Reception and identification procedure

Greece

Country Report: Reception and identification procedure Last updated: 30/11/20

Author

Greek Council for Refugees Visit Website

The European Union policy framework: ‘hotspots’

 

The “hotspot approach” was first introduced in 2015 by the European Commission in the European Agenda on Migration as an initial response to the exceptional flows.  Its adoption was part of the immediate action to assist Member States, which were facing disproportionate migratory pressures at the EU’s external borders and was presented as a solidarity measure.

The initial objective of the “hotspot approach” was to assist Italy and Greece by providing comprehensive and targeted operational support, so that the latter could fulfill their obligations under EU law and swiftly identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants, channel asylum seekers into asylum procedures, implement the relocation scheme and conduct return operations.

For the achievement of this goal, EU Agencies, namely the EASO, Frontex, Europol and Eurojust, work alongside the Greek authorities within the context of the hotspots.  The hotspot approach was also expected to contribute to the implementation of the temporary relocation scheme, proposed by the European Commission in September 2015.  Therefore, hotspots were envisaged initially as reception and registration centres, where all stages of administrative procedures concerning newcomers – identification, reception, asylum procedure or return – would take place swiftly within their scope.

Five hotspots, under the legal form of First Reception Centres – now Reception and Identification Centres (RIC) – were inaugurated in Greece on the following islands:

Hotspot

Start of operation

Capacity

Occupancy

Lesvos

 October 2015

2,840

18,615

Chios

February 2016

1,014

5,782

Samos

March 2016

648

7,765

Leros

March 2016

860

2,496

Kos

June 2016

816

3,765

Total

6,178

38,423

 

Source: National Coordination Centre for Border Control, Immigration and Asylum, Situation as of 31 December 2019, https://bit.ly/2vWqvAr.

The total capacity of the five hotspot facilities was initially planned to be 7,450 places.  However, according to official data available by the end of 2019, their capacity has been reduced to 6,178 places. In any event and as the official data show, these facilities on the Islands remain significantly overcrowded.

In March 2016, the adoption of the highly controversial EU-Turkey Statement committing “to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU”,  brought a transformation of the so-called hotspots on the Aegean islands. 

With the launch of the EU-Turkey Statement, hotspot facilities turned into closed detention centres. People arriving after 20 March 2016 through the Aegean islands, and thus subject to the EU-Turkey Statement, were automatically de facto detained within the premises of the hotspots in order to be readmitted to Turkey in case they did not seek international protection or their applications were rejected, either as inadmissible under the Safe Third Country or First Country of Asylum concepts, or on the merits. Following criticism by national and international organisations and actors, as well as due to the limited capacity to maintain and run closed facilities on the islands with high numbers of people, the practice of blanket detention has largely been abandoned from the end of 2016 onwards. It has been replaced by a practice of systematic geographical restriction, i.e. an obligation not to leave the island and reside at the hotspot facility, which is imposed indiscriminately to every newly arrived person (see Freedom of Movement).

Since April 2016, namely following the launch of the EU-Turkey Statement on 20 March 2016, and until 31 December 2019, 2,001 individuals had been returned to Turkey on the basis of the EU-Turkey Statement, of which, 801 in 2016, 683 in 2017, 322 in 2018 and 195 in 2019. In total, between 21 March 2016 and 31 December 2019, Syrian nationals account for 367 persons (18%) of those returned since 2016. 43 of them have been returned on the basis that their asylum claims were found inadmissible at second instance, on the basis of the “safe third country” concept. Moreover, of all those returned, 44% did not express a will to apply for asylum or withdrew their asylum applications in Greece. 

In this respect, it should be mentioned that on 28 February 2017, the European Union General Court gave an order, ruling that “the EU-Turkey Statement, as published by means of Press Release No 144/16, cannot be regarded as a measure adopted by the European Council, or, moreover, by any other institution, body, office or agency of the European Union, or as revealing the existence of such a measure that corresponds to the contested measure.” Therefore “the Court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the lawfulness of an international agreement concluded by the Member States”.  The order became final on 12 September 2018, as an appeal lodged before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) was rejected. 

