• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

UNHCR delegation visits detention centre on Greek island, urges closure

News Stories, 23 October 2009

© UNHCR/L.Boldrini
A group of young detainees stare at visitors to the crowded centre at Pagani.

PAGANI DETENTION CENTRE, Greece, October 23 (UNHCR) A UNHCR delegation has called for a crowded migrant detention centre on the Greek island of Lesvos to be closed after visiting the facility with a senior government official.

More than 700 men, women and children are packed into the Pagani centre, which lacks space and adequate hygiene and sanitation facilities to cope with such a large number of people, many of whom might be asylum-seekers and thus of concern to the UN refugee agency.

"Freedom, freedom, freedom," the detainees chanted, as Deputy Citizens' Protection Minister Spyros Vougias and the UNHCR delegation, led by Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, visited the facility on Thursday.

Both men condemned the poor conditions, which included about 200 women and children living in one ward with just two toilets and one shower. They saw damp mattresses soiled by water leaking from the toilets.

Deputy Minister Vougias, visiting Pagani during his first week in office, apologized to the detainees, who are mainly from Afghanistan and Somalia. "What I have seen today is a human tragedy, with conditions in which no human being should be kept," he said.

"There is an urgent need to release vulnerable groups," the minister stressed, while pledging that the government would improve the processing of new arrivals and work to ensure better living conditions.

Tsarbopoulos, head of the UNHCR office in Greece, said Pagani "should be shut down," adding that the situation there reflected the impasse of policies applied at entry points, which led to people being detained.

He said UNHCR recommended that appropriate reception facilities, with screening mechanisms and expert staff, should be established at entry points, including islands like Lesvos which faces Turkey. These would help identify people in need of international protection and afford them special care.

"In parallel, drastic changes to the asylum system should be immediately introduced and the relevant responsibilities should be removed from the police and transferred to a political body," Tsarbopoulos said, adding that he hoped the government's commitment to improvement would result in concrete action.

Some 5,500 irregular migrants and asylum-seekers were detained in Lesvos during the first eight months of this year after crossing from Turkey, compared to more than 13,000 in 2008 and 6,100 in 2007. Most originated from conflict-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

By Ketty Kehayioylou in Pagani Detention Centre, Greece

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

International Migration

The link between movements of refugees and broader migration attracts growing attention.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

The cycle of life has started again in Afghanistan as returnees put their shoulders to the wheel to rebuild their war-torn country.

Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

Home Without Land

Land is hot property in mountainous Afghanistan, and the lack of it is a major reason Afghans in exile do not want to return.

Although landless returnees are eligible for the Afghan government's land allocation scheme, demand far outstrips supply. By the end of 2007, the authorities were developing 14 settlements countrywide. Nearly 300,000 returnee families had applied for land, out of which 61,000 had been selected and 3,400 families had actually moved into the settlements.

Desperate returnees sometimes have to camp in open areas or squat in abandoned buildings. Others occupy disputed land where aid agencies are not allowed to build permanent structures such as wells or schools.

One resilient community planted itself in a desert area called Tangi in eastern Afghanistan. With help from the Afghan private sector and the international community, water, homes, mosques and other facilities have sprouted – proof that the right investment and commitment can turn barren land into the good earth.

Posted on 31 January 2008

Home Without Land

Syrian Refugees: Desperate in LampedusaPlay video

Syrian Refugees: Desperate in Lampedusa

In the past year, more than 13,000 people have arrived by boat in Italy's Lampedusa Island on irregular migration routes. Many have died attempting the crossing. Young men from sub-Saharan Africa mix with families from Syria. All share the same dream - starting afresh in the security and stability of Europe.
Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In MogadishuPlay video

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In Mogadishu

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan.
Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay video

Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.