General

Greece

Country Report: General Last updated: 30/11/20

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Greek Council for Refugees Visit Website

As already mentioned, following the July 2019 elections, a more restrictive policy on migration and asylum, with a particular focus on detention has been announced.[1] The IPA voted in November 2019, and currently in force introduced extensive provisions on the detention of asylum seekers[2] and lower significant guarantees for the imposition of detention measures against asylum applicants, threatening to undermine the principle that detention of asylum seekers should only be applied exceptionally and as a measure of last resort.

The amendments introduced by the IPA with regards the detention of asylum seekers include:

  • The possibility of detaining asylum seekers even when they apply for international protection when not detained, on the basis of an extensive list of grounds justifying detention.[3]

Art. 46(2) IPA provides that an asylum seeker who has already applies for asylum at liberty may be detained:

(a) in order to determine or verify his or her identity or nationality or origin;

(b) in order to determine those elements on which the application for international protection is based which could not be obtained in the absence of detention, in particular when there is a risk of absconding of the applicant;

(c) when there is a risk of national security or public order;

(d) when there is a significant risk of absconding within the meaning of Art. 2(n) of Regulation (EU) 604/2013 and in order to ensure the implementation of the transfer procedure in accordance with the Dublin Regulation;

(f) in order to decide, in the context of a procedure, on the applicant’s right to enter the territory;  

  • The extension of the maximum time limits for the detention of asylum seekers.

According to Article 46 (5) IPA, the detention of an asylum seeker can be imposed for an initial period up to 50 days and it may be successively prolonged up a maximum time period of 18 months. Furthermore, according to Art. 46(5) IPA, the detention period in view of removal (return/deportation etc) is not calculated in the total time, and thus the total detention period of a third country national within the migration context may reach 36 months (18 months while the asylum procedure + 18 months in view of removal).

The possibility to extend the period of detention of asylum seekers up to 18 months, raises serious concerns as of its compliance with the obligation as a rule to impose asylum detention “only for as short a period as possible” and to effectuate asylum procedures with “due diligence” in virtue of Article 9 Directive 2013/33/EU.

  • The abolition of the safeguard to impose the detention of an asylum seeker only upon a prior recommendation of the Asylum Service.

L. 4375/2016 provided that the detention of an asylum seeker could only be imposed following a prior relevant recommendation of the Asylum Service, with the exception of cases that detention was ordered on public order grounds, in which the detention could be ordered directly by the Police Director. Art. 46(4) IPA abolished the requirement of a recommendation issued by the Asylum Service and provides that the detention of an asylum seeker on any ground is imposed directly by the Police upon prior information of the Asylum Service. As the Asylum Service is the only authority that may assess the need of detention based on the specific elements of the application and substantiate the grounds for detention as required by law, said amendment raises concerns inter alia as of the respect of the obligation for an individual assessment and the principle of proportionality before the detention of an asylum applicant. 

In late November 2019, the Greek authorities announced their intention to dramatically increase the detention capacity, in particular on the Aegean islands, by creating more than 18,000 detention places on the islands, and by imposing automatic detention upon arrival to all new arrivals.[4]

In May 2020, further amendments have been introduced to the legal framework of detention.[5]  As noted by UNHCR with regards the May 2020 amendment “the combination of reduced procedural safeguards with provisions related to the detention of asylum seekers and to the detention of those under forced return procedures, compromises the credibility of the system and is of high concern to UNHCR. The current Draft Law further extends the practice of detention, which is essentially turned into the rule while it should be the exception, both for asylum seekers and those under return. For the latter it should be noted that they may not have had an effective access to the asylum process or may have gone through an asylum process with reduced procedural safeguards”.[6]

No measures with regards the decongestion of detention facilities and the reduction of the number of detainees have been taken during the COVID-19 outbreak.[7] The proportionality/necessity of the detention measures have not been re-examined, despite the suspension of the returns to a numbers of country of origin or destination, including Turkey, and the delays occurred due to the suspension of the work of the Asylum Service, during the COVID-19 crisis.[8]

 

Statistics on detention

 

The total number of third-country nationals detained at the end of 2019 was 3,869. Of these, 1,021 persons (26.3%) were detained in police stations.[9] Furthermore, at the end of 2019, there were 98 unaccompanied children in detention (“protective custody”) in the pre-removal detention centre of Amygdaleza[10] and 97 in police stations around Greece[11]. Moreover 391 persons remained in de facto detention in Evros RIC as of 31 December 2019.[12]

Detention in pre-removal centres

The number of asylum seekers detained in pre-removal detention facilities in Greece increased considerably in 2019, while the total number of persons detained slightly decreased.