 

The domestic framework: Reception and Identification Centres

 

The hotspot approach is implemented in Greece through the legal framework governing the reception and identification procedure under L 4375/2016. In practice, the concept of reception and identification procedures for newly arrived people under Greek law predates the “hotspot” approach.

The 2010 Greek Action Plan on Asylum already provided that third-country nationals should be subjected to first reception procedures upon entry. The competent authority to provide such services was the First Reception Service (FRS), established by L 3907/2011. First reception procedures included:
(a) Identity and nationality verification;
(b) Registration;
(c) Medical examination and any necessary care and psychosocial support;
(d) Provision of proper information about newcomers’ obligations and rights, in particular about the conditions under which they can access the asylum procedure; and
(e) Identification of those who belong to vulnerable groups so that they be given the proper procedure.

This approach was first implemented by the First Reception Centre (FRC) set up in Evros in 2013,  which has remained operational to date even though it has not been affected by the hotspot approach. The Joint Ministerial Decision 2969/2015 issued in December 2015 provided for the establishment of five FRCs in the Eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Kos, Chios, Samos and Leros,  the regulation of which was provided by existing legislation regarding the First Reception Service.  However, this legislative act failed to respond to and regulate all the challenges arising within the scope of hotspots’ functions. As a result, issues not addressed by the existing legal framework, for example the involvement of EU Agencies in different procedures, long remained in a legislative vacuum.

In the light of the EU-Turkey statement of 18 March 2016, the Greek Parliament adopted on 3 April 2016 a law “On the organisation and operation of the Asylum Service, the Appeals Authority, the Reception and Identification Service, the establishment of the General Secretariat for Reception, the transposition into Greek legislation of the provisions of Directive 2013/32/EU, provisions on the employment of beneficiaries of international protection and other provisions”. This reform was passed through L 4375/2016.

L 4375/2016 has partially attempted to regulate the establishment and function of hotspots and the procedures taking place there. However, national legislation has failed to effectively regulate the involvement of the EU Agencies, for example Frontex agents.  Following the enactment of L 4375/2016, the FRS was succeeded by the Reception and Identification Service (RIS). The RIS is currently subsumed under the Special Secretariat of Reception of the Ministry of Citizenship.  The IPA, in force since 1 January 2020, regulates the functioning of the RICs and the conduct of the reception and identification procedure with a similar way. 

According to Article 8(2) L 4375/2016, the RIS is responsible for “Registration, identification and data verification procedures, medical screening, identification of vulnerable persons, the provision of information, especially for international or another form of protection and return procedures, as well as the temporary stay of third-country nationals or stateless persons entering the country without complying with the legal formalities and their further referral to the appropriate reception or temporary accommodation structures.”  

Article 39 IPA, in force since 1 January 2020, provides that:

“All third-country nationals and stateless persons who enter without complying with the legal formalities in the country, shall be submitted to reception and identification procedures.”  Reception and identification procedures include five stages: 
1. Information on rights and obligations, transfer to other facilities, the possibility to seek protection or voluntary return, in a language the person understands and in an accessible manner, by the Information Unit of the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) or by the Police, Coast Guard or Armed Forces in case of mass arrivals;
2. Channelling to reception and identification procedure: According to the law, newly arrived persons should be directly transferred to a RIC, where they are subject to a 5-day “restriction of freedom within the premises of the centre” (περιορισμός της ελευθερίας εντός του κέντρου), which can be further extended by a maximum of 25 days if reception and identification procedures have not been completed.  This restriction of freedom entails “the prohibition to leave the Centre and the obligation to remain in it”.  Such a restriction is ordered on the basis of a written, duly motivated decision;
3. Registration and medical checks, including Identification of vulnerable groups;
4. Referral to the asylum procedure: As soon as asylum applications are made, the Special Rapid Response Units (Ειδικά Κλιμάκια Ταχείας Συνδρομής) of the Asylum Service distribute the cases according to country of origin. Subsequently, they proceed to prioritisation of applications according to nationality (see Prioritised Examination);
5. Further referral and transfer to other reception or detention facilities depending on the circumstances of the case.

