Greek Council for Refugees

In 2016, the number of asylum seekers and other third-country nationals detained in pre-removal detention facilities in Greece was as follows:

Administrative detention: 1 January – 31 December 2016


Total third-country nationals

Out of which, asylum seekers

Detentions ordered in December 2016



Total detentions ordered



Source: Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 21 January 2017.

According to the Coordination Body for the Management of the Refugee Crisis, the number of persons in pre-removal detention centres in the mainland at any given day fluctuated from 1,998 to 2,080 detainees throughout December 2016. On 3 January 2017, the occupancy of the mainland pre-removal centres was 1,996.1

The number of asylum applications submitted from detention in 2016 was 2,829 and represented 5.5% of the total number (51,091) of asylum applications in Greece. In 2015, 2,543 applications were submitted from detention out of a total 13,195 applications.2 The average processing time of first applications by detainees was 72 days in the period 2015-2016.3


The fate of the 2015 detention policy

Following a change of policy announced at the beginning of 2015,4 and despite the fact that some of the major provisions have not been applied, including the use of alternatives to detention, the revocation of the Ministerial Decision allowing for detention beyond 18 months and the closure of Amygdaleza Detention Centre, the numbers of detained people have been reduced significantly during 2015. In November 2015, the number of administratively detained third-country nationals in pre-removal facilities were reported at 504, while during the same period in 2014, there were 4,123 detainees in pre-removal facilities, or 6,283 detainees including persons detained at police stations.5

However, even with a relatively small number of detainees, structural problems with regard to the use of immigration detention in Greece persisted. As the Ombudsman stated in a report covering the 2015 reporting period, police authorities perceived the maximum 6-month immigration detention period “not as a limit but as a rule”, failed to seek alternatives to detention and to initiate an individualised procedure for each third-country national detained. At the same time, “detention appear[ed] to continue in cases where the implementation of the return of the third-country national is not possible” and contradicting practices were mentioned as administrative treatment of newly arrived third country nationals.6

Retractions of the policy aiming to reduce immigration detention were observed at the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016. At that time, and as border restrictions were applied along the so-called “Balkan route”, highly problematic detention practices were reported. For example, in December 2015, following:

“A new police verbal order regarding the detention of North African nationals (Maghreb Arabs)... [d]etention is being applied on the islands against Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians in accordance with the order. The situation remained volatile on Lesvos as 600-700 North Africans were unable to leave the island as a result of a police directive [...] Some 300 North Africans have been transferred to the pre-removal facility in Corinth.”7

The closure of the Greek-FYROM border in March 2016 led to a significant pressure over the Asylum Service, exceeding its real capacity and its ability to register new asylum claims.8 As a result, a number of individuals have found themselves detained due to the fact that they could not have access to the asylum procedure and their temporary documentation had expired.


Detention policy following the EU-Turkey statement

The launch of the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement has had an important impact on detention, resulting in a significant toughening of the practices applied in the field. For example, a policy of mandatory (blanket) detention of all newly arrived third-country nationals was put in place for the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement,9 followed by the imposition of an obligation to remain on the island, known as “geographical restriction”. To this end, it should be mentioned that out of a total number of 21,566 detention orders issued in 2016, as many as 18,114 detention orders (84%) were issued after the 20 March 2016.10

In the summer of 2016, and as the number of people with an obligation to remain on the islands due to the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement was constantly growing, a Police Circular issued on 18 June 2016 provided that third-country nationals residing on the islands with “law-breaking conduct” (παραβατική συμπεριφορά), will be transferred, on the basis of a decision of the local Director of the Police, approved by the Directorate of the Police, to pre-removal detention centres in the mainland where they will remain detained.11

Let alone any reservation as to whether in this case the administrative measure of immigration detention is used with a view to circumventing procedural safeguards established by criminal law,12 GCR findings on-site do not confirm allegations of “law-breaking conduct” in the vast majority of the case to the attention of GCR.

According to the data available, more than 1,600 third-country nationals have been transferred from the islands to pre-removal detention centres in the mainland in 2016:

Third-country nationals transferred from the islands to mainland pre-removal detention facilities: 2016


Attica region




East Macedonia






























Source: Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 21 January 2017.

At the end of 2016, approximately 2,000 persons remained in detention in pre-removal facilities in the mainland, excluding persons detained on the islands and in others facilities in the mainland such as police stations. At the same time, as announced by the Ministry of Migration Policy on 28 December 2016,13 and described in the Joint Action Plan on the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement on 8 December 2016,14 the construction of new detention centres on the island, in order to increase detention capacity, is planned to take place with EU support “as soon as possible”.

In February 2017 a pre-removal detention facility was established on the island of Kos under a Joint Ministerial Decision,15 and is expected to start operating by the end of March 2017 with a capacity of about 150 places.16 According to official estimations, the cost for the construction and the operation of the centre in 2017 will be of about €10 million.

  • 1. Coordination Body for the Refugee Crisis, Summary statement of refugee flows, 3 January 2017, available at:
  • 2. Asylum Service, Information provided to the State Legal Council and Ministry of Migration Policy, 25 January 2017, available in Greek at:
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reconstruction, ‘Joint Press Release of Alternate Ministers of Interior and Administrative Reconstruction, Mr Yianni Panousi, and Ms. Anastassia Christodoulopoulou, regarding the Detention Centres’, 17 February 2015, available in in Greek:
  • 5. Greek Ombudsman, Return of third-country nationals Special Report 2015, March 2016, available in Greek at:, 6-10. No data are available with regard to the number of persons administratively detained in police stations since 2015.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. UNHCR, Greece Refugee Emergency Response – Update #8, 29 November – 31 December 2015, available at:, 2.
  • 8. Asylum Service, Document n. 5838/14.4.2016, 14 April 2016. The document mentions in Greek: “Η Υπηρεσία Ασύλου καλείται καθημερινά να εξυπηρετήσει χιλιάδες ανθρώπους, πράγμα που ξεπερνά κατά πολύ τις αντικειμενικές δυνατότητες της.”
  • 9. UNHCR, ‘UNHCR redefines role in Greece as EU-Turkey deal comes into effect’, 22 March 2016, available at:
  • 10. Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 21 January 2017.
  • 11. Directorate of the Hellenic Police, “Εγκύκλιος ΕΛΑΣ 1604/16/1195968/18-6-2016 Διαχείριση παράτυπων αλλοδαπών στα Κέντρα Υποδοχής και Ταυτοποίησης, διαδικασίες Ασύλου, υλοποίηση Κοινής Δήλωσης ΕΕ-Τουρκίας της 18ης Μαρτίου 2016 (πραγματοποίηση επανεισδοχών στην Τουρκία)”, available in Greek at: See also inter alia Kathimerini, ‘Islands “suffocating” due to the refugee issue’, 23 August 2016, available in Greek at:
  • 12. See e.g. Valeria Ilareva, Immigration Detention in International Law and Practice, Statewatch, January 2008, available at:, 3; Philippe de Bruycker (ed.), Alternatives to Immigration and Asylum Detention in EU, Odysseus Network, 2015, 19-20.
  • 13. Ministry of Migration Policy, ‘Opening Statement of the Minister of Migration Policy at a Press Conference on recent developments on the refugee and migration issue’, 28 December 2016, available in Greek at:
  • 14. European Commission, Joint Action Plan on the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, COM(2016) 792, 8 December 2016, para 18.
  • 15. Joint Ministerial Decision 8038/23/22-ξε, Gov. Gazette B’ 332/7.2.2017, available at:
  • 16. Efsyn, ‘Εκατόν πενήντα λυόμενα σε Κω, Λέσβο και Σάμο’, 20 February 2017, available in Greek at:

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti