Sunday 15 Feb 2015
Immigrants stand behind a fence at a detention centre in Amygdaleza, Athens (Reuters)
The new Greek government will move quickly to keep its electoral promise and shut down the country's overcrowded migrant detention centres, a minister says, following the apparent suicide of an inmate.
"I came here to express my embarrassment. We are done with the centres of detention. We just need a few days," Yiannis Panoussis said after visiting the Amygdaleza centre near Athens where rights groups held a protest.
"We are going to do what we said before the elections, we are going to do what we said in parliament." he said yesterday (local time).
A 28-year-old Pakistani man was found hanged with a towel on Friday night and Greek police said they were treating the death as a suicide.
The unnamed man had been arrested last December in Crete for having entered Greece illegally and was transferred to Amygadleza on Friday, just hours before taking his own life.
Around 50 demonstrators held a protest during the minister's visit, calling for all the centres to be closed and holding up a banner reading "shut down the concentration camps."
Inmates on the other side of the wire fence surrounding the camp held up placards in English reading "Freedom. We die here".
The ruling radical left Syriza party made overhauling the country's immigration strategy one of its electoral promises, and immigration minister Tasia Christodoulopoulou recently pledged to shut centres across Greece.
Syriza's junior coalition partner, ANEL, is vehemently anti-immigration, however, and rights groups fear Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's intentions on the issue may run into a brick wall.
Critics have repeatedly flagged up the overcrowded conditions at Amygdaleza, which was built to hold 1000 immigrants but currently houses twice that number and has been the site of hunger strikes in the past.
Greece is one of the key ports of entry into Europe for thousands of migrants every year and has frequently been criticised for poor conditions in its detention centres.
Athens has demanded more money from the European Union to handle the influx of asylum seekers from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan in recent years.
Greece has also called for a revision of the "Dublin Regulation", under which the first EU country that migrants enter is obliged to take care of their asylum applications.