 

Reception and identification procedures on the islands

 

As regards persons arriving on the Eastern Aegean islands and thus subject to the EU-Turkey Statement, as mentioned above, at the early stages of the implementation of the Statement, a detention measure was systematically and indiscriminately imposed to all newcomers. More precisely, such measure was imposed either de facto, under the pretext of a decision restricting the freedom within the premises of the RIC for a period of 25 days, or under a deportation decision together with a detention order.

Following criticism by national and international organisations and actors, and due to limited capacity to maintain and run closed facilities on the islands with high numbers of populations,  the “restriction of freedom” within the RIC premises as a de facto detention measure is no longer applied in the RIC of Lesvos, Chios, Samos Leros and Kos, as of the end of 2016. In most cases, newly arrived persons are allowed to exit the RIC, at least after some days. For example, in Lesvos, as of December 2019, newcomers remain restricted in the sector used by the RIS within the RIC, until reception and identification procedures are conducted, almost within 3-5 days. Up until the conclusion of reception and identification procedures, a geographical restriction is systematically imposed on every newly arrived person on the Greek islands, initially by the police and subsequently by the Asylum Service, imposing the obligation to remain on the islands and the RIC facilities. For more details on the geographical limitation on the Greek Eastern Aegean Islands, see Reception Conditions, Freedom of movement.

In practice, those arriving on the Greek islands and falling under the EU-Turkey Statement are subject to a “restriction of freedom of movement” decision issued by the Head of the RIC .  The decision is revoked once the registration by the RIC is completed, usually within a couple of days. At the same time, a removal decision “based on the readmission procedure” and a pre-removal detention order are issued by the competent Police Directorate upon arrival, parallel to the decision of the Head of the RIC. The removal decision and detention order are respectively suspended by a “postponement of deportation” decision of the General Regional Police Director.  The latter decision imposes a geographical restriction, ordering the individual not to leave the island and to reside – in most cases – in the RIC or another accommodation facility on the island until the end of the asylum procedure. Once the asylum application is lodged, the same geographical restriction is imposed by the Asylum Service. For more details on the geographical limitation on the Greek Eastern Aegean Islands, see Reception Conditions, Freedom of Movement. It is due to this practice of indiscriminate and en mass imposition of the geographical limitation measures to newly arrived persons on the islands that a significant deterioration of the living conditions on the islands has occurred. Newly arrived persons are obliged to reside for prolonged periods in overcrowded facilities, where food and water supply is reported insufficient, sanitation is poor and security highly problematic, while their mental health is aggravated (see Reception Conditions).

On the islands of Lesvos, Kos and to a certain extent Leros, the policy of automatic detention upon arrival, persists for newly arrived persons who belong to a so-called “low recognition rate” nationality and, who are still immediately detained upon arrival pursuant to the “pilot project”, despite their explicit wish to apply for asylum and without prior application of reception and identification procedures as provided for by the law (see Detention: 2. Detention policy following the EU-Turkey statement, 21. Pilot Project).

Moreover, unaccompanied children, as a rule, are prohibited from moving freely on the islands and remain in the RIC under “restriction of liberty” or in “protective custody”. They spend lengthy periods in the RIC while waiting for a place in age-appropriate shelters or other facilities (see Detention of Vulnerable Applicants).

In sum and as stated by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA): 

“given that new arrivals on the Greek islands will continue, the past three years have shown that the manner in which the hotspot approach is applied in Greece is not sustainable from a fundamental rights point of view […] Keeping new arrivals in facilities at the border implies interferences with a number of fundamental rights”.

Since the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement all newcomers are registered by the RIS.  In 2019, the registration of the newcomers carried out by the RIS on the island RICs has been conducted within few days, however significant shortcomings and delays occur in the provision of medical and psychosocial assessment/services as required by law, due to the insufficient number of medical staff working in the RIC on the islands (see also Identification) and the persisting severe overcrowding. As stated in 2019 by the CoE’s Commissioner for Human Rights “there is a desperate lack of medical care and sanitation in the vastly overcrowded camps I have visited”.     

