Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Expression: The constitution and law protect freedom of expression but specifically allow restrictions on speech inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups based on their race, skin color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. On June 10, the government passed legislation requiring vendors who sell print media to stock and display all Greek newspapers and magazines. Penalties for those intentionally breaking the law range from one year’s imprisonment to a fine from 5,000 to 50,000 euros ($5,500 to $55,000). For repeated offenders, the penalty can increase to two years or more in prison.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in at least 10 instances. On April 7, a riot police officer in Idomeni, near the border with North Macedonia, kicked a photojournalist covering a migrant protest and later struck the photojournalist in the face and head with his shield. The government and journalist unions condemned the attacks. Seven attacks were led by members of far-right groups who targeted reporters and photojournalists covering rallies protesting the Prespa Agreement between Greece and North Macedonia. Anarchists led other attacks, once torching a journalist’s car at her residence and on December 5, pelting a television crew stationed near the Athens University of Economics and Business with paint. There were no reports of police detentions in these incidents.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government did not censor media. The government maintains an online register with the legal status of local websites, their number of employees, detailed shareholder information, and the tax office they fall under. Once registered, these websites are accredited to accept funding through state advertising, to cover official events, and to benefit from research and training programs of the National Center of Audiovisual Works. All registered websites had to display their certification on their homepage. Although registering was an open and nonobligatory process, outlets failing to do so could be excluded from the accreditation benefits. On April 15, the government launched a similar electronic registry for regional and local press.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for defamation. A law passed February 26 clarifies that individuals convicted of crimes cannot claim slander for discussion of those crimes. This law also removes the provision requiring journalists to appear immediately before a court, or wait in jail until the court opened, in the case they were accused of libel, a provision that had been abused by politicians to intimidate journalists. On February 13, a court convicted then alternate health minister Pavlos Polakis for slander against a deceased reporter whom he had accused of taking bribes from the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The court ordered the alternate health minister to pay financial damages to the journalist’s family. The government abolished blasphemy laws, effective on July 1.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private citizens’ online communications without appropriate legal authority. In November 2018 the newly established Committee on Internet Violations of Intellectual Property ordered domestic internet service providers to discontinue access for three years to 38 domain names offering pirated content. The committee set a 48-hour deadline from the time of the notification of the decision, threatening providers with a fine of 850 euros ($935) for each day of noncompliance.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. On March 14, four members of an ultrarightist group stormed into a theater in Thessaloniki and briefly interrupted a theatrical performance because they thought “it offended the divine.” On March 3, media reported that a concert by the heavy-metal band “Rotting Christ” in a municipally owned venue in Patras was cancelled. Local authorities cited “technical problems” but the band leader alleged the performance was cancelled after pressure from the local church, which objected to the band’s name.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
There were, however, some complaints that police dispersed and briefly arrested demonstrators outside heavily secured venues, citing concerns of peace and public order (see also section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest or Detention). On January 23, police detained 20 protesters outside the Megaro Mousikis concert hall in Athens where the then prime minister was scheduled to deliver a speech. According to those detained, police did not provide an explanation for their actions.
On January 29, the International Hellenic Association (IHA) criticized the Ministry of Defense for retracting an offer to provide space inside the War Museum’s premises for an event entitled “Macedonia Is One and Greek.” The IHA suggested the government was using its authority to quash dissenting views on the Prespa Agreement, a treaty between Greece and North Macedonia, which resolved a long dispute over the name “Macedonia.”
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government continued to place legal restrictions on the names of associations of nationals who self-identified as ethnic Macedonian or associations that included the term “Turkish” as indicative of a collective ethnic identity (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). Such associations, despite the lack of legal recognition, continued to operate.
On September 13, a first-instance court in Serres, in northern Greece, decided to annul a decision by which it had granted official status to the local association Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood of Serres Locals. The annulment resulted from appeals by the Panhellenic Federation of Macedonian Cultural Associations and the local prosecutor. The Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood of Serres Locals had acquired official status through civil-court recognition in January 2018. Petitioners argued that the brotherhood’s articles of association, providing for the preservation and promotion of the “local” language and the attribution of respect to “local” heroes, were deceitful and against public order. According to prosecution witnesses, the brotherhood’s members purposely hid from the court its true goal of promoting locally the language and history of North Macedonia.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: Undocumented migrants arriving at Greek islands were subjected to special border reception and registration procedures and were not allowed to leave registration centers for up to 25 days. After this period, undocumented migrants remaining in those facilities were generally allowed to enter and exit but were prohibited from travelling to the mainland unless they filed asylum applications deemed admissible by the asylum authorities or were identified as “vulnerable.” This group included unaccompanied minors; persons with disabilities; the elderly; pregnant women or those who recently gave birth; single parents with young children; victims of torture, shipwrecks, and other trauma; and victims of human trafficking. Once asylum applications were filed, found admissible, and in process, migrants could move to an accommodation center on the mainland, space permitting. There was no restriction on movement in or out of the mainland accommodation centers. As of September, however, no facilities were available on the mainland even though approximately 7,000 migrants had been deemed vulnerable. The government made efforts to increase placements in the mainland and decongest the island reception and registration facilities, but a steady flow of arrivals, which accelerated during the summer and fall, caused severe overcrowding.
Some local and international NGOs reiterated criticism of the government’s practice of confining asylum seekers to the islands for initial processing exceeding 25 days.
Unaccompanied minors were placed under “protective custody” due to lack of space in specialized shelters (see section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions).
During the year the flow of migrants and asylum seekers to the country from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East continued. As of December 16, UNHCR figures indicated 109,000 migrants and asylum seekers resided throughout the country.
On November 1, parliament amended the asylum legislation. The new rules are designed to speed up decision making on asylum applications and to increase the number of rejected applicants returned to Turkey or to their country of origin. The law, which will take effect on January 1, 2020, establishes extended periods of detention for asylum seekers; ties the treatment of asylum applications to the applicants’ cooperation (or lack thereof) with authorities; alters the appeals committees so they consist exclusively of judges, dropping a position held by a UNHCR designate; requires appeals to be filed and justified through court briefs instead of standardized documents; eliminates “post-traumatic stress disorder” as a factor that would make a refugee considered “vulnerable” and therefore ineligible to be returned to Turkey if their asylum application is denied; and codifies that rejected asylum applicants should immediately return to Turkey or their country of origin. UNHCR, as well as local and international NGOs, including the Greek National Commission for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), the MSF, and many others, argued the law emphasized returns over protection and integration, put an excessive burden on asylum seekers, focused on punitive measures, and introduced tough requirements an asylum seeker could not reasonably be expected to fulfill.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to a wide range of credible sources, including international organizations and NGOs, authorities did not always provide adequate security or physical protection to asylum seekers, particularly those residing in RICs. The RVRN recorded 51 incidents involving racially motivated verbal and physical violence against refugees and migrants in 2018 (Also see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities.)
The separation and protection of vulnerable groups was not implemented at some sites. On February 9, the MSF reported that a 20-year-old male Yazidi refugee at the RIC in Fylakio, Evros, was living in a container with his visually impaired sister, his female cousin suffering from mental health problems, and three unrelated men. Media reported incidences of violence involving asylum seekers, including gender-based violence. On January 8, local and international media reported Oxfam’s findings that asylum-seeking and refugee women were wearing diapers at night for fear of leaving their tents to go to the bathroom. In its report for the rights of “children on the move” in Greece, issued on June 14, the ombudsman noted that children at the RIC in Lesvos were at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation, rape, and assault. The report stated many parents of children, especially single parents, were reluctant to queue for hours for food because they were afraid to expose their children to the risk of violence and sexual abuse. Cases of trading food in exchange for sex were also reported to the ombudsman. On April 11, PACE expressed serious concern regarding the humanitarian situation and the poor security of asylum seekers at RICs on the Greek islands as well as in centers on the mainland.
On January 23, a court in Thessaloniki sentenced a 50-year-old Iraqi man to 20 years’ imprisonment for raping his 16-year-old daughter at a reception facility in Serres.
Refugee and migrant women who were victims of gender-based violence were legally eligible for temporary shelter in government-run homes and for legal and psychosocial assistance, but few of them reported abuse. Some NGO representatives reiterated findings from previous years that even after reporting rapes to the authorities, some victims continued residing in the same camp with the perpetrators.
NGOs noted inadequate medical and psychological care for refugees and asylum seekers, especially in the six RICs, mainly attributed to the government’s inability to hire medical doctors willing to serve in such facilities. Even when the government significantly increased the salaries and reissued calls for recruitment, medical doctors expressed minimal interest.
On February 8, a Communist Party delegation visit to the reception facility in Katsikas, Epirus, noted the absence of medical care, especially for women, newborns, and children, according to media reports.
NGOs also noted inadequate psychological care for refugees and asylum seekers, especially in the six RICs. The MSF reported that 25 percent of the children they worked with in the Moria RIC on Lesvos Island from February to June had either self-harmed, attempted suicide, or had thought about committing suicide.
