The European Union's border control agency is knowingly exposing migrants to inhuman and degrading conditions by transporting them to unacceptable detention centers in Greece, an international human rights agency said Wednesday.
In a report titled "The EU's Dirty Hands," Human Rights Watch argues that detaining people and taking them to facilities known to have inhumane conditions means the border control agency, Frontex, shares responsibility for human rights violations.
"Frontex has become a partner in exposing migrants to treatment that it knows is absolutely prohibited under human rights law," said Bill Frelick, Human Rights Watch's refugee program director.
The report alleges deplorable conditions, and does not absolve Greece of responsibility. At once police station, the report said, 97 people were detained in a place the police said had a capacity of 30. In a detention center, Human Rights Watch said it found unaccompanied children crowded with unrelated adults of both sexes in cells where sewage ran on the floors and the guards wore surgical masks against the stench.
A European Union spokesman in Brussels said the logic of placing part of the blame on Frontex was "entirely flawed."
"We're well aware that conditions in some of these centers are unacceptable," the spokesman, Michele Cercone, said. But Greek authorities alone bore responsibility for that, he said.
And Frontex officers _ contributed by other members of Europe's borderless Schengen zone _ operated under the command of Greek authorities while on Greek territory, Cercone said.
Greek officials in Athens had no immediate comment.
A spokesman for Frontex said the agency welcomed much of the new report, but said that transporting migrants to centers where they were interviewed and identified did not constitute complicity in abuse.
"Frontex cannot pay for the failings of a member state," Michal Parzyszek said by telephone from Warsaw.
But Human Rights Watch pointed out that, in a separate case, the European Court of Human Rights found that Belgium violated the human rights of an Afghan asylum-seeker by transporting him back to Greece.
"It's a disturbing contradiction that at the same time the European Court of Human Rights was categorically ruling that sending migrants to detention in Greece violated their fundamental human rights, Frontex, an EU executive agency, and border guards from EU states were knowingly sending them there," Frelick said.
The land border between Greece, which is in the EU, and Turkey, which is not, is among the most porous outer borders of the Schengen zone. It is the route into the borderless zone for numerous people from Afghanistan, as well as from Algeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Iraq.
Once a person crosses into the borderless zone undetected, he or she can travel to any of the 25 countries in the zone without showing any documents.