On 20 November 2019, the Greek authorities have announced a plan to replace RICs facilities on the islands with “closed facilities” (closed RICs and pre-removal detention centres) with a total capacity of at least 18,000 places and to detain all newly arrived persons there, including families, vulnerable applicants etc., upon arrival, during the reception identification procedures and up until the competition of the asylum procedure or the removal of the person, respectively.  With a letter addressed to the Greek Authorities on 25 November 2019, the CoE Commissioner for Human Rights requested further clarifications regarding the government’s announcement.  Said plan has not been implemented as of the end of April 2020, due to inter alia the reaction of the local communities on the islands. 

As of 26 January 2020, in the context of implementing the IPA and following the visit of the Minister for Migration and Asylum,  all the newly arrived persons on the island of Kos are immediately subject to detention in the Kos Pre-removal Detention Facility (PRDF), with the exception of UACs. For example, and as far as GCR is aware, following a mission on the island of Kos conducted on 11 to 14 February 2020, the first group of individuals, who have been detained upon their arrival on 26 January 2020 consisted of 55 nationals of Syria, Palestine and Somalia. Until 12 February 2020, there were 355 detainees at the PRDF. More recent information was not available.

Procedures followed for those arrived in March 2020 (suspension of access to asylum)

As mentioned in Suspension of access to the Asylum Procedure on the basis of the Emergency Legislative Order (March 2020), tensions erupted at the Greek-Turkish land borders since the end of February 2020 due to an increased movement of thousands of persons, encouraged by the Turkish authorities.  On 2 March 2020, the Greek authorities issued an Emergency Legislative Order (Πράξη Νομοθετικού Περιεχομένου, ΠΝΠ) which foresees the suspension of asylum applications for those who arrived “illegaly” between 1 March 2020 and 31 March 2020. According to the Emergency Legislative order these persons are to be subject to return to their country of origin or transit “without registration.  

As far as GCR is aware, on the islands and following the issuance of the Emergency Legislative Order, persons arrived after 1 March 2020, were not transferred to the RIC facilities and were not subject to reception and identification procedure. Instead some of them faced penal prosecution due to “illegal entry” while others are subject of administrative detention in different places on the Islands and they do not have access to the asylum procedure.

As of mid-March 2020, the Union of Police Officers of the Islands of Lesvos, Chios Samos and of North and South Dodecanese reported that the situation was as follows:  
 In Lesvos more than 450 people arrived since 1 March 2020. They are detained on a naval vessel at Lesvos port in significant substandard conditions and are refused to lodge asylum claims.  The naval vessel departed on 14 March 2020 from Lesvos and persons have been transferred for further detention to the mainland (Malakasa).
 On Chios island, 258 persons have arrived after 1 March 2020. 136 are detained in a municipal building with only one toilet, while 122 are detained in an open area of the Port and inside a police bus, which are used in order to sleep, but only have two chemical toilets.
 In Samos, 93 persons were detained in a room of Samos Port Authority without access to toilet or water.
 In Symi island (administrative jurisdiction of Kos), 21 persons remained at the balcony of the Police Station.
 In Kos, 150 persons are detained in the waiting room of the Port, with access to two toilets.
 In Leros, 252 persons remain detained in a semi-covered part of the Port with access to two chemical toilets.

The Unions of the Police Officers of said islands, underlined that “the areas where foreigners are detained do not meet the very basic standards of hygiene and security, neither for people remaining there (lack of water, toilets, concentration of a lot of people in small places without ventilation, no personal hygienic ets.) nor for duty police officers responsible for guarding them”.  

By the end of March 2020, those arrived on the Greek islands during March 2020 have been transferred in two new detention facilities on the mainland, specifically established to that end (Malakasa and Serres).  As reported at the beginning of April 2020 these two facilities have been turned into open facilities. 

Procedures followed on the islands amid the COVID-19 outbreak

In addition to those who arrived during March 2020 and who were subject to the Emergency Legislative Order suspending the access to asylum procedure (and accordingly where not transferred to RICs but detained and transferred to mainland), those arrived since April 2020 on the Greek Islands are subject  to a 14-day quarantine so as to prevent the potential spread of the virus, prior to their transfer to RICs in order to undergo reception and identification procedures.

