Country Report: General Last updated: 10/06/21


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The IPA, in force since 1 January 2020, introduced extensive provisions on the detention of asylum seekersand lower significant guarantees for the imposition of detention measures against asylum applicants,[1] 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 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.[2]

Art. 46(2) IPA provides that an asylum seeker who has already applied 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), 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.

IPA 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.[3] Following reactions of local communities, the creation of such detention facilities in the Aegean islands has been suspended up until the time of writing.

In May 2020, further amendments have been introduced to the legal framework of detention.[4]  As noted by UNHCR regarding 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. L. 4686/2020 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”.[5]

More precisely, on May 2020, five months after the entry into force of L. 4636/2019, L. 4686/2020 has introduced new amendments to IPA, regarding the detention of asylum seekers and their rights while in detention. Moreover L. 4686/2020 introduced a new type of “closed” facilities and amended relevant provision of L. 3907/2011 with regards pre-removal detention.

As of the detention of asylum seekers and their rights while in detention L. 4686/2020:

  • further accelerates the procedure for asylum seekers in detention by providing that in the case of a second instance Appeal, a decision should be issued in 10 days (instead of 20 days pursuant to the initial version), art. 46(9) IPA as amended by L. 4686/2020.
  • provides the possibility first instance asylum decisions to be communicated to detainees by the police, which may significantly underestimate the right of asylum seekers in detention to appeal against the decision, art. 82(4) IPA as amended by L. 4686/2020. According to said provision there is no obligation the Decision to be communicated with the presence of an interpreter and only a written information is provided to the detainee with regards the content of the decision and the possibility to submit an appeal. Thus detainees may not be in the position to understand the content and the legal importance of the document and a fortiori the procedure which they have to follow in order to submit an Appeal. By this way, detained asylum seekers risk to be improperly informed about their rights, the examination of their asylum application to be terminated and to remain in pre-removal detention in view of return, without their asylum application having been properly assessed.
  • foresees that the right to remain in the country is terminated by the time that the second instance decision is issued and not by the time that second instance decision is communicated to the Applicant, Art. 104(1) IPA as amended by L. 4686/2020. On the basis of this amendment police authorities consider that a person against whom a second instance negative decision on his/her asylum application can be lawfully arrested and detained in view of removal, irrespectively of the communication of the decision. Consequently, failed asylum seekers are in risk of being detained in view of removal without knowing the existence of the second instance asylum decision and without having the possibility to effectively challenge it in accordance with the law.
  • provides that “in case that the Appeal [against a second instance decision] is rejected, the applicant […] is detained in a Pre-removal Facility, up until his/her removal is completed or his/her application to be finally accepted. The submission of a subsequent application and/or application for annulment and/or application for suspension does not imply ipso facto the lift of the detention”, art. 92(4) IPA as amended by L. 4686/2020. Including in national legislation a legally binding provision foreseeing that in case that the appeal is rejected, the applicant “is detained in a Pre-removal Detention Facility” is not in line with EU standards with regards the imposition of detention measures. A person whose application for asylum has been rejected is a third country national in irregular situation and thus his/her case is regulated by EU Return directive, which inter alia provides that detention is imposed only as last resort and in case that alternatives to detention cannot be applied. Moreover, the issue of whether detention measure will remain in force following the submission of legal remedies against a second instance asylum decision (application for annulment/application for suspension) is an issue closely linked with the reasonable prospect of effectuating the removal of the detainee and cannot be regulated in abstracto by law.[6]
  1. 4686/2020 also introduced a new type of “closed” facility. Article 30(4) L. 4686/2020 amending article 8(4) L.4375/2016 foresees the establishment of the so called “Closed Temporary Reception Facilities” for asylum seekers against whom a detention decision has been issued and the “Islands’ Closed Controlled Facilities”, for asylum seekers, persons under a removal procedure and persons under geographical limitation. The provision does not specify further information, such as the general operation of such centers, the reasons for placing third country nationals in such facilities, the possibility of and procedures for entry and exit, general conditions, the maximum period of stay etc and up today such centers have not yet been established.[7]

