Detention of vulnerable applicants

Greece

Country Report: Detention of vulnerable applicants Last updated: 10/06/21

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Greek Council for Refugees Visit Website

National legislation provides a number of guarantees with regard to the detention of vulnerable persons, yet does not prohibit their detention. According to Article 48 IPA women should be detained separately from men[1], the privacy of families in detention should be duly respected[2], and the detention of minors should be a last resort measure and be carried out separately from adults[3]. Moreover, according to the law, “the vulnerability of applicants… shall be taken into account when deciding to detain or to prolong detention.”[4]

More generally, Greek authorities have the positive obligation to provide special care to applicants belonging to vulnerable groups (see Special Reception Needs).[5] However, persons belonging to vulnerable groups are detained in practice, without a proper identification of vulnerability and individualised assessment prior to the issuance of a detention order. In 2020, GCR has supported various cases of vulnerable persons in detention whose vulnerability had not been taken into account.

These include:

  • A citizen from Iraq suffering from a serious autoimmune disease. He was hospitalized several times during detention. According to the medical documents he was at risk of dying if remained in detention. He was detained in the PRDC of Amygdaleza for nine months in order to be returned to the island of Chios. He was released after GCR submitted an application of revocation of the previous negative decision on objections against detention by the Administrative Court of Athens.
  • A woman, asylum seeker originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo, victim of sexual violence both in Chios and in her country of origin, was detained in PRDC of Amygdaleza for three months with a view of return to the island of Chios “due to violation of the geographical restriction”. Following a suicide attempt made while in detention she was hospitalised and then released.
  • A female detainee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, victim of trafficking and sexual abuse, was detained in Amygdaleza PRDC for a total period of three months and was released after being hospitalised following a suicide attempt.[6]
  • A Yezidi asylum seeker of Iraqi nationality, victim of torture, who remained in detention for a total period of six months in a police station.

In a Press Release issued in November 2020 GCR asked the authorities to avoid administrative detention of vulnerable applicants following suicide attempts from detained women.[7]

Further on, victims of torture have been placed in detention on the islands.  In the case M.A. v. Greece, the person was kept in the RIC of Moria for one more month and was subsequently placed in detention, on the basis that his asylum claim had been rejected at second instance, despite an order of interim measures set by the ECtHR on 6 May 2020 to guarantee the applicant living conditions compliant with Article 3 ECHR, “having regard to his state of health and to provide the applicant with adequate healthcare compatible with his state of health.”[8]

 Detention of unaccompanied children

In the field of detention of unaccompanied and separated children, there has been significant progress in the Greek legislation despite the fact that the former continued to be detained (either in administrative detention or in “protective custody”) during 2020.

In February 2019, the ECtHR found that the automatic placement of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under protective custody in police facilities, without taking into consideration the best interests of the child, violated Article 5(1) ECHR.[9] Furthermore, during 2019, both the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights has ordered the Greek authorities to immediately halt the detention of unaccompanied children and transfer them in reception facilities and in conditions in line with Art. 3 ECHR.[10]

Moreover, in 2020, the ECtHR addressed several questions to the Greek Government[11], following several applications under Rule 39 (Interim Measures) and appeals lodged before the ECtHR. These concerned inter alia the case of 11 unaccompanied children in administrative detention or “protective custody” in Amygdaleza PRDC and police stations for periods between one and more than six months[12], and the case of two unaccompanied children detained in Fylakio RIC.[13]

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in July 2020 [14] “confirmed the existing substantial burden on shelter facilities, which resulted in many unaccompanied children being held in protective custody, in unacceptable conditions, in facilities that were not appropriate for the detention of children, such as police stations and pre-removal facilities on the mainland. Although officials appeared to be providing the best support available in the circumstances, the Working Group noted that some children were held for prolonged periods, of more than two months, in conditions similar to those of criminal detention, especially in police stations. These children were held with adults, in dark cells, with no access to recreational or educational activities, and no information on what would happen to them, which appeared contrary to article 37 (c) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is no maximum time limit on the period for which a child may be held in protective custody. Furthermore, the Working Group was informed that the Public Prosecutor, as the authority responsible for the care and security of the children under protective custody, did not visit the children in the detention facilities.”

In the aftermath of the aforementioned developments, L. 4760/2020[15] entered into force on 11 December 2020. It abolished the possibility of keeping unaccompanied children in protective police custody only on the basis that they have no residence, as part of an overall reform by the Greek authorities to improve living conditions of unaccompanied children in Greece. Other legal provisions that allow the detention of unaccompanied children are still in force[16].

Additionally, 553 unaccompanied children were relocated in 2020 to other EU countries[17].

