Migrants in Greece held in shocking conditions - U.N.

ATHENS Mon Dec 3, 2012 5:57pm GMT

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Migrants in Greece face shocking conditions in detention centres and deepening hostility on the streets as the country goes through its worst economic crisis since World War Two, a top U.N. official said on Monday.

Many of the 130,000 mostly African and Asian migrants trying to enter Europe via Greece each year go short of food, heating and hot water, including children, said the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau.

Conditions were poor in most of the 11 detention centres he visited. In one, the Venna centre in Rodopi near the Turkish border, beds were concrete slabs, the toilets were filthy and there was no light, he said.

"These are places where I wouldn't want to spend more than an hour. These are shocking places," said Crepeau.

Police launched a sweep operation in August called "Xenios Zeus" after the ancient Greek god of guests and travellers. They have so far arrested thousands of undocumented immigrants.

Crepeau said it meant systematically detaining everyone they detected entering Greek territory in an irregular manner.

"It's difficult to see children - three years old, five years old - behind bars," he said.

Presenting the findings of a nine-day mission to Greece, Crepeau said there was a rise in racially-motivated violence and the authorities were not doing much to curb it.

Much of the violence went unreported because victims were afraid of deportation if they contacted the police, who were sometimes involved in the attacks, he said.

Prominent attacks against immigrants reported this year include a young Iraqi stabbed to death in Athens in August and an Albanian stabbed with a sword by a masked motor cyclist in May.

The U.N.'s refugee body, UNHCR, says that in some cases victims said their attackers were wearing the insignia of the far-right Golden Dawn party, which entered parliament for the first time this year on a fiercely anti-immigrant agenda.

Many migrants had no access to an interpreter or a lawyer and many complained that their lawyers would take their money and not follow up on their cases, Crepeau said.

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