'Extreme violence' triggers hunger strike at Greek detention centre

A banner in support of hunger strikers in Greece.
A banner in support of hunger strikers in Greece. Copyright Euronews
By Joshua Askew
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Strikers accuse authorities of denying inmates adequate food, hot water and medicine, while housing them in filthy cells infested with cockroaches.

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A hunger strike has broken out at a Greek detention centre over allegations of dehumanising treatment and rampant police violence. 

At least 11 people are refusing food in Paranesti Pre-Removal Centre, a sprawling camp in northern Greece that houses migrants caught without proper paperwork.

In a statement, strikers accused authorities of denying detainees adequate food, hot water, medicine and housing them in filthy cells infested with cockroaches, while not explaining the reason for their imprisonment. 

They also alleged camp officials have forced them to sign papers in Greek, without translation, and that they are beaten if they refuse to do so. 

"We are increasingly worried about the safety of those who have been forced to take such drastic actions to claim access to their rights," said Hope Barker, Senior Policy Analyst for Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), an NGO documenting human rights violations on European borders. 

"For years, Paranesti has been notorious for episodes of extreme violence and... inadequate living conditions." 

"Recent events are just an escalation of the shocking reality people on the move have been facing in Greek detention centres," she added. 

Paranesti, with an official capacity of around 300, is one of several detention centres dotted around Greece. 

Especially after the 2015 European migration crisis, it has been used to detain migrants deemed illegal for prolonged periods of time, though some are reportedly deported to Turkey or other third countries. 

These deportations are known as pushbacks, which are illegal under international law.

Greek officials have previously denied pushbacks are happening.

The hunger strike - which began last Thursday - is the latest in a series of protest actions at Paranesti, long marred in controversy. 

In 2021, a similar hungry strike took place in response to people being detained beyond 18 months. 

This followed repeated incidents of violence by police officers, including storming cells and beating detainees with batons, according to a report by the BVMN.

Physical and public punishments for "bad behaviour", including complaining about ill-treatment, have been documented by the NGO, which interviewed several ex-detainees.

In their study, 80% reported some form of physical or verbal abuse, with one individual describing a practice of "crossing", where detainees are tied up and beaten by officers.

There have been widespread reports of endemic self-harm and mental illness, both in Paranesti and other detention centres.

Interviewed by the BVMN, one Algerian man who spent time at Paranesti, said: "I witnessed blood. People were beat[en]... with batons and yeah, that was really a bad scene. [Officers were] insulting the religion, insulting skin colour, everything."

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"[It was a] really high level of violence I would say. Violence that I have never seen in my life," he added. 

Inmates also report their mobile devices are routinely confiscated and cameras broken when they are taken to Paranesti, which was constructed in 2011 on an old military site. 

It is surrounded by 4 metres of razor wire. 

The BVMN and other humanitarian organisations claim that the violent treatment of detainees in centres like Paranesti could amount to torture and violate European law. 

Plus they have alleged under 18s are imprisoned at the site. 

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Under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which Greece is obligated to follow, individuals are protected from inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment. 

On Friday, a group of MEPs issued a joint statement on the hunger strike.

"We, the undersigned, demand for the immediate release of detainees whose detention is over the legal limit, and for the prohibition of violence as a means to repress these protest actions," it read. 

"We urge for the immediate amelioration of detention conditions including access to legal counsellors, access to physical and psychological medical care, to sufficient material conditions, to food with adequate nutritional value, to visits from family members."

The Greek Interior Ministry has been approached for comment.

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