The nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch accused Greek police of violating the international human rights law and European Union regulations, regarding the policy applied for immigration control. More specifically the Greek Police is accused of racial profiling, arbitrary detention and physical and verbal abuse of immigrants.
The report, under the title Unwelcome Guests, focuses on Operation Xenios Zeus, a radical police operation launched in August 2012 in order to control illegal immigrants. A tragicomic element lies in the name of this operation, which is a euphemism, as Xenios Zeus is actually the ancient god of hospitality! This sweep operation consists of stop and check controls, under which 85,000 suspected illegal immigrants have been detained and taken to police stations to have their visas checked.
According to the report, the operation is not only illegal, but also ineffective, as only six per cent of those detained were found to infringe the immigration law.
“Police mistreatment of migrants and asylum seekers is a longstanding, serious problem in Greece,” said Eva Cossé, the author of the report.
“Official statistics and our research demonstrate that the police are casting an extraordinarily wide net, and subjecting individuals with a legal right to be in Greece, including tourists, to treatment prohibited by international law.”
Due to its geographical location, Greece is a main route followed by immigrants in order to enter the European Union, according to Frontex. As a result of the influx, which is reinforced by the wars and conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East as well as by economic factors, virtual immigrant ghettos have been created in an Athens district and in the port city of Patras.
According to the Greek authorities, the Operation Xenios Zeus aims at re-securing the Greek borders and deporting illegal immigrants while bringing order to troublesome neighbors.
But according to HRW this argument constitutes a pretext to terrorize mostly innocent immigrants on the streets.
As RT reports, in a typical story from one of the 50 immigrants interviewed by HRW, the police simply stopped a public bus at a station in the center of Athens and said “All blacks out!” before marching the suspects to the nearest station and before conducting any document checks. According to testimonies, many were strip searched and shouted at by officers, even before being asked to show their documents.
Most immigrants who were singled out by appearance criteria said that they had been stopped and asked to show their identification documents up to several times a day and many accused the police of overt racism.
“Investing in so many resources just to catch the wrong people and release them afterward is a huge waste,” Cossé said.
“If the authorities are serious about improving security on the streets of Athens and controlling irregular immigration, they should focus on real criminals and base police operations on evidence and intelligence, not stereotypes.”
The Greek police replied to the accusations of human rights violations from HRW, by defending the Operation Xenios Zeus, its effectiveness and its procedural methods. An official at the Hellenic Police Guards Union of Attica stated that, “When an operation is ordered in the center of Athens it is reasonable for a police officer to bring to the station whoever they can who has the characteristics of an immigrant.”
According to RT, a representative of the Police Association of Border Guards of Attica said that ethnic profiling during spot checks is justified. He considered that it is acceptable to detain and verify the documents of “all persons who don’t look Greek. Many times we also check Greeks too who don’t look Greek”.
Last year in December, another respected advocacy group Amnesty International published a report which came to similar conclusions, but didn’t manage to elicit any response from the Greek authorities, which have prolonged Operation Xenios Zeus indefinitely.