Finally, L. 4686/2020 introduced a radical amendment of the relevant provision with regards pre-removal detention of third country nationals, Art. 30 L. 3907/2011, which reverse the rule that migration detention is only applied exceptionally, as a last resort and under the conditions that alternatives to detention cannot be applied, contrary inter alia to Art. 15 of the Return Directive. According to the new version of Art. 30(1) L. 3907/2011:

“Third country nationals subject to return procedures […] are placed in detention in order to prepare the return and carry out the removal process. In case that the competent police officer considers that:

  1. there is no risk of absconding or
  2. the third-country national concerned is cooperative and does not hamper the preparation of return or the removal process or
  3. there are no national security grounds,

other less coercive measures are applied as those provided in para. 3 of Art. 22, if considered effective”

No measures regarding the decongestion of detention facilities and the reduction of the number of detainees have been taken during the COVID-19 outbreak.[8] The proportionality/necessity of the detention measures have not been re-examined, despite the suspension of returns to certain countries of origin or destination, including Turkey, and despite the delays that occurred due to the suspension of the work of the Asylum Service, during the COVID-19 crisis.[9]


Statistics on detention

At the end of 2020, the total number of third-country nationals detained in pre-removal detention centers countrywide was 2,408[10]. Out of these, 1,702 persons (70.6%) were asylum seekers[11]. Accordingly, at the end of 2020, the total number of third-country nationals detained in police stations or other facilities countrywide was 863. Out of these, 149 persons (17.3 %) were asylum seekers.

Furthermore, at the end of 2020, the total number of unaccompanied children in administrative detention in pre-removal detention centers countrywide was 16 and the number of unaccompanied children in administrative detention in other detention facilities such as police stations was 18[12]. Additionally, at the end of 2020, the total number of unaccompanied children in “protective custody” was 33, according to the information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, or 30, according to the official statistics of EKKA (National Center for Social Solidarity)[13].

Detention in pre-removal centres

The number of asylum seekers detained in pre-removal detention facilities in Greece decreased considerably in 2020, as well as the total number of third country nationals under administrative detention.

Administrative detention: 2016-2020
  2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Number of asylum seekers detained 4,072 9,534 18,204 23,348 10,130
Total number of persons detained 14,864 25,810 31,126 30,007 14,993

Source: Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 21 January 2017; 29 January 2018; 23 January 2019; 8 February 2020, 11 February 2021

The number of persons who remained in pre-removal detention facilities was 2,408 at the end of 2020. Of those, 1,702 were asylum seekers.[14]

The breakdown of detained asylum seekers and the total population of detainees[15] per pre-removal centre is as follows:

Breakdown of asylum seekers detained by pre-removal centre in 2020
  Detention throughout 2020 Detention at the end of 2020
  Asylum seekers Total population Asylum seekers Total population
Amygdaleza 1,779 4,356 302 577
Tavros (Petrou Ralli) 328 1,621 38 89
Corinth 3,287 3,362 693 848
Paranesti, Drama 2,556 2,668 249 357
Xanthi 872 926 139 161
Fylakio, Orestiada 1,819 2,238 0 0
Lesvos 499 499 0 0
Kos 673 949 281 376
Total 10.130 14,993 1,702 2,408

Source: Directorate of the Hellenic Police 11 February 2021.

The breakdown of unaccompanied children under administrative detention per pre-removal centre is as follows:

Breakdown of unaccompanied minors under administrative detention by pre-removal centre in 2020
  Detentions throughout 2020 In detention at the end of 2020
Amygdaleza 558 16
Tavros (Petrou Ralli) 2 0
Corinth 16 0
Paranesti, Drama 24 0
Xanthi 2 0
Fylakio, Orestiada 0 0
Lesvos 0 0
Kos 10 0
Total 612 16

Although the number of persons detained the past years has significantly increased in proportion to the number of the arrivals[16], this has not been mirrored by a corresponding increase in the number of forced returns. 27,515 detention orders were issued in 2020, compared to 58,597 in 2019. The number of forced returns decreased to 3,660 in 2020 from 4,868 in 2019.[17] These findings corroborate that immigration detention is not only linked with human rights violations but also fails to effectively contribute to return.

There were 6 active pre-removal detention centres in Greece at the end of 2020. This includes five centres on the mainland (Amygdaleza, Tavros, Corinth, Xanthi, Paranesti,) and one on the islands (Kos). Lesvos and Fylakio pre-removal detention centers have temporarily suspended their operation. The total pre-removal detention capacity is 3,326 places.[18] 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 2020 was 4,062 (up from 7,738 in 2019):

Asylum seekers applying from detention: 2020
Five main nationalities Number
Pakistan 1,685
Bangladesh 740
Afghanistan 516
Egypt 160
Iran 139
Others 822
Total 4,062

Source: Asylum Service, 31 March 2021

The Asylum Service issued 4,265 first instance decisions on applications submitted from detention, of which 3,692 were negative (93.8%), 316 granted refugee status and 79 granted subsidiary protection.[19]

The Asylum Service also received 745 subsequent applications from detention in 2020. Out of those 112 were deemed admissible and 554 inadmissible.

Detention in police stations and holding facilities

In addition to the above figures, at the end of 2020, there were 863 persons, of whom 149 were asylum seekers, detained in several other detention facilities countrywide such as police stations, border guard stations etc.[20]

Furthermore, as stated above, at the end of 2020, the total number of unaccompanied children in administrative detention in several detention facilities countrywide was 18[21].

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”.[22]


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 2020, a total of 38,723 removal decisions were issued, 27,515 (71%) of which also contained a detention order. The number of third-country nationals detained in pre-removal centres under detention order throughout 2020 was 14,993 (a decrease from 30,007 in 2019). The numbers of asylum seekers in detention also decreased: 10,130 in 2020 compared to 23,348 in 2019, and 18,204 in 2018.[23]

The pre-removal detention centre of Moria in Lesvos, initially established in 2015,[24] was reopened in mid-2017 but suspended its operation in September 2020 in the aftermath of the fire which destroyed the camp. In addition, a pre-removal detention facility was opened in Kos in March 2017[25]. Another one was also established in Samos in June 2017 but has not yet become operational.[26]

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.[27]

Pilot project (“low-profile scheme”)

During 2020, the “pilot project”, launched in 2017 was being implemented on Lesvos and on Kos. 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.[28] 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”.[29] 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” was 33% on Kos[30].

Several civil society organisations have reported that [31] “on Kos, since January 2020, all new arrivals except persons evidently falling under vulnerability categories are immediately detained in the pre-removal detention centre.[32] In previous years, this practice was applied to groups subject to the “low recognition rate” detention scheme, i.e. persons from countries subject to a rate below 33% and single adults from Syria. The majority of applicants have undergone rudimentary registration in the RIC prior to being placed in detention. However, applicants arriving from islands other than Kos and Rhodes e.g. Symi, Megisti, Kastellorizo are immediately directed to the pre-removal detention centre, without undergoing reception and identification procedures in the RIC (See Identification).”

According to GCR’s knowledge, on Lesvos, persons subject to the “low recognition rate” scheme were channelled through rapid RIC procedures prior to detention in the pre-removal detention centre located within the RIC of Moria until January 2020.

Also, “During the suspension of the asylum procedure in March 2020, new arrivals were immediately detained in informal sites on the islands and subsequently in Navy vessel Rhodes and then in detention facilities on the mainland, without undergoing reception and identification procedures.[33]

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.

Detention following second-instance negative decision

According to the practice followed, in Eastern Aegean Islands and mostly on Kos and Lesvos, applicants whose asylum application was rejected at second instance under the Fast-Track Border Procedure were 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.

However, it is observed that in 2020 the abovementioned practice was suspended on Lesvos due to several factors, such as the destruction of Moria in September 2020, the suspension of the Asylum Service and RIC after Covid-19 outbreak and thus the suspension of the notification of 2nd instance rejections etc.

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).”[34] 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.

