Detention of vulnerable applicants

Greece

Author

Greek Council for Refugees

National legislation provides a number of guarantees with regard to the detention of vulnerable persons, yet does not prohibit their detention. According to Article 46 L 4375/2016, women should be detained separately from men, the privacy of families in detention should be duly respected,1 and the detention of minors should be avoided. Moreover, according to the law, “the vulnerability of applicants… shall be taken into account when deciding to detain or to prolong detention.”2

More generally, Greek authorities have the positive obligation to provide special care to applicants belonging to vulnerable groups (see Reception Conditions: Special Reception Needs).3 However, persons belonging to vulnerable groups are detained in practice.  

 

Detention of victims of torture

The law provides for special assistance and rehabilitation for asylum seekers victims of torture, as well as the obligation on national authorities to refer them to specialised centres, preferably prior to the asylum interviews.4 As far as GCR is aware, such referrals of detainees have not taken place during 2016. Based on GCR findings on the mainland, victims of torture remain detained and only in very exceptional cases are they released due to their vulnerability.5

GCR has challenged the detention of a Syrian victim of torture before the Administrative Court of Corinth by submitting Objections against detention. While during the asylum interview the applicant had claimed that he was a victim of torture in his country of origin, and despite the fact that his claims had been considered credible by the Asylum Service, the latter declared the application inadmissible. An appeal against the rejection decision is now pending before the Appeals Authority. Inter alia, the applicant claimed before the Administrative Court that his detention is an onerous and disproportionate measure, aggravating his vulnerable situation, taking into consideration the fact that he is a victim of torture. The Administrative Court rejected the objections without any reference to the individual’s situation as a victim of torture.6

 

Unaccompanied or separated minors “as a rule should not be detained”, and their detention is permitted “only in very exceptional cases... as a last resort solution, only to ensure that they are safely referred to appropriate accommodation facilities for minors.”7 Nevertheless, national legislation does not explicitly prohibit detention of unaccompanied minors and the latter is applied in practice.

Due to the lack of accommodation facilities or transit facilities for minors, detention of unaccompanied minors either in detention facilities or in police stations (“protective custody”) is imposed systematically, may be prolonged for significant periods up to several months,8 and takes place in unacceptable detention conditions.9

According to the National Centre of Social Solidarity (EKKA), as of 28 December 2016, there were 1,256 accommodation places for minors, while a number of 1,443 unaccompanied children were on the waiting list for such place to be found (see Special Reception Needs). Out of those, 309 unaccompanied children were detained in “closed reception facilities” and 15 were detained “in protective custody”.10 One month later, 317 were in closed reception facilities and 4 in protective custody.11

The UΝ Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants mentioned during his follow-up visit to Greece in May 2016 referred to:

“[U]naccompanied children locked in police station cells 24/7 without access to the outdoors for over two weeks and was informed that some may stay for a month… the children were manifestly traumatised and distressed by the experience, as compared to children met in open reception centres and informal camps... As determined by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, detention can never ever be in the best interest of a child. Even under the guise of ‘protective custody’, it is utterly unacceptable for children to be administratively detained.”12  

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) communicated the case Sh. D. v. Greece on 15 March 2016, concerning among others an unaccompanied minor who was held under protective custody in the police station of Polygyros. A joint third party intervention to the case was submitted by the AIRE Centre, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and ECRE on 12 August 2016.13

 

Detention following wrong age assessment

Despite the fact that there are currently two Ministerial Decisions outlining age assessment procedures for unaccompanied children (see Identification), within the scope of the reception and identification procedures,14 and that of the asylum procedure,15 no age assessment procedure is provided by the national framework to be applied by the Hellenic Police for minors held in detention.

It seems that for age assessment of unaccompanied minors under their responsibility, police authorities systematically apply medical examinations (X-rays), at least in the mainland. In addition to the limited reliability and highly invasive nature of the method used, it should be noted that a policy of systematic age assessment procedures without due justification is not in line with legal safeguards afforded to children. Moreover, the documentation provided following age assessments in practice does not refer to the exact medical result / diagnosis, but only contains a statement that the person “after age assessment examinations has been considered to be mature of age”.16 No remedy in order to challenge such a procedure is in place. These shortcomings with regard to the age basement procedure may result, as already reported, have led to minors being wrongfully identified and registered, and to be placed in detention as adults.17

On several occasions, GCR has visited unaccompanied children detained under unacceptable detention conditions. Among others, in July 2016 GCR visited a group of 31 unaccompanied minors detained at Petrou Ralli detention facility, which according to European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) remains “totally inadequate for holding irregular migrants for prolonged periods”,18 and thus a fortiori for detaining unaccompanied children.19

In November 2016, GCR visited a group of 12 unaccompanied minors detained in Amygdaleza Special holding facility for unaccompanied minors, which “continues to operate like a police detention facility and is totally unsuitable to meet the needs of unaccompanied minor irregular migrants”, according to CPT’s recent findings.20

 

Detention of families

Despite the constant case law of the ECtHR with regard to the detention of families in the context of migration control,21 in particular after the launch of the EU-Turkey statement, families are detained. This is especially the case for families who due to the unacceptable living conditions prevailing on the islands (see Conditions in Reception Facilities) have left the latter without prior authorisation and are then detained on the mainland, with a view to be transferred back to the islands.

In the Police Circular of 18 June 2016, it is mentioned that against any third country national who, is detected in the mainland despite the obligation to remain on the islands, “detention measures will be set again in force and the person will be transferred back on the islands for detention – further management (readmission)”.22

Among others, GCR has supported cases of single-parent families,23 families with a minor child where parents were detained to different detention places,24 or families were the one member remained detained.25

  • 1. Article 46(10)(b) L 4375/2016.
  • 2. Article 46(8) L 4375/2016.
  • 3. Articles 17 and 20 PD 220/2007.
  • 4. See Articles 50 and 52 L 4375/2016.
  • 5. This is in particular the case where serious health issues arise in connection with their vulnerability: GCR, Documents 718/2016 and 53/2017.
  • 6. Administrative Court of Corinth, Decision 704/2016 (Presidential procedure).
  • 7. Article 46(10)(c) L 4375/2016.
  • 8. FRA, Opinion on fundamental rights in the hotspots in Greece and Italy, December 2016, 31.
  • 9. Ombudsman, Intervention of the Greek Ombudsman regarding unaccompanied minor refugees and migrants, 30 March 2016, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2jwBDwm.
  • 10. EKKA, Situation Update: Unaccompanied Children in Greece, 28 December 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2ksPa7M.
  • 11. EKKA, Situation Update: Unaccompanied Children in Greece, 27 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2ksCyNJ.
  • 12. OHCHR, ‘UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants concludes his follow up country visit to Greece’, 17 May 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/29RBj4X.
  • 13. The AIRE Centre, ICJ and ECRE, Third Party Intervention in Sh. D. and Greece, 12 August 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2dHxbYe.
  • 14. Joint Ministerial Decision 92490/2013 on the Programme for medical examination, psychosocial diagnosis and support and referral of third-country nationals entering without documentation to first reception facilities, Gov. Gazette 2745/B/29-10-2013, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/1Fl5OVT.
  • 15. Joint Ministerial Decision 1982/2016, Verification of minority of applicants for international protection, Gov. Gazette 335/B/16-12-2016, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2kS49Jf.
  • 16. In Greek “προκύψατε ώριμος ως προς την ηλικία”. Document on file with the author.
  • 17. Council of Europe, Report of the fact-finding mission by Ambassador Tomáš Boček special representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on migration and refugees to Greece and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, 7-11 March 2016, SG/Inf(2016)18, 26 April 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2c83xtb.
  • 18. CPT, Report to the Greek Government on the visit to Greece carried out from 14 to 23 April 2015 (hereafter “2015 Greece report”), CPT/Inf (2016) 4, 1 March 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2jYULSv, para 107.
  • 19. GCR, Document 400/2016.
  • 20. CPT, 2015 Greece report, 1 March 2016, para 106.
  • 21. See for example ECtHR, Mahmundi and Others v. Greece, Application No 14902/10, Judgment of 31 July 2012.
  • 22. 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: http://bit.ly/2ngIEj6.
  • 23. GCR, Document 485/2016 and 760/2016. See also Ombudsman, Document 223558/3231/2017.
  • 24. GCR, Document 508/2016.
  • 25. GCR, Document 497/2016.

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