The government cooperated with UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers to countries in which their lives or freedom would be threatened due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. On October 31, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Iranian Sharareh Khademi should not be extradited to her country of origin as this would pose an “immediate risk to her life.” The court annulled the decision of a lower-level court that had ruled in favor of the extradition. Khademi and her daughter were victims of domestic violence by an abusive husband and father.
On June 19, the GCR announced it had filed a complaint with the Supreme Court that migrants and asylum seekers were being forced back across the border into Turkey from northeastern Evros in Greece. The GCR stated it had evidence backing the claims of several migrants and asylum seekers who said they were forced back. The GCR reported it had filed three lawsuits on behalf of six Turkish nationals, including a child, who claimed that local authorities had exercised violence to force them back into Turkey. Reportedly, one of the young women, forced back to Turkey, was arrested and taken to a Turkish prison. The GCR noted that despite the growing number of alleged pushbacks, there was no official government reaction.
On June 8, the group Racist Crimes Watch filed a complaint against Hellenic Police in Didimoticho, northern Greece, alleging local police staff beat with batons and fired plastic bullets at a 35-year-old Iraqi national and two Egyptian nationals, ages 18 and 26, prior to forcing them back to Turkey.
On May 5, media reported a letter addressed by the then minister for citizen protection Olga Gerovassili to the UNHCR representative in Greece in response to concerns about pushbacks in the Evros area by security officers. After an investigation, the then minister wrote that the alleged incidents were not proven true. She also noted the absence of any such reporting by Frontex officers who assist the Greek border police in their work. From January to April, police arrested 3,130 third-country nationals in the areas of Orestiada and Alexandroupolis.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing legal protection to refugees through an autonomous asylum service under the authority of the Ministry of Migration Policy. Following the July 7 elections, the Ministry for Migration Policy was folded into the Ministry for Citizen Protection. The law requires that applicants have access to certified interpreters and allows applicants to appeal negative decisions and remain in the country while their appeals are examined.
Authorities worked with NGOs, international organizations, and the European Asylum Support Office to inform undocumented migrants awaiting registration in the asylum system, as well as non-EU foreign national detainees, about their rights, asylum procedures, and the IOM-assisted voluntary return programs. UNHCR assisted the government with briefings and distribution of multilingual leaflets and information packages on asylum and asylum procedures.
Human rights activists and NGOs working with asylum applicants reported long waits of up to two years for decisions due to time-consuming processes, pre-existing backlogs in the appeals process, and a limited number of appeals committees. Access to the asylum process for persons detained in predeparture centers was also a concern. In its annual report for 2018, the Greek ombudsman reported his office continued to receive complaints from asylum applicants about difficulties in scheduling an appointment and connecting with the Asylum Service system via Skype, especially in Athens and in Thessaloniki. On May 6, local media reported the Greek Asylum Service had a backlog of more than 62,000 cases while an estimated 5,500 new applications were submitted yearly by new entrants.
According to the Asylum Information Database report for 2018, published by GCR on April 21, the average period between preregistration and full registration was 42 days in 2018. The average processing time at first instance was reported at approximately 8.5 months in 2018. Approximately 80 percent of the 58,793 applicants with pending applications at the end of 2018 had not had an interview with the asylum service.
Major delays frequently occurred in the identification of vulnerable persons on the islands, due to a significant lack of qualified staff, which also impacted the asylum procedure.
Asylum applicants from countries other than Syria complained that their asylum applications were delayed while Syrian applications were prioritized. NGOs, international organizations, and human rights activists also reiterated concerns about the lack of adequate staff and facilities; insufficient welfare, integration, counseling, legal, and interpretation services; discrimination; and detention under often inadequate and overcrowded conditions inside the RICs.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, according to which authorities may return asylum seekers to the EU member state of first entry for adjudication of asylum claims.
According to the 2016 joint EU-Turkey statement, every undocumented migrant crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands would be confined to a RIC for up to 25 days, during which time the individual would have the opportunity to apply for asylum in Greece. Individuals opting not to apply for asylum or whose applications were deemed unfounded or inadmissible would be returned to Turkey (see also section 2.d., Freedom of Movement).
Employment: Recognized refugees and holders of asylum-seeker papers were entitled to work, although this right was not widely publicized or consistently enforced. In 2018 the managing board of the Greek Manpower Organization extended the right to register for official unemployment to asylum seekers and refugees residing in shelters or with no permanent address, allowing them to benefit from training programs and state allowances.
