Greece: New anti-torture report highlights concerns about psychiatric establishments and treatment of foreign detainees

Anti –torture experts have highlighted the understaffing of psychiatric establishments and the poor conditions of detained foreign nationals in Greece in their new country report.

Today’s publication follows a nine-day visit to Greece carried out in April by a delegation of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).

In preliminary observations, the delegation found that patients spoke well of staff in most psychiatric establishments visited. The delegation observed a caring attitude towards patients and a relaxed atmosphere, especially in establishments where patients generally enjoyed a less confined environment.

However, most establishments visited by the delegation were seriously understaffed. The CPT’s delegation calls for improved resource management. Essential services – including care for vulnerable patients – cannot be carried out properly given such low staffing levels. As a consequence, patients were excessively restrained.

The delegation urges that the use of mechanical restraint should be reviewed in all psychiatric establishments.

Overcrowding was another concern: at all three psychiatric units of general hospitals visited, patients’ beds were regularly placed in the corridor for extended periods.
At Evangelismos Psychiatric Unit, for example, certain bedridden patients had their diapers changed by staff in full view of others: an unacceptable situation to be “urgently addressed,” says the delegation.

It also heard of the frequent use of tight, painful handcuffs – sometimes for extended transfers, lasting many hours – of individuals who were being sent for psychiatric assessments by the police. “The police should not be the default transportation option for such cases,” says the delegation.

At Korydallos Prison Psychiatric Hospital, which was still under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, the delegation criticised that patients were held stripped naked and left unattended for hours in the so-called “blue” or protective cells, resulting in their defecating and urinating in the cells. It calls for this misuse to stop immediately.

In terms of foreign nationals, the CPT’s delegation acknowledges the “difficult context” and “significant challenges” faced by Greek authorities in dealing with on-going high numbers of foreign nationals arriving in the country.

While the vast majority of persons interviewed by the delegation spoke well of police staff, it found some allegations of physical ill-treatment and excessive use of force by police officers in some pre-departure centres visited, including slaps, punches and kicks to the head or other parts of the body as well as baton blows.

The delegation found that unaccompanied children were still held under so-called “protective custody” for up to several weeks until their transfer to a dedicated open shelter facility, which was mainly due to the totally insufficient number of open shelters available.

The delegation recalls the CPT’s position that unaccompanied children should not, in principle, be deprived of their liberty and calls on the Greek authorities to increase efforts to end their detention in police establishments.

While material conditions varied to a great extent, the centres for foreign nationals and one police station in the Evros region were overcrowded. One of the worst situations was found in Fylakio Pre-departure Centre, where material conditions were described by the delegation as “unacceptable”.

In a single cell, the delegation saw 95 foreign nationals – including families with young children, unaccompanied minors, pregnant women and single adult men – detained in about 1m² of living-space per person. The cell was severely overcrowded (many were required to share mattresses), filthy and malodorous.

Hygiene was extremely poor, hygiene items were not distributed, and provisions for children were insufficient. The other cells showed similar poor material conditions. Access to outdoor exercise was only granted for 10 to 20 minutes per day.

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