Administrative detention: 2016-2019

 

2016

2017

2018

2019

Number of asylum seekers detained

4,072

9,534

18,204

23,348

Total number of persons detained

14,864

25,810

31,126

30,007

Source: Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 21 January 2017; 29 January 2018; 23 January 2019; 8 February 2020.

 

The number of persons who remained in pre-removal detention facilities was 2,848 at the end of 2019. Of those, 2,259 were asylum seekers.[13] The breakdown of detained asylum seekers and the total population of detainees per pre-removal centre is as follows:

Breakdown of asylum seekers detained by pre-removal centre: 2019

 

Detentions throughout 2019

In detention at the end of 2019

 

Asylum seekers

Total population

Asylum seekers

Total population

Amygdaleza

4,489

7,290

274

606

Tavros (Petrou Ralli)

1,035

2,957

82

170

Corinth

3,287

3,362

1,004

1,048

Paranesti, Drama

2,994

3,052

455

473

Xanthi

1,767

1,997

197

200

Fylakio, Orestiada

8,234

9,539

14

111

Lesvos

600

661

73

79

Kos

942

1,149

161

160

Total

23,348

30,007

2,260

2,847

Source: Directorate of the Hellenic Police 08 February 2020.

 

Although the number of persons detained the past years has significantly increased, this has not been mirrored by a corresponding increase in the number of forced returns. 58,597 detention orders were issued in 2019, compared to 32,718 in 2018. However, the number of forced returns decreased to 4,868 in 2019 from 7,776 in 2018.[14] These findings corroborate that immigration detention is not only linked with human rights violations but also fails to effectively contribute to return.

There were 8 active pre-removal detention centres in Greece at the end of 2019. This includes six centres on the mainland (Amygdaleza, Tavros, Corinth, Xanthi, Paranesti, Fylakio) and two on the islands (Lesvos, Kos). The total pre-removal detention capacity is 4,683 places. A new pre-removal detention centre established in Samos in 2017 is not yet operational

The number of persons lodging an asylum application from detention in 2019 was 7,738 up from 7,200  in 2018:

Asylum seekers applying from detention: 2019

Nationality

Number

Pakistan

3,021

Afghanistan

1,258

Bangladesh

1,158

Iran

522

Egypt

346

Others

1,433

Total

7,738

 

Source: Asylum Service.

 

The Asylum Service took 2,845 first instance decisions on applications submitted from detention, of which 2,667 were negative (93.8%), 139 granted refugee status and 39 granted subsidiary protection.[15]

The Asylum Service also received 773 subsequent applications from detention in 2019. 145 of those were deemed admissible and 359 inadmissible.[16]

Detention in police stations and holding facilities

In addition to the above figures, at the end of 2019, there were 1,021 persons, of whom 212 were asylum seekers, detained in several other detention facilities countrywide such as police stations, border guard stations etc.[17]

As stated above, according to EKKA there were 195 unaccompanied children in protective custody in detention facilities at the end of 2019, 98 of whom in a pre-detention centre in Amygdaleza PRDF (Athens) and 97 in other detention facilities, including police stations. [18]

As the ECtHR has found, these facilities are not in line with Art. 3 ECHR’s guarantees given “the nature of police stations per se, which are places designed to accommodate people for a short time only”.[19]

 

Detention policy following the EU-Turkey statement

 

The launch of the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement has had an important impact on detention on the Eastern Aegean islands but also on the mainland, resulting in a significant toughening of the practices applied in the field. In 2019, a total of 79,108 removal decisions were issued, 58,597 (74%) of which also contained a detention order. The number of third-country nationals detained in pre-removal centres under detention order throughout 2019 was 30,007, a slight decrease from 31,126 in 2018. The numbers of asylum seekers in detention though, increased significantly: 23,348 in 2019, compared to 18,204 in 2018 and 9,534 in 2017.[20]

The pre-removal detention centre of Moria in Lesvos, initially established in 2015,[21] was reopened in mid-2017. In addition, a pre-removal detention facility was opened in Kos in March 2017,[22] and another one was established in Samos in June 2017 but has not yet become operational.[23]

