Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 30/11/20


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The law provides that, when applying the provisions on reception conditions, competent authorities shall take into account the specific situation of vulnerable persons such as minors, unaccompanied or not, direct relatives of victims of shipwrecks (parents and siblings), disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, persons with serious illnesses, persons with