As specific places/sites were not available to that end, individuals subject to the 14 days quarantine had to remain at the point of the arrival in a number of cases, i.e. in isolated beaches or in other inadequate locations, inter alia ports, buses etc.  However, a dedicated site for these purposes has been in operation since 8 May 2020 in Lesvos.   

Actors present in the RIC

On top of civil society organisations, a number of official actors are present in the RIC facilities on the islands, including RIS, Frontex, Asylum Service, EASO and the Hellenic Police.

Police: The Police is responsible for guarding the external area of the hotspot facilities, as well as for the identification and verification of nationalities of newcomers. According to the IPA, the registration of the applications of international protection, the notification of the decisions and other procedural documents, as well as the registration of appeals, may be carried out by police staff.   Moreover, in exceptional circumstances, the interviews of the applicants under the “fast track border procedure” may be carried out by police staff, provided that they have received the necessary basic training in the field of international human rights law, the EU asylum acquis and interview techniques.  Decisions on applications for international protection are always taken by the Asylum Service, however.

Frontex: Frontex staff is also engaged in the identification and verification of nationality. Although Frontex should have an assisting role, it conducts nationality screening almost exclusively in practice, as the Greek authorities lack relevant capacity such as interpreters. The conduct of said procedures by Frontex is defined by an internal regulation. It should be noted that, even though the Greek authorities may base their decision concerning the nationality of a newcomer exclusively on an assessment by Frontex, documents issued by the latter are considered to be ‘non-paper’ and thereby inaccessible to individuals. Assessments by Frontex are thus extremely difficult to challenge in practice.

UNHCR/IOM: Information to newly arrived persons is provided by UNHCR and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) staff.

Asylum Service: According to L 4375/2016, those registered by the RIS expressing their will to seek international protection shall be referred to the competent Regional Asylum Office or Asylum Units, in order to have their claims registered and processed. According to IPA, currently in force, the Asylum Service has presence in the hotspots. Specifically, “(a) third-country national or stateless person wishing to seek international protection, shall be referred to the competent Regional Asylum Office, Unit of which may operate in the RIC; (b) both the receipt of applications and the interviews of applicants may take place within the premises of the RIC, in a place where confidentiality is ensured”.

EASO: EASO is also engaged in the asylum procedure. EASO experts have a rather active role within the scope of the Fast-Track Border Procedure, as they conduct first instance personal interviews, they issue opinions regarding asylum applications and they are also involved in the vulnerability assessment procedure. Following a legislative reform in 2018, Greek-speaking EASO personnel can also conduct any administrative action for processing asylum applications, including in the Regular Procedure.  Following a mission conducted in Greece in 2019, ECRE published a report in November 2019 which provides a detailed overview on the role of EASO in Greece.

RIS: The RIS previously outsourced medical and psychosocial care provision to NGOs until mid-2017. Since then, the provision of said services have been undertaken by the Ministry of Health, throughout different entities under its supervision. At the end of 2019, the National Organisation for Public Health (Εθνικός Οργανισμός Δημόσιας Υγείας, ΕΟΔΥ), a private entity supervised and funded directly by the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity,  was the competent body for the provision of medical and psychosocial services. Serious shortcomings have been noted in 2019 due to the insufficient number of medical staff in the RIC (see also Identification).

 

Reception and identification procedures in Evros

 

People arriving through the Evros border are not subject to the EU-Turkey statement. Therefore, they are not subject to the fast-track border procedure, their claims are not examined under the safe third country concept, and they are not imposed a geographical restriction upon release.

Persons entering Greece through the Greek-Turkish land border in Evros are subject to reception and identification procedures at the RIC of Fylakio, Orestiada, which is the only RIC that continues to operate as a closed facility. People transferred to the RIC in Fylakio are subject to a “restriction of freedom of movement” applied as a de facto detention measure, meaning that they remain restricted within the premises of the RIC.

