based on an opinion of the Legal Council of the Greek State in February 2014, allows police to issue restrictive measures for migrants and keep them in detention facilities for longer than 18 months, until they are forcibly returned or consent to voluntarily return to their home countries.
"We have already spoken out about the detrimental effects of prolonged and systematic detention on the health of migrants," said Ioanna Kotsioni, MSF adviser on migration issues in Greece. "We are outraged that the Greek authorities have responded by further prolonging detentions, which is already applied for the maximum period of 18 months. This is evidence of immigration policy shifting towards even harsher treatment of migrants, who are being detained for months on end in unacceptable conditions. Even worse, the threat of indefinite detention is being used as a means of coercion."
In a recent report, Invisible Suffering, MSF drew on six years of experience working in detention facilities for migrants and asylum seekers in Greece to highlight the grave impact of systematic and prolonged detention on their physical and mental health. Overcrowding, poor hygiene and substandard living conditions inside the facilities, in conjunction with the length of detention, have caused medical complications including upper respiratory tract infections, skin and gastrointestinal diseases, and anxiety, depression and psychosomatic disorders.
Greek police implemented the legal council's decision last week in at least two detention centers in the north of Greece—Paranesti in Drama and Fylakio in Evros—when they threatened migrants with indefinite detention until they consented to a voluntary return or cooperated in their own forced return. These actions left migrants inside the detention centers in a state of shock.
MSF reiterates its call on Greece and the European Union to end the indiscriminate, systematic and prolonged detention of migrants and asylum seekers; to stop detaining people in inappropriate facilities; to stop detaining vulnerable people such as minors, victims of torture and chronically ill patients; and to invest in a reception system that is adapted to the physical, medical and humanitarian needs of migrants and asylum seekers.