ATHENS – An ongoing sweep that has taken more than 6,000 immigrants into custody in search of people in Greece unlawfully has been condemned by the human rights group Amnesty International, joining a chorus of Leftist Greek political parties and organizations who also criticized the action.
“The Greek authorities must halt a mass police crackdown on irregular migrants and allow for effective access to asylum-seeking procedures to those in need of international protection,” Amnesty International said on Aug. 9, adding that it was concerned that what it called such a massive and discriminatory operation would fuel further attacks against immigrants, which are on the rise, and xenophobia in the country.
The group said that asylum seekers often face serious obstructions and as few as one in 10,000 are allowed to stay in the country while most wait for hours in long queues even to file applications at police headquarters. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has made a priority of going after illegal immigrants which he said were a “disease” afflicting Greece. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which holds 18 seats in Parliament, has been linked to assaults on immigrants but said it was not involved, although it acknowledges it wants to rid Greece of foreigners.
The Greek Council of Refugees said it understood and appreciated Greece’s right to protect its borders but said that this could not override its obligations under European and international law to respect the rights of refugees seeking political asylum. Greek officials have said the country is being “invaded” by waves of immigrants seeking asylum or who want to use the country as a gateway to other European Union countries. Greece said it is being left alone with the burden of trying to handle the influx.
Amnest International said the sweep, under the code name Xenios Zeus, as being conducted without any precautions to identify refugees meriting protection from other migrants. Greece is planning detention centers to house as many as 30,000 immigrants and has emptied areas downtown, such as Omonia Square, which they had virtually taken over by their numbers, and where authorities said crime, including drug use and prostitution, was overrunning the neighborhood. Police said they will continue to apprehend illegal immigrants and detain them.