Working group on Arbitrary Detention[35] “notes with particular concern the policy of geographical restriction on the movement of asylum seekers from the islands and the lack of awareness among asylum seekers of the consequences of breaching this restriction, namely placement in detention.”

In September 2020, the Administrative Court of Athens, ordered the release from detention of a man of Syrian origin, detained in the airport police station, for the purpose of being transferred back to Leros, claiming that he could not receive proper healthcare in the case he was returned to the island.[36]

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 2020. 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 2020, a total of 282 persons were returned to the Eastern Aegean islands after being apprehended outside their assigned island, up from 551 in 2019:

Returns to the islands due to non-compliance with a geographical restriction: 2020
Lesvos Chios Samos Kos Leros Rhodes Total
79 31 60 112 0 0 282

Source: Directorate of the Hellenic Police 11 February 2021.



[1] UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “UNHCR urges Greece to Strengthen Safeguards in Draft       Asylum Law,” 24 October 2019, available at:

[2] Article 46(2) IPA.

[3]GCR, The announcements of the Greek Authorities are contrary to Greek and international law on refugees”, 21 November 2019, available at: (in Greek).

[4] L. 4686/2020, Gov. Gazette  A’ 96/12.05.2020.

[5] 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, available at: .

[6] CJEU, Kadzoev, C-357/09 PPU, para. 64, “As is apparent from Article 15(1) and (5) of Directive 2008/115, the detention of a person for the purpose of removal may only be maintained as long as the removal arrangements are in progress and must be executed with due diligence, provided that it is necessary to ensure successful removal”.

[7] See inter alia UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR Comments on the Draft Law “Improvement of Migration Legislation, amendment of provisions of Laws 4636/2019 (A’ 169), 4375/2016 (A’ 51), 4251/2014 (A’ 80) and other Provisions”, 12 June 2020, available at: , p. 9.

[8] 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:; GCR et al., Έκτακτη η ανάγκη προστασίας των διοικητικά κρατούμενων πολιτών τρίτων χωρών εν μέσω πανδημίας, 24 April 2020, available at:

[9]  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.

[10] Unaccompanied minors are also included.

[11] Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 11 February 2021.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Situation Update: Unaccompanied Children (UAC) in Greece 31 December 2020, available at:

[14]  Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 11 February 2021.

[15]  Unaccompanied minors included.

[16] According to UNHCR the total number of arrivals by land and sea was 74,613 in 2019 and 15,696 in 2020. Information available at :

[17] Ombudsman, Return of third-country nationals, Special Report 2018, available at; Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 8 February 2020 and 11 February 2021.

[18]  Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 11 February 2021

[19] Information provided by the Asylum Service, 31 March 2021

[20] Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 11 February 2021.

[21]  Ibid.

[22] 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.

[23]  Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 11 February 2021.

[24]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.

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

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

[27]  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:, page 8; Greek Government, 20 November 2019, Policy Editors’ Briefing –the Government’s Action Plan to address the Migration Issue [in Greek], available at:; 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:

[28]  GCR, Borderline of Despair: First-line reception of asylum seekers at the Greek borders, May 2018, available at:, 18-19.

[29] 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:

[30]  GCR, 2018 Detention report, available at: .

[31] RSA, HIAS, GCR, Arsis, Danish Refugee Council, Legal Centre Lesvos, FENIX Humanitarian Legal Aid, Action Aid Hellas and Mobile Info Team, and legal practitioners, Juxtaposing proposed EU rules with the Greek reception and identification procedure, 26 January 2021, available at:, p. 7-8

[32] TVXS, ‘Οι πρώτοι μετανάστες σε κλειστό κέντρο στην Κω, την ώρα που ο Μηταράκης επισκέτεται το νησί –  Πανηγυρίζει ο Βορίδης’, 26 January 2020, available in Greek at: .

[33] RSA, Rights denied during Greek asylum procedure suspension, April 2020, available at: .

[34] 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:

[35]Human Rights Council, Visit to Greece. Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, A/HRC/45/16/Add.1, 29 July 2020, available at: , para. 57

[36]  Administrative Court of Athens, Decision AP 1185/2020.

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