On 20 November 2019, the Greek government presented its operational plan to address migration and ‘decongest’ the Aegean islands, following a post-election commitment. The major announcement was that the existing ‘hotspot’ camps on the Greek islands, will be gradually turned into closed facilities and additional detention capacity, of more 18,000 places will be created on the islands.[24]

Pilot project (“low-profile scheme”)

At the end of 2019, the “pilot project”, launched in 2017 is still being implemented on Lesvos, Kos and partly Leros. This consists in newly arrived persons belonging to particular nationalities with low recognition rates immediately being placed in detention upon arrival and remaining there for the entire asylum procedure.[25] While the project initially focused on nationals of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, the list of countries was expanded to 28 in March 2017 and the pilot project was rebranded as “low-profile scheme”.[26] As of May 2018, the “pilot project” was implemented to nationals of countries with a recognition rate lower than 25% on Lesvos, whereas the recognition rate threshold for the implementation of the “pilot project” is 33% on Kos.[27] Τhis was still the case in 2019.

The implementation of this practice raises concerns vis-à-vis the non-discrimination principle and the obligation to apply detention measures only as a last resort, following an individual assessment of the circumstances of each case and to abstain from detention of bona fide asylum seekers.

As mentioned by GCR on Lesvos island “every month, we represent asylum seekers who have been detained inside the ‘hotspot,’ upon arrival, only on the basis of their gender and nationality. This goes against the principle of non-discrimination and the individual assessment of asylum claims. Sometimes, those detainees are about to be returned, although they have had no access to a doctor who could have identified a vulnerability and were not informed about their rights and options by a lawyer”.[28]

Detention following second-instance negative decision

Applicants on the islands whose asylum application is rejected at second instance under the Fast-Track Border Procedure are immediately detained upon notification of the second-instance negative decision. This practice directly violates national and European legislation, according to which less coercive alternative measures should be examined and applied before detention. While in detention, rejected asylum seekers face great difficulties in accessing legal assistance and challenging the negative asylum decision before a competent court.   

Detention due to non-compliance with geographical restriction

As set out in a Police Circular of 18 June 2016, where a person is detected on the mainland in violation of his or her obligation to remain on the islands, “detention measures will be set again in force and the person will be transferred back to the islands for detention – further management (readmission to Turkey).”[29] Following this Circular, all newly arrived persons who have left an Eastern Aegean island in breach of the geographical restriction (see Freedom of Movement), if arrested, are immediately detained in order to be returned to that island. This detention is applied without any individual assessment and without the person’s legal status and any potential vulnerabilities being taken into consideration. Detention in view of transfer from mainland Greece to the given Eastern Aegean island can last for a disproportionate period of time, in a number of cases exceeding five months, thereby raising issues with regard to the state’s due diligence obligations. Despite the fact that a number of persons allege that they left the islands due to unacceptable reception conditions and/or security issues, no assessment of the reception capacity is made before returning these persons to the islands. GCR handled the cases of five people of Palestinian origin, with a geographical restriction in Leros, claiming to have fled the island, due to the unacceptable conditions prevailing in the RIC, who remained in detention in Amygdaleza PRDF, waiting to be transferred back to Leros, for a period ranging from three to six months.[30]

In May 2019, the Administrative Court of Piraeus, ordered the release from detention of a woman of Syrian origin, detained in the PROKEKA of Tavros, for the purpose of being transferred back to Kos, on the basis that her fragile health would deteriorate if her detention continued.[31]

In practice, persons returned to the islands either remain detained – this is in particular the case of single men or women – or they are released without any offer of an accommodation place. Detention on the islands is of particular concern as a high number of third-country nationals, including asylum seekers, continue to be held in detention facilities operated by the police directorates and in police stations, which are completely inappropriate for immigration detention. As a rule this is the case in Chios, Samos, Leros and Rhodes where police stations were the only available facility for immigration detention in 2019. For those released upon return to the islands, destitution is a considerable risk, as reception facilities on the islands are often overcrowded and exceed their nominal capacity, whereas in Rhodes there is no RIC at all.

In 2019, a total of 551 persons were returned to the Eastern Aegean islands after being apprehended outside their assigned island, up from 514 in 2018:

Returns to the islands due to non-compliance with a geographical restriction: 2019

Lesvos

Chios

Samos

Kos

Leros

Rhodes

Total

127

72

111

197

44

0

551

Source: Directorate of the Hellenic Police 8 February 2020.



[1] Amnesty International, Annual Report 2019, Greece, Idem.

[2] UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “UNHCR urges Greece to Strengthen Safeguards in Draft       Asylum Law,” 24 October 2019, available at:  https://bit.ly/2IzauTV.

[3] Article 46(2) IPA.

[4] GCR, The announcements of the Greek Authorities are contrary to Greek and international law on refugees”, 21 November 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/32PCmfQ (in Greek).

[5] L. 4686/2020, Gov. Gazette  A' 96/12.05.2020.

[6] UNHCR, UNHCR’s Intervention at the hearing for actors to the Standing Committee of Public Administration, Public Order and Justice of the Hellenic Parliament regarding the Draft Law on the Improvement of Migration Legislation, idem.

[7]  See to this regard: Letter sent by the Greek Ombudsman on 20 March 2020 by which the Ombudsman recommend to the authorities inter alia to take measures for the degongestation of detetnion faciltiies amid the Covid 19 outbreak, Greek Ombudsman, Μέτρα πρόληψης της διάδοσης του κορωνοϊού COVID-19 και ευάλωτες ομάδες πληθυσμού, 30 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2ydLDmS; GCR et al., Έκτακτη η ανάγκη προστασίας των διοικητικά κρατούμενων πολιτών τρίτων χωρών εν μέσω πανδημίας, 24 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/36igzyX.

[8]  See: Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Commissioner calls for release of immigration detainees while Covid-19 crisis continues, 26 March 2020.

[9] Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 08 February 2020.

[10] Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 08 February 2020.

[11] EKKA, Situation update: Unaccompanied children in Greece, 31 December 2019, available at https://bit.ly/38h6Nx4.

[12] Information provided by RIS, 6 February 2020.

[13] Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 08 February 2020.

[14] Ombudsman, Return of third-country nationals, Special Report 2018, available at https://bit.ly/3bv0GYm; Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 23 January 2019 and 8 February 2020.

[15]Information provided by the Asylum Service, 17 February 2020.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 8 February 2020.

[18] EKKA, Situation update: Unaccompanied children in Greece, 31 December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/38h6Nx4.

[19] H.A. and Others v. Greece, application no. 19951/16, 28 February 2019; S.Z. v. Greece, application no. 66702/13, 21 June 2018, para. 40.

[20] Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 8 February 2020.

[21]  Joint Ministerial Decision 8038/23/22−ιγ΄, Gov. Gazette B’ 118/21.1.2015; Joint Ministerial Decision 8038/23/22−να΄, Gov. Gazette B’ 2952/31.12.2015.

[22] Joint Ministerial Decision 8038/23/22-ξε, Gov. Gazette B’ 332/7.2.2017.

[23] Joint Ministerial Decision 3406/2017, Gov. Gazette B’ 2190/27.6.2017.

[24] Oxfam and GCR, No-Rights Zone. How people in need of protection are being denied crucial access to legal information and assistance in the Greek islands’ EU ‘hotspot’ camps, December 2019, available at: https://go.aws/2SIyeea, page 8; Greek Government, 20 November 2019, Policy Editors’ Briefing –the Government’s Action Plan to address the Migration Issue [in Greek], available at: https://bit.ly/2P3kb0k; See also the letter sent on 25 November 2019 by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe to the Ministers Mr Chrysochoidis and Koumoutsakos, regarding the Government’s plans on the closed centres, available at: https://bit.ly/2wn3MgH.

[25] GCR, Borderline of Despair: First-line reception of asylum seekers at the Greek borders, May 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2OuXoeG, 18-19.

[26] ECRE, ‘Asylum procedure based on nationality rather than on merit – the situation of Pakistani asylum applicants under the EU Turkey Deal’, 8 December 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2kEjTk1.

[27] GCR, 2018 Detention report, available at: https://bit.ly/2vrqDHm .

[28]Oxfam and GCR, No-Rights Zone etc., Idem, p. 6.

[29] 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. See also inter alia Kathimerini, ‘Islands “suffocating” due to the refugee issue’, 23 August 2016, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2jBL7Fd.

[30] GCR, document no. 362/2019, 10 September 2019.

[31] Administrative Court of Piraeus, Decision AP 221/2019.

 

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