According to the statistics of the National Center for Social Solidarity[18], on 31 December 2020, 127 UASCs were present at the RICs across the country, 382 at Safe Zones and 30 under “protective custody’’. 924 UAC (28 of which pending transfer) were living in informal/insecure housing conditions such as living temporarily in apartments with others, living in squats, being homeless and moving frequently between different types of accommodation. Out of 3,103 unaccompanied children in Greece at the end of 2020, 157 were on a waiting list for long term or temporary accommodation, 127 were staying in RICs and 30 were in “protective custody”.

The number of unaccompanied children detained on the mainland (“protective custody”) and on the islands (Reception and Identification Centers) between February 2020 and December 2020 has evolved as follows:

Number of UAC in Reception and Identification Centers/Protective Custody [19]

According to the Directorate of the Hellenic Police[20] the number of the detained unaccompanied children (“protective custody”) decreased in 2020 due to new accommodation facilities and the actions of the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors:

  • End of April 2020: 264 children were in “protective custody”
  • End of June 2020: 225
  • End of September 2020: 212
  • End of October: 132
  • 31 December 2020: 33

As mentioned above, in 2020, 612 unaccompanied children remained in administrative detention in PRDCs countrywide. At the end of 2020, the total number of unaccompanied children in administrative detention in pre-removal detention centers countrywide was 16 (only in PRDC of Amygdaleza) and the number of unaccompanied children in administrative detention in police stations and other detention facilities around Greece was 18[21].

As Council of Europe’s anti-torture Committee (CPT) reports “At Feres Police and Border Guard Station, on the day of the visit, there were 18 detainees, including one woman with her brother and three unaccompanied minors, two born in 2003 and one in 2005. The detainees were all held on administrative charges and for periods of four to eleven days”. Additionally, ”at the time of the March 2020 visit, the RIC was holding 253 persons, of whom 161 were unaccompanied minors […] Unaccompanied minors could be held for six months or more”. [22]

The newly established Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors[23] acts towards the immediate referral of all UAMs from the RICs and police stations, to appropriate accommodation facilities for minors. According to the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors, in December 2020 the average waiting time for the placement («τοποθέτηση») of an unaccompanied minor to an accommodation facility was 9.2 days, for UAMs in “protective custody” or in Evros/Fylakio RIC was 6.4 days and for UAMs residing at the RICs of the Eastern Aegean Islands was 11.2 days. More precisely, for UAMs in “protective custody” the average waiting time was 1.9 days, which constitutes a great development[24]. According to the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors, “that is the soonest possible, given the identification and the medical examinations required before the transfer of the child to an accommodation facility.” [25]

The abolishment of protective custody for unaccompanied children at police stations after 21 years of practice[26] is undeniably a positive development aiming to ensure UASCs’ best interest. However, the development and establishment of a national tracing and protection mechanism[27], as an alternative to protective custody aiming at establishing a safety net in the absence of care arrangements, is still pending.

Detention following wrong age assessment

As mentioned above (Guarantees for vulnerable groups), until August 2020, two Ministerial Decisions were providing for the age assessment procedure of unaccompanied children:

  • Ministerial Decision 92490/2013 laid down the age assessment procedure in the context of reception and identification procedures and
  • Joint Ministerial Decision 1982/2016 provided for an age assessment procedure for persons seeking international protection before the Asylum Service,[28] as well as persons whose case was still pending before the authorities of the “old procedure”.[29]

 On 13 August 2020 the Joint Ministerial Decision 9889/2020 entered into force. [30] It sets out a common age assessment procedure both in the context of reception and identification procedures and the asylum procedure. However, the scope of the JMD 9889/2020, as was the case with the previous ones, does not extend to age assessment of unaccompanied children under the responsibility of the Hellenic Police. In practice, children under the responsibility of police authorities are as a rule deprived of any age assessment guarantees set out in the relevant Ministerial Decision, and systematically undergo medical examinations consisting of left-hand X-ray, panoramic dental X-ray and dental examination in case their age is disputed.  In addition to the limited reliability and highly invasive nature of the method used, it should be noted that no remedy is in place to challenge the outcome of that procedure.

As the noted by The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention[31] “these provisions are not being applied in practice. At present, the police reportedly rely primarily on X-ray and dental examinations under the third step of the age-assessment procedure. Persons claiming to be children are not generally represented or informed of their rights in a language that they understand during the assessment. […] Minors are thus being detained unnecessarily owing to inaccurate assessment procedures, and are treated as and detained with adults. The Working Group recommends that the authorities consistently apply the guarantees outlined above, particularly the presumption that a person is a child unless the contrary can be proven. The Working Group reiterates the Greek Ombudsman’s call to the Government in 2018 to put a complete end to all administrative detention of migrants under the age of 18 years.”

A number of cases of unaccompanied children detained as adults have been identified by GCR during 2020. In a case supported by GCR[32], a 16 year old unaccompanied boy from Afghanistan, who was initially referred to EKKA and whose placement in an accommodation facility was pending, was arrested and detained in Amygdaleza PRDC as an adult for more than 4 months.

 Detention of families

Despite the constant case law of the ECtHR with regard to the detention of families in the context of migration control,[33] families with children are in practice detained. In 2020, that was in particular the case for families with children who, due to the lack of reception capacity, were living in occupied buildings and squats and have been arrested during police evacuation operations. Among others, throughout 2020, GCR has supported cases of single-parent families, families with minor children or families where one member remained detained. For instance, in a case of a family originating from Iran whom remained detained in the PRDC of Amygdaleza the Administrative Court of Athens accepted objections against the detention of the family considering respect for family life and the best interest of the children.[34]

 

[1] Article 48(4) IPA.

[2] Article 48(3) IPA.

[3]  Article 48(2) IPA.

[4]  Article 48(1) IPA.

[5]  Article 60 L 4636/2019

[6] Τα Μωβ, Σε απόγνωση οι κρατούμενες στην Αμυγδαλέζα: η μία απόπειρα αυτοκτονίας μετά την άλλη, 29 October 2020, available in Greek at : https://bit.ly/2Q7MGNO

[7] GCR Press Release, Άμεση λήψη μέτρων για την αποφυγή της διοικητικής κράτησης ευάλωτων ομάδων μετά από απόπειρες αυτοκτονίας διοικητικά κρατουμένων γυναικών, 5 November 2020, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2OAlfMh

[8]  ECtHR, M.A. v. Greece, App No 18179/20, Order of 6 May 2020: Information provided by RSA, 4 January 2021.

[9] ECtHR, H.A. and others v. Greece, Application No 19951/16, Judgment of 28 February 2019, EDAL, available at: https://bit.ly/2FCoVFP.

[10]  See also AIDA Country Report on Greece, 2019 Update, p. 195-196.

[11] Available at: https://bit.ly/3uAFfh9

[12] Application No 619803/20 M.A. et autres c. Grèce, pending case supported by GCR.

[13] Application No 6184/20, H.M and R.M v.Greece.

[14] Human Rights Council, Visit to Greece. Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Idem, para. 68-69.

[15] Gov. Gazette A’ 247/11-12-2020, L. 4760/2020.

[16]  Article 48(2) IPA, article 118 of the Presidential Decree 141/1991 regarding “protective custody’ of unaccompanied minors, L.3907/2011.

[17]  European Commission, Migration and Home Affairs statement on Thursday, 17 December, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3dQd1YN

[18]  EKKA, Situation Update: Unaccompanied Children in Greece, 31 December 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2PZYAcH

[19]  Ibid.

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

[21] Ibid.

[22] Council of Europe’s anti-torture Committee (CPT) report, 19/11/2020 (ad hoc visit to Greece from 13 to 17 March 2020), p.18-19, available at: https://bit.ly/31ZanL0

[23] “The Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors was established with paragraph 3 of the first article of the Presidential Degree 18/2020.It operates according to Articles 35 and 42 of the Law 4622/2019 and reports directly to the Minister of Migration and Asylum”, available at: https://bit.ly/3fMN5jn

[24] Information provided by the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors, 28 January  2021

[25] Ibid.

[26] UNHCR Fact Sheet, Greece, 1-31 December 2020, Greece officially abolished the practice of placing unaccompanied children in protective custody. UNHCR welcomes the milestone policy change and works with the State to establish a protection safety net, available at: https://bit.ly/3wKxOG8

[27]  UNHCR factsheet, Page 3, Dec. 2020

[28]   Joint Ministerial Decision 1982/2016, Gov. Gazette B’335/16-2-2016.

[29]  Article 22(A)11 JMD 1982/2016, citing Article 34(1) PD 113/2013 and Article 12(4) PD 114/2010

[30] Joint Ministerial Decision 9889/2020, Gov. Gazette 3390/Β/13-8-2020

[31]  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: https://bit.ly/3dPiHSX , para. 74 &76

[32]  GCR document 625/2020.

[33]  See for example ECtHR, Mahmundi and Others v. Greece, Application No 14902/10, Judgment of 31 July 2012.

[34]  Administrative Court of Athens, ΑΡ818/2020.

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