The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said it had sent a report on substandard conditions at the Igoumenitsa lockup to Greek authorities after a visit in August. "It's one of the worst detention centers we've visited," said UNHCR protection officer Kalliopi Stefanaki. "Unfortunately, overcrowding, lack of fresh air and hygiene are not uncommon. We think (this ruling) should affect government policy."
Igoumenitsa has a ferry link to Italy, and is a main destination for illegal immigrants trying to stow aboard ships in a bid to reach western Europe.
For years, Greek authorities did little to stem the tide or ensure humane treatment and access to asylum proceedings for migrants. But under the double pressure of rising immigration-related crime and anti-immigrant sentiment that brought a xenophobic, quasi-neo-Nazi party to Parliament last year, the government in August started the drive to kick out illegal immigrants.
So far, more than 4,000 people have been interned in former military bases and crammed into police holding cells pending deportation, in an operation curiously code-named after Zeus Xenios, the ancient Greek god of strangers.
Under new laws, detainees can be held for up to 18 months before being served their deportation orders — which they have a couple of weeks to appeal.
Police said the 15 immigrants in the court ruling still face deportation, but have been transferred to a different holding location.
An officer said the initial facility had been used as a "temporary" measure since there had been no others available. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case with the media.