The Council of Europe has slammed Greece over its “unacceptable” treatment of illegal immigrants, saying that conditions were deteriorating at police stations and detention centres across the country.

The council’s committee for the prevention of torture, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment said on Tuesday that Greek authorities had ignored its recommendations, while at the same time claiming they were taking measures to improve the situation.

At the Filakion detention centre close to Greece’s land border with Turkey, migrants “including juveniles and families with young children were kept locked up for weeks and months in filthy, overcrowded, unhygienic conditions with no daily access to outdoor exercise,” the committee said.

Such conditions were “unacceptable and could even amount to inhuman and degrading treatment”, it said.

The citizens’ protection ministry rebuffed the committee’s criticism, saying it had “failed to recognise our country’s huge effort to face the thorny problem of illegal migration.”

“We are committed to ensuring conditions at reception centres…that provide a proper way of life. The government is working swiftly and effectively in this direction,” it said in a statement

More than 45,000 migrants entered Greece illegally from Turkey last year, putting available facilities under severe strain, according to the Greek police.

“We acknowledge that Greece faces a difficult situation with irregular immigration but nothing allows you to keep people in such conditions,” Mauro Palma, the committee’s outgoing president, told the FT.

Tuesday’s statement marked the first time that a European Union member state has faced public criticism by the committee. It has previously censured Turkey and Russia.

Earlier Council of Europe reports have detailed worsening conditions at overcrowded detention facilities and prisons in Greece.

“For the past six or seven years no progress has been made …No action was taken on our recommendations following missions to Greece and the information we received proved to be unreliable,” Mr Palma said.

Greece could be fined by the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg if it is found to have violated its obligations under a 1987 convention to prevent torture and inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees.

Several countries, including the UK and Sweden, have suspended co-operation with Athens on the “Dublin system” that allows EU authorities to send back migrants seeking refuge to the member state they entered first, citing concerns about their treatment in Greece.

Following criticism from EU partners, Greece has dropped a project announced in January to build a fence along the 200km length of the land border with Turkey to deter illegal crossings.

It still plans to fence off a 12.5km stretch of the frontier where most migrants enter, according to police.

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