Depending on the number of arrivals, new arrivals, including families and children, once detected and apprehended by the authorities may be firstly transferred to a border guard police station or the pre-removal centre in Fylakio, where they remain in detention (so called ‘pre-RIC detention’) pending their transfer to the RIC Fylakio. Prolonged ‘pre-RIC detention’ has occurred in instances where new arrivals surpassed the accommodation capacity of RIC Fylakio.  Their detention “up to the time that [the person] will be transferred to Evros (Fylakio) RIC in order to be subject to reception and identification procedures”, as justified in the relevant detention decisions, has no legal basis in national law (see Grounds for Detention). By the end of 2019, the period of pre-RIC detention has been limited to several days as far as GCR is aware.

According to official data, as of 31 December 2019 the capacity of Fylakio RIC was 240 places, while at the same date there were 391 persons remaining there.  

In 2019, a number of 14,257 persons were registered by the Fylakio RIC, out of which 731 of have been identified as belonging to a vulnerable group. Reception and identification procedures, including vulnerability assessment are reported to be conducted in one week on average.

After the maximum period of 25 days, newly arrived persons are released, with the exception of those referred to pre-removal detention facilities, where they are further detained in view of removal. As mentioned by UNHCR, “[a]t times of overcrowding in the RIC in Evros, new arrivals may be directed to detention facilities in the region instead of the RIC. A number of persons from so-called ‘refugee-producing countries’ may be directly released, with a 6-month suspension of the deportation decision, but without having had the opportunity to apply for asylum”.  Upon release, asylum seekers from Evros are not referred by the State to open reception facilities due to lack of space and the priority given to referrals from the islands.

Unaccompanied children may remain in the RIC of Fylakio for a period exceeding the maximum period of 25 days under the pretext of “protective custody”, while waiting for a place in a reception facility to be made available. As stated by UNHCR in 2019, Fylakio RIC “often has an average of 100 to 140 UAC staying under ‘protective custody’ beyond the 25 days and up to 3-5 months. During this period, the children are restricted in a facility without adequate medical and psychosocial services and without access to recreational and educational activities. Due to overcrowding, they stay together with families and adults, at risk of exposure to exploitation and abuse. UNHCR has observed gaps in the age registration procedure followed by the police and Frontex as well as in the referral to the age assessment procedure, which is applied contrary to the provisions provided in Greek law, which foresees a step-by-step and holistic assessment by the medical and psychosocial support unit in the RIC defining the referral to the hospital as the last step and only if the medical and psychosocial assessment in the RIC is not conclusive. In practice, the medical and psychosocial assessment in the RIC is skipped and a referral takes place directly to the hospital for an x-ray assessment, which usually concludes that the child is an adult”.

In 2019, 371 unaccompanied children were registered in the RIC of Fylakio, while the average waiting period to be transferred to appropriate accommodation was six months.  

Procedures followed for those arrived in March 2020 (suspension of access to asylum)

As mentioned in Suspension of access to the Asylum Procedure on the basis of the Emergency Legislative Order (March 2020), following the tensions that erupted at the Greek-Turkish land border,  the Greek authorities issued an Emergency Legislative Order on 2 March 2020 which suspended access to asylum for those who arrived “illegaly” (sic) between 1 March 2020 and 31 March 2020. According to the Order, newly arrived persons subject to this Order, are subject to return to their country of origin or transit “without registration.   As far as GCR is aware, newly arrived persons during March, were not subject to reception and identification procedures nor did they have access to the asylum procedure. They were prosecuted for “illegal entry” and depending of the decision of the Penal Court, they either remain in penal custody or are (administratively) detained in pre-removal detention facilities.

As reported in the media, the Penal Court in Orestiada (Evros) has found 30 newly arrived persons, (15 men and 15 women) guilty for “illegal entry” on 2 March 2020. According to this information, all men have been sentenced to three to four years of imprisonment and a fine of €10,000, while the women have been sentenced to a €5,000 fine and suspended prison sentence of 3 years. Moreover, on 1 March 2020, 17 newly arrived men of Afghan origin were sentenced to 3,5 years of imprisonment and a €10,000 fine.  A total of 410 persons were reportedly arrested in the Evros Region (Greek – Turkish land borders) between 29 February and 16 March 2020.      

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation