Number of deported migrants has dropped, but fundamental rights are not strictly observed, Greek Ombudsman says

The deportation of migrants from Greece to the country they came from decreased significantly in 2017, Greece’s Ombudsman said on Monday, but the authorities have failed to deal with “negative points that tend to become set in the processes involved in deportation.”

According to the data he provided, deportations reached 12,998 in 2016, down from 17,097 a year earlier, while the number of migrants volunteering to return to their countries rose from 3,771 in 2015 to 6,153 in 2016.

However, the Ombudsman said, authorities did not inform the deportees of the decision at least 24 hours before they were forcefully removed, they did not allow timely access to telephones so the individuals could alert their family members, and they habitually placed them in metal handcuffs, without taking into account individual circumstances.

The Ombudsman also noted, during on-site visits to repatriation centres and police detention centres, that facilities did not provide the necessary outdoor access, digressing from the regulations followed in returns and the guarantees provided by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In addition, he pointed out that deportation centers were in 2016 housing triple the number of individuals they did in 2015: 1,583 held in November 2016, over 504 in 2015.

In addition to other issues, the Ombudsman said his office was investigating two cases in which the expressed desire to apply for refugee status was ignored. One involves a Syrian family of five, who were transferred from Lesvos’ hotspot to an airplane on Kos and returned to Turkey, and another six Iraqi women detained in Kalamata, who were kept in Greece on the orders of the Ombudsman until their cases of asylum appliation and family reunion are resolved.

The independent agency of the Ombudsman acted as a national agency for external control, sampling 55% of joint European flights that returned migrants. It also acted as observer in 45% of all returns of migrants by sea and air from the Greek islands to Turkey.

Ombudsman Andreas Pottakis said that the role of an observer by an independent authority and the transparency of police operations were necessary in any country that observes the rule of law, as similar processes of forced removal could violate human rights. He also said that although the EU guarantees the presence of an external observer, it appears that at the end of 2016 this guarantee was receding.