Access to Basic Services: Legally, services such as shelter, health care, education, and judicial procedures are granted to asylum seekers in possession of a valid residency permit; however, staffing gaps, a lack of interpreters, and overcrowded reception sites limited certain asylum seekers’ access to these services. On July 13, the minister for labor and social affairs revoked a June 20 ministerial decree signed by his predecessor that simplified the process for asylum seekers to be granted a social security number (AMKA). The minister argued that the system of granting AMKAs would be re-examined, as it was abused by foreign nationals who should not have received a number. Several NGOs reported problems in securing access for asylum-seeking individuals to basic services, including treatment for chronic diseases. Legal assistance was limited and was offered via NGOs, international organizations, volunteer lawyers, and bar associations.
RICs on islands and in the Evros region continued to be overcrowded, with inadequate shelter, health care, wash facilities, and sewer connections creating security and health concerns. Housing conditions at reception facilities elsewhere on the mainland were generally better, although at times overcrowding hindered access to services. Due to a lack of space, the government in September opened temporary camps on the mainland, providing six-person tents to hundreds of migrants.
Unaccompanied minors living in “protective custody” in police stations had limited or no access to health care or medical services. As of November 30, according to the country’s National Center for Social Solidarity (EKKA), there were 257 unaccompanied children in protective custody (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions).
Many vulnerable asylum-seeking individuals were eligible to be sheltered in apartments via a housing framework implemented by UNHCR in cooperation with some NGOs and local municipalities. Conditions in the apartments were significantly better than in reception facilities.
Administrative and facility management staff in reception centers were usually permanent state employees, eight-month government-contracted personnel, and staff contracted by NGOs and international organizations. Media reported cases, especially on the islands, in which assigned staff were inadequate or improperly trained. On June 6, media reported that 40 employees from the Asylum Service offices in Attica, Korinthos and Patras attended a training seminar on statelessness, the Dublin Treaty, and gender-based violence to handle asylum cases more efficiently.
Everyone in the country is entitled to emergency medical care, regardless of legal status. Medical volunteers, NGO-contracted doctors, the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and army medical doctors provided basic health care in reception centers, referring emergencies and complex cases to local hospitals, which were often overburdened and understaffed. Some individuals suffering from chronic diseases continued to encounter problems obtaining proper medication. Pregnant women in Evros reception and detention facilities continued facing problems in accessing proper medical and prenatal care.
The government failed to identify asylum seekers with nonvisible vulnerabilities, such as victims of torture and trafficking victims, due to gaps and shortages in skilled staff, including medical doctors, at the RICs, several NGOs reported. On January 1, the government officially launched a multidisciplinary national referral mechanism (NRM), which included appropriate standard operating procedures and referral forms. The NRM required first responders to inform and coordinate with the EKKA, when potential victims were identified for care and placement.
Durable Solutions: Refugees may apply for naturalization after three years of residence in the country as a recognized refugee. The government continued to process family reunification applications for asylum seekers with relatives in other countries. The IOM offered voluntary returns to rejected asylum seekers and those who renounced their asylum claims.
Temporary Protection: As of September 30, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 2,578 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Under a law that took effect July 1, rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by 10 years to life imprisonment in cases with multiple perpetrators or if the rape results in the victim’s death. The previous limit was five to 20 years. Attempted sexual intercourse without consent is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Charges may be pressed ex officio, without the need of a complaint. If the victim does not wish to seek prosecution, the prosecutor may decide to drop charges. The law applies equally to all survivors, regardless of gender. On January 7, media reported research showing that only 200 of an estimated average of 4,500 rape incidents per year were officially reported (approximately one out of 22).
Penalties for domestic violence under the new penal code range from one to three years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of the violence. The previous range was two to 10 years. The court may impose longer prison sentences for crimes against pregnant or minor victims. Authorities generally enforced the law effectively when the violence was reported; however, some NGOs and international organizations criticized law enforcement in migrant sites for not responding appropriately to victims reporting domestic violence. Experts estimated only 10 percent of rape and domestic violence cases reach the courtroom, noting that despite an adequate legislative framework, judges’ personal biases and social norms that blame the victim were major obstacles. In the first half of the year, police reported identifying the perpetrators in 69 cases of rape and attempted rape. As of June, police had recorded 94 reported rape incidents, 67 of which were attempted rapes.
The government and NGOs made medical, psychological, social, and legal support available to rape survivors. On March 26, the government passed legislation “on the promotion of substantial gender equality and countering gender-based violence.” The law aimed to promote gender equality in politics and businesses and to standardize the services provided in government shelters to victims of gender-based violence, including foreign national women with no legal status.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law requires mandatory prison sentences for persons who coerce or force female individuals to undergo genital mutilation.
Despite reports that migrant and refugee women residing in the country underwent FGM/C prior to their arrival in Greece, there was no concrete evidence FGM/C was practiced in the country. On February 2, the European Institute for Gender Equality issued a study estimating that 25 to 42 percent of migrant and refugee girls living in the country but originating from states in which FGM/C is practiced were at risk of FGM/C.
Sexual Harassment: Under the new penal code, penalties may be as high as three years in prison for sexual harassment, with longer terms applied to perpetrators who take advantage of their position of authority or the victim’s need for employment. The previous penalty ranged from two months to five years. In his 2018 annual report, the ombudsman reported his office received 262 complaints pertinent to gender equality matters without specifying how many were related to sexual harassment. In reports from previous years, the ombudsman had noted the absence of a policy against sexual harassment in most private and public workplaces, emphasizing that employers were often ignorant of their legal obligations when employees filed sexual harassment complaints.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status between women and men. The government effectively enforced the laws promoting gender equality, although discrimination occurred, especially in the private business sector. Muslim minority members in Thrace can request the use of sharia with notarized consent of both parties (see also section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
On January 29, parliament passed legislation establishing in each university an unpaid committee entrusted with the promotion of gender equality. The law assigned academic senates to decide on the formation of such committees, to consist of nine members, including a student representative.
Legislation passed in March established a “National Council on Gender Equality” and created a certification for companies that comply with maternity leave laws, provide equal pay for male and female employees, and demonstrate gender equality in managerial posts. According to data issued by the Secretariat for Gender Equality on March 18, between October and December 2018, 44 percent of women were employed, compared with 60 percent of men.
In 2018 the government announced that to avoid gender bias in hiring decisions it would no longer reveal the gender of unemployed individuals it recommended for job vacancies. The government also decided to allow female victims of domestic violence residing in special shelters or lacking a permanent residence to register for unemployment benefits, including training programs and state allowances.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents at birth; a single parent may confer citizenship on a child. Parents are obliged to register their children within 10 days of birth. The law allows belated birth registration but imposes a fine in such cases.
Child Abuse: Violence against children, particularly migrant, refugee, street, and Romani children, remained a problem. The NGO Smile of the Child reported 321 serious cases of abuse related to 623 children through its helpline SOS 1056 from January 1 to June 30. Of those children, 38 percent were younger than age six. The law prohibits corporal punishment and the mistreatment of children, but government enforcement was generally ineffective. Welfare laws provide for treatment and prevention programs for abused and neglected children in addition to foster care or accommodation in shelters. Government-run institutions were understaffed, however, and NGOs reported insufficient space, including for unaccompanied minors who by law are entitled to special protection and should be housed in special shelters.
In 2018 the government enacted legislation allowing foster care and adoption procedures to be completed in less than a year, making them a viable option for children in urgent need of protection. On February 7, parliament passed legislation giving an additional three months of paid leave to foster parents and parents with adopted children up to age six. Parents of children born to surrogate mothers are also entitled to three months of paid leave after the child’s birth.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, although minors ages 16 and 17 may marry with authorization from a prosecutor. While official statistics were unavailable, NGOs reported illegal child marriage was common in Romani communities, with Romani girls often marrying between the ages of 15 and 17, or even younger, and male Roma marrying between the ages of 15 and 20. The Hellenic Statistical Authority recorded the marriage of seven girls younger than age 15 in 2018. Throughout that year, the authority recorded weddings for 186 boys and 753 girls aged 15-19.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 15. The law criminalizes sex with children younger than age 15. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography and imposes penalties if the crime was committed using technology in the country. Authorities generally enforced the law.
Displaced Children: According to EKKA data, approximately 4,962 refugee and migrant unaccompanied and separated children resided in the country as of October 31. Only 1,760 of these children resided in age-appropriate facilities. Local and international NGOs attested that unaccompanied minors were not always properly registered, at times lacked safe accommodations or legal guardians, and were vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation, including survival sex. On June 14, the ombudsman issued a report about children on the move in the country, noting discrepancies in the administrative treatment of unaccompanied minors depending on where they entered the country, the agency that identified them, and their nationality.
In 2018 parliament passed legislation requiring a “legal guardian” for the daily care of each unaccompanied minor. The legislation allows older unaccompanied minors to reside in semiautonomous living units, established a special body entrusted with the protection of minors and the monitoring of guardianship in each prosecution office, created a special directorate in the national government for the protection of unaccompanied minors, established a registry of certified guardians who meet certain criteria, established a registry of unaccompanied minors, and created a registry of shelters and facilities for unaccompanied minors.
