Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

“No notice is taken of a little evil, but when it increases it strikes the eye.” Aristotle

A few weeks ago, after a second death in the Amydgeleza Refugee Detention Centre in as many days, the new Greek government vowed to close all refugee detention centres in Greece. I’m not a proponent of incarceration except in situations of violent and extreme crimes, but I do wonder what will happen to the thousands of refugees who sit in Amydgeleza and similar detention centers in Greece and other places in Europe. How will their claims be dealt with? Will these people be imprisoned in Greek jails instead? Is a thoughtful, comprehensive strategy in place for these people? Neither the Ekathimerini article nor the government provided any details. This makes me wonder about next steps.

A friend of mine who has adjudicated refugee claims in Canada tells me there are detention centres in Canada too. I’m not sure I knew where refugee claimants in this country were held, but I had assumed that they were living in the community until their cases were heard and a decision about their claim was made.

For the most part, I think I’m right about this. And that is also the case in Greece and other countries except in situations where a refugee is detained because there are fears they have ties to terrorism or they can’t prove their identity because of a lack of documentation.

My friend tells me, “Some of the centres in Canada are attached to temporary holding centres such as criminal detention centres for those awaiting bail or other short stays. A wing of those facilities is often where we hold detained refugees.”

When I mentioned what was happening in Greece, she said that these closures would not bode well for the refugees. Of course not. It’s the weakest in our society who continually pay for the follies of their governments.

The process for dealing with refugees varies from country to country. “In the UK they put people up in a hotel far from any amenities. The locals in these communities aren’t happy to have the refugees. In Australia they detain all refugees so their facilities are set up for the large numbers. In Turkey they have a system where the refugee has to live in the area they are assigned and the police monitor any movement within the country.”

These options seem draconian to me. The word draconian derives from Draco, an Athenian law scribe under whom small offences brought heavy punishments (Draconian laws).  The majority of refugees have not committed any crime, yet imprisoned or not, they are held in limbo hell.

Many refugees are fleeing wars and persecution in one form or another. Others are economic migrants in search of a better life. According to the Asylum Service of the Hellenic Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection, 6919 people from various countries including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and others applied for asylum in the first nine months of 2014. Of these, 791 were granted refugee status. Of the close to 7,000 applicants, 2094 had applied from within one of the detention centers in Greece. The number of migrants applying for refugee status continues to grow as conflicts simmer in the Middle East and in Africa. What can be done?

I don’t know. I wish I did.

Can the UN do more? Can wealthier countries take more refugees? Again, I don’t have an answer. I do think our world leaders need to address this issue with realistic and viable solutions because it doesn’t appear to be getting any better soon. Just last week, the Italian Coast Guard rescued some 2700 migrants in four days off the coast of Libya.  If that number doesn’t strike the eye, I don’t know what will.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey