Brexit nightmare: young Greek citizen detained at Heathrow for 7 days


Colnbrook Detention Centre, London
Colnbrook Detention Centre, London

The painful effects of Brexit were experienced, in the most nightmarish way, by a 26-year-old Greek man who travelled to London to see his girlfriend but was detained for a whole week because "he did not have a visa to work".

writes Yannis Andritsopoulos, London Correspondent of the Greek daily Ta Nea

Read the original article here

Reproduced with kind permission from Ta Nea

The unprecedented case, revealed today by "TA NEA", provoked protests from the Greek embassy in London, but also strong reactions from organizations working for the rights of EU citizens in Britain.

The young man was held for seven days in an immigrant detention centre outside Heathrow Airport. He was locked in a room without heating for up to twelve hours a day, while outside temperatures at night reached -3 degrees Celsius.

"I am shocked. "I do not know if I will be able to recover from the nightmare I lived", Sotiris Konstantakos told "TA NEA".

This is the first time since Brexit that a citizen of an EU  member state has been detained in Britain and deported for reasons related to the new immigration regime.

 

The 26-year-old’s ordeal began ​​on the afternoon of Wednesday, January 20, when he landed in Heathrow, planning to visit his girlfriend, who has been living in London for a month and a half.

"I came to spend two or three weeks with her. Some of my friends had advised me to tell the airport authorities that I was coming to find a job, on the grounds that if I said I was here for tourism they would not let me in because of the lockdown."

This "idea" turned out not to be the best… "Don’t you know that the UK has left the EU?", was the sharp response of the border police officer when the young man informed him that he had come to London "to see my girl and look for work".

Konstantakos, who lives in Piraeus and works as a waiter in a restaurant in Egaleo, could not imagine what would happen next.

"They took me to a restricted area and took my fingerprints. They took photos of me and removed my suitcases. Six hours later, after undergoing more than five physical examinations, they gave me a paper stating that I was not allowed to enter the country and took me to a facility outside the airport."

His detention conditions were anything but ideal.

"I was living in fear. I didn’t know when I would leave. I was desperate. I couldn't take it anymore. I was locked in a room which had no heating and had bars on the window from 9 pm to 8 am and again at noon for an hour.

The rest of the time I was in a larger area with other detainees. They had taken my cell phone and my belongings. They gave me an old cell phone with an English number, but the units ran out quickly and I could not call.

One night, I asked to pick up a phone and they would not let me. To get something out of my suitcase, I had to apply and wait 24 hours. Every time I asked the guards something, I got the same answer: they knew nothing.”

Konstantakos called his father in Piraeus, who notified the Greek Embassy. His psychological condition quickly deteriorated, as the return trip was constantly postponed.

"Initially, I was told that I would be deported on Friday.  Four hours before take-off, someone told me: "I have bad news, your flight has been cancelled". Afterwards, I learned that it had not been cancelled.

"It was just that the UK authorities had not taken care of my PCR test."

It should be noted for the record that it is the responsibility of the detention authorities to carry out  coronavirus tests on deportees.

"I was told that I would be detained for another three days and that I would fly with Aegean Airlines on Monday. This time, they did a PCR test on the Saturday. "

However, he was soon faced with another unpleasant surprise.

 "The flight departed at 12:15. I kept telling them that in the morning, but they insisted that the plane left at 4:30 p.m. Of course, I did not fly then either. Later, they again claimed that the route was cancelled. They lied to me."

Finally, the 26-year-old boarded an Aegean aircraft for Athens on Wednesday, accompanied by police,. Despite the troubles he had had  the day before, he was not given a new PCR test, and it seemed likely he would not be allowed to fly this time either.

Following the intervention of the Greek ambassador in London, Ioannis Raptakis, steps were taken to exempt him from the obligation to submit a negative test in order to be able to return to Greece after seven days of "captivity" at the infamous Kolnbrook Immigration Detention Center.

The most recent Prison Inspectors Report (April 2019, found that the safety of detainees in the Kolnbrook Centre had deteriorated since the last inspection. Bedding was reported to be in very poor condition, showers were broken, the toilets dirty and without seats.

Sotiris' family intends to take legal action against the British authorities. "I am just angry. They had no right to treat me like that. I was thrown into a room like a piece of garbage. I had done nothing wrong, but I was treated like a criminal," said the 26-year-old.

"My wife and I almost went crazy with anxiety. "I did not believe that this could happen to a European citizen," said his father, Vangelis Konstantakos.

A Greek diplomatic source spoke to "NEA" about "a series of mistakes and a strange indifference of the British authorities that led to the unjustified detention of the Greek citizen".

The embassy sent us a verbal statement to the Foreign Office in which it strongly protests against the fact that a Greek citizen was detained illegally for seven days, without informing the Greek authorities even being informed.

Strong reactions

The 26-year-old's adventure has caused a storm of reactions:

"We are deeply concerned that a European citizen has been deprived of his liberty and has detained for 7 days. Instead of sending him back to Greece, they locked him in a detention center. The Home Office has many instruments at its disposal. "Detention should be the last resort," Maike Bonn, founder of The3million,, told NEA.

"We are concerned that a Greek was detained for a week in a room without heating. No one should be detained under these conditions, regardless of their status. The border police do have significant powers and can detain citizens at will. There are also reports that they have denied entry to EU citizens who had the right to reside," said Roger Casale, founder and executive director of New Europeans.

"Entry for the purposes of finding work is no longer allowed without a visa and most likely leads to immediate detention and removal.  However, the 26-year-old's detention should have been as short as possible. Alternatively, they should have considered releasing him until the return trip.  It seems that the British authorities handled the matter in an extremely inadequate way," said Dagmar Mislinska, a lecturer in Immigration Law at Goldsmiths University.

The Home Office’s reply

Speaking to NEA, a spokesman for the British Home Office said:

"Citizens of the EU, the EEA and Switzerland can enter the United Kingdom for up to six months as visitors, provided they meet the entry requirements. The border police must be convinced that the passengers are genuine visitors.

“One of the conditions is that they do not intend to engage in prohibited activities, including working while in the United Kingdom.

"If the border police are not convinced that a passenger is a genuine visitor, they may refuse entry."

A British government source said that "Konstantakos was not allowed to enter because he intended to work without having the necessary entry permit".

The spokesperson did not respond to why the 26-year-old was detained for seven days, nor did they comment on the complaint that his

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