Institutionalized Children: Activists condemned the use of protective custody for unaccompanied minors for prolonged periods, often in unsanitary, overcrowded conditions resulting from a lack of space in specialized shelters (see section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions).
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
Local Jewish leaders estimated the Jewish community in the country consisted of approximately 5,000 individuals. Anti-Semitic rhetoric remained a problem, particularly in the extremist press, social networking sites, and certain blogs. A Eurobarometer survey, conducted in December 2018, found that local citizens did not regard anti-Semitism as a major problem, despite a recent spate of attacks. Vandalism of Holocaust monuments and memorials continued in the city of Thessaloniki. On January 25, unknown perpetrators vandalized a monument marking the site of the former Jewish cemetery at Aristotle University campus in Thessaloniki. On January 28, Archbishop Ieronymos of the Greek Orthodox Church publicly denounced the attack, describing “the desecration and vandalism of synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust memorials” as “hideous acts that brutally offend our history, culture, nation, and faith.” On April 10, perpetrators vandalized two memorial metal plaques at the Thessaloniki port area dedicated to persons who perished during the Holocaust.
The Central Board of Jewish Communities (KIS) continued to express concern about anti-Semitic comments by some journalists in the mainstream media and by some religious leaders, including Greek Orthodox Church clerics. On May 13, the KIS reiterated concern about political cartoons and images in the mainstream media where political controversies were mocked with the use of Jewish sacred symbols and comparisons to the Holocaust. The KIS issued the statement about a commentary on social media by journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, criticizing statements by the then main opposition leader. Vaxevanis, arguing that the former leader supported a seven-day work week, illustrated his commentary with a sketch of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp where the phrase Arbeit macht frei (work sets you free) was paraphrased as “12 hours of labor liberates.” The KIS explained that the use of that sign for journalistic commentaries was unacceptable because it trivialized a symbol of horror and of Nazi barbarism.
On April 18, a misdemeanor appeals court in Thessaloniki sentenced a 62-year-old medical doctor to a suspended 14-month jail term for putting up an anti-Semitic sign in 2014 at his municipal practice which read, “Jews Are Not Welcome Here,” in German.
On May 3, a large Greek delegation, including Nikos Voutsis, the then parliamentary speaker, David Saltiel, president of Jewish Communities of Greece; and other members of parliament, participated in the 31st annual March of the Living at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I also marched. The march highlighted the history of Greek Jews during the Holocaust, with the parliament speaker marking the occasion by presenting artifacts to the newly established permanent Greek exhibit in the Auschwitz museum. The latter was funded by parliament and organized through cooperation with the Jewish Museum of Greece.
On February 12, in a statement, the KIS hailed the adoption of the working definition of anti-Semitism in accordance with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance by the General Secretariat for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Education.
On July 13, Minister for Agricultural Development and Food Makis Voridis defended himself against accusations that he had expressed anti-Semitic views in the past. Voridis denounced “any intolerance on his part” that might be interpreted as anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi. On July 16, the KIS issued a statement that “it takes into consideration and values the explanations” provided by the minister and hoped to see him undertake initiatives to demonstrate his sincerity and fight intolerance and anti-Semitism.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services such as special education. NGOs and organizations for disability rights reported government enforcement of these provisions was inconsistent. In a February 11 report, local NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) noted that penalties for parking in places designated for persons with disabilities, including ramps and pathways for the blind, were only administrative, treated as plain parking offenses.
Most children with disabilities had the option of attending mainstream or specialized schools, unless they could not function in a mainstream classroom. According to the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), the dropout rate for students with disabilities was 30 percent; approximately 59 percent of students with disabilities were able to finish middle school. The main obstacles were shortages in transportation and a lack of infrastructure such as ramps, as well as audiovisual aids, staff, and regular funding. Despite progress in establishing new special-education school units and classes to help students with disabilities integrate in primary and secondary education, the ombudsman noted that integrating children with special needs into mainstream classrooms remained a problem.
Persons with disabilities continued to have poor access to public buildings, transportation, and public areas, even though such access is required by law. Access to buildings, ramps for sidewalks, and public transportation vehicles were the biggest concerns. Even ramps in the street were often too steep or rough to use, and ramps for public transportation were often out of order.
Experts also noted that while the Athens metro and the main airports were generally accessible, trains and most ships, including ferries, remained inaccessible or partially accessible. The GHM reported that most court buildings, including the Athens First Instance Court, lacked accessibility for citizens, lawyers, and judges with disabilities.
