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Greece a "prison" for migrants amid EU policy mess
Thu Nov 6, 2008 7:19pm EST
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By Daniel Flynn
PATRAS, Greece (Reuters) - The West's war against the Taliban drove Khalid Mohamed from his home. But his search for asylum in Europe has left him trapped in a shanty town in Greece, ignored by the government and abused by police.
Greece's western port of Patras has become a frontier for Europe's unwanted migrants. Hundreds of Afghans live crammed into dirty shacks in a slum overlooked by plush apartment blocks, hoping to stow away aboard a ferry bound for Italy, where asylum conditions are easier.
For Mohamed, who fled central Afghanistan last year after losing friends and family in the war, it is a prison camp. He is caught in a limbo without papers or rights: forbidden to stay in Greece but prevented from leaving.
It is a situation human rights campaigners say illustrates a deepening chaos at the heart of EU migration policy.
"We never came here to be in prison. We came to be free," said 28-year-old Mohamed, as his five room-mates huddle around a bubbling hookah. Mohamed, who worked as a UN translator in Afghanistan, has a receipt for his asylum request but has lost hope of being accepted: "Life here's miserable. We've nothing."
Greece is a new frontline for immigration in Europe. As Spain and Italy have cracked down on migrants from the Middle East and Africa, those arrested by Greece rose to 112,000 last year from 40,000 in 2005, many of them from countries at war.
In Patras, Afghan men in dirty T-shirts live in shacks cobbled together from bits of wood and draped in plastic sheets, with a communal shower and no electricity. Skin and respiratory diseases are rife, but going to a hospital risks arrest.
One man has an arm in plaster, another has a bandaged leg: injuries from police beatings, they say. Medical volunteers at the camp say they often treat victims of police abuse, including a man with a broken jaw last week, but the Interior Ministry said it was unaware of any problem.
"These people come thinking Europe is a haven for human rights but we treat them like animals," said Marcella Tommasi, head of a Doctors Without Borders center at Patras.
Greece's treatment of migrants is, says the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, among the toughest in the 27-nation bloc. It accepted just 0.6 per cent of 25,113 asylum applicants in 2007, a disturbingly low rate according to UNHCR.
A new EU pact, approved last month, may worsen the illegal migrants' situation. The brainchild of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the non-binding deal urges states to tighten external borders, increase repatriations and attract skilled migrants.
A separate EU directive allows illegal migrants to be held for up to 18 months. "It's not humane to hold people for 18 months," said Tommasi. "And it won't stop them coming."
POLITICAL "BLAH BLAH"
The European Commission estimates there are up to 8 million illegal migrants among the bloc's 500-million population, with as many as half a million arriving every year.
"EU governments have made it so difficult to hire legal migrants that everyone is being forced down the illegal route," said Martin Baldwin-Edwards, head of the Mediterranean Migration Observatory, who has just finished a report for the Commission. Continued...
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