A September 2018 memorandum cosigned by then minister for shipping and island policy and the National Association of Greeks with Paraplegia provides that shipping companies should make their vessels accessible and safe for persons with motor impairment by May 1. The decision obliged nautical transportation companies to install proper elevators and lifting devices, to designate specific disabled parking spaces and areas where wheelchairs could be secured, and to train their personnel to assist persons with disabilities onboard the vessels. While the law allows service animals to accompany blind individuals in all mass transit and eating establishments, blind activists maintained they occasionally faced difficulties accessing public transportation, places, and services.
The ombudsman reported that 14 percent of the complaints his office received were related to disability and chronic disease issues.
The GHM also reported instances of persons with disabilities not being able to vote in the local and European Parliament elections on May 25 and June 2. Domestic law obliges polling station committees (PSC) chairpersons to provide assistance by entering the voting booth or taking election materials outside the polling station if the person cannot enter. The GHM alleged that at times PSC chairs voted for their own preferred candidates.
The GHM noted a lack of homebound voting, effectively disenfranchising voters who cannot travel to polling stations. Inadequate physical infrastructure in public buildings used for voting, in most cases state schools, was one of the main obstacles for persons with disabilities.
On May 29, the government passed legislation lifting significant obstacles to the granting of Greek citizenship for persons with disabilities, which includes provisions for persons with intellectual disabilities or psychiatric illness. In general, the law on citizenship requires an interview with the applicant and several years of Greek schooling. The new legislation enables persons with disabilities, born or raised in the country by lawfully residing foreign nationals, to claim nationality. Under the previous law, persons who were unable to attend a Greek school could not file a petition for citizenship. Adult foreign nationals with certified mental or physical disabilities previously could not take and pass the Greek language knowledge and naturalization test.
According to government statistics, individuals with disabilities and chronic ailments represented 15 percent of all permanent hires in the public sector.
While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against members of minorities, Roma and members of other minority groups continued to face discrimination.
Although the government recognized an individual’s right to self-identification, many individuals who defined themselves as members of a minority group found it difficult to express their identity freely and to maintain their culture. Citizens identified themselves as Turks, Pomaks, Vlachs, Roma, Arvanites, or Macedonians. Some unsuccessfully sought official government identification as ethnic or linguistic minorities. Courts routinely rejected registration claims filed by associations in Thrace with titles including the terms Turk and Turkish when based on ethnic grounds, although individuals may legally call themselves Turks, and associations using those terms were able to function regularly without legal status (see also section 2.b., Freedom of Association). Government officials and courts denied requests by Slavic groups to use the term Macedonian to identify themselves on the grounds that more than two million ethnically (and linguistically) Greek citizens also used the term Macedonian for self-identification.
The government officially recognizes a Muslim minority, as defined by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which consists of persons descended from Muslims residing in Thrace at the time of the treaty’s signature. They include ethnic Turkish, Pomak, and Romani communities. Some Pomaks and Roma claimed that ethnically Turkish members of the Muslim minority provided monetary incentives to encourage them to say they were ethnically Turkish.
During the 2018-19 school year, the government operated 128 primary schools and two secondary schools in the Thrace region that provided secondary bilingual education for minority children in Greek and Turkish. The government also operated two Islamic religious schools in Thrace. Some representatives of the Muslim minority said the facilities were inadequate to cover their needs, claiming the government ignored their request to privately establish an additional minority secondary school. The same representatives noted a decreasing trend in the number of primary minority schools, which the government attributed to the decreasing number of students. Per the law, any facility with less than five students must temporarily suspend operations, with students referred to neighboring schools. For the 2019-20 school year, authorities announced that of the 20 schools that suspended operation in the region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, five were minority schools.
Roma continued to face widespread governmental and societal discrimination, social exclusion, and harassment, including ethnic profiling by police, alleged abuse while in police custody, discrimination in employment, limited access to education, and segregated schooling.
Poor school attendance, illiteracy, and high dropout rates among Romani children remained problems. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory education law for Romani children, and local officials often excluded Romani pupils from schools or sent them to Roma-only segregated schools. In his 2018 annual report, the Greek ombudsman noted that even when Romani children were enrolled in schools, authorities often failed to provide transportation.
On March 26, parliament passed legislation allowing the granting of Greek citizenship to stateless Roma born in the country but whose parents lacked official registration.
On April 17, media reported that the then alternate minister for social solidarity approved the relocation of 31 Romani families in Farsala, central Greece, to a new municipally owned site. On the same day, the municipality in Chalandri, northeast of Athens, reportedly hired two Romani cultural mediators to facilitate access for local Roma to social welfare services as well as the enrollment of adults into “second chance” schools.
Local media and NGOs reported race- and hate-motivated attacks on migrants by far-right groups, including alleged supporters of Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn members of parliament publicly expressed anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and homophobic views. The trial of 69 members, including 18 current and former members of parliament, continued. They were charged with weapons crimes and operating a criminal enterprise.
On April 20, a court on Chios Island sentenced a 79-year-old man from a local village to 13 years’ imprisonment for shooting and injuring a 15-year-old Syrian refugee with a hunting rifle in July 2018.
The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, and government services such as education and health care. The government enforced antidiscrimination laws, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, as aggravating circumstances in hate crimes. Offices combatting race crimes and hate crimes include in their mandates crimes targeting LGBTI individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Violence against LGBTI individuals remained a problem. Societal discrimination and harassment of LGBTI persons were widespread despite advances in the legal framework protecting such individuals. LGBTI refugees and migrants reported incidents of rape, physical violence, and discrimination perpetrated by other refugees and migrants, and reported that authorities and NGOs did not adequately investigate these crimes. LGBTI activists alleged that authorities were not always motivated to investigate incidents of violence against LGBTI individuals and that victims were hesitant to report such incidents to the authorities due to a lack of trust.
In 2018 the RVRN recorded 18 attacks based on sexual orientation and 11 based on gender identity. In one incident the perpetrator was a law enforcement official who targeted a Greek transgender woman. Among the recorded assaults on grounds of sexual orientation, one incident of rape was reported. Six of the incidents resulted in injuries and were combined with verbal attacks and threats. In one of those cases, the victim was a minor male. Of the 11 incidents recorded on grounds of gender identity, three involved physical violence combined with threats and verbal assault. According to information communicated to the RVRN for the calendar year 2018, Hellenic Police recorded 226 incidents potentially involving racist motives, 40 of which were related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
On July 29, the Newspaper of the Journalists reported on the case of a male couple from Switzerland who, on their exit from a gay bar on the island of Mykonos, were kicked and punched by eight unknown male perpetrators. The victims said no one helped them, although there were witnesses.
On January 28, a first-instance court issued a guilty verdict against Metropolitan of Kalavryta and Aegialia Amvrosios for public calls to violence, hate speech, and abuse of his position in the church. The decision overturned a previous court’s decision to acquit Amvrosios. The court sentenced him to a seven-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 10,000 euros ($11,000).
On February 27, the Supreme Court prosecutor ordered a probe into the attempted eviction by the same metropolitan of an elderly man from a church-run retirement home for allegedly being gay.
Unmarried transgender individuals older than age 15 may update identity documents to reflect their gender identity without undergoing sex reassignment surgery. The law requires that a judge validate the change based on the individual’s external appearance. In 2018 the NGO Transgender Support Association (SYD) issued a press statement saying that judicial officials often failed to properly apply this law. The SYD alleged that judges did not always secure the necessary privacy for the hearing and often used derogatory language and employed an intimidating stance toward transgender individuals and their lawyers. On February 19, media reported that a civil court on Lesvos Island allowed a Bangladeshi transgender refugee woman to change all her identification documents to match her appearance.
At the start of the seventh annual LGBTI Pride parade in Thessaloniki, two gay men were pushed into the sea. Six days later, media reported police had launched an investigation into the incident. Twenty-two locally based Christian associations announced that they would boycott businesses sponsoring the Thessaloniki Pride event.
While the law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment of HIV-positive individuals, societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. Persons with HIV/AIDS were exempt from serving in the armed forces on medical grounds. A presidential decree authorizes the dismissal of professional military staff members if a member diagnosed with AIDS does not respond to treatment, but there were no reports of military staff dismissals under this provision.
On March 11, unknown arsonists attacked the premises of the NGO Positive Voice, which hosted a facility that conducted HIV tests for free. The perpetrators also removed the rainbow flag from the facade.
On April 13, media reported the Labor Inspectorate fined a private company that refused to accept the services of an HIV-positive employee who returned to work after long-term sick leave. The case reached the ombudsman’s office, which found the company violated the antidiscrimination law and recommended a fine. The company tried unsuccessfully to prove it was unaware of the employee’s health problem, while citing his professional inefficiency as the reason for the dismissal. During mediation talks with the Labor Inspectorate, the employer offered the employee the option to return at work but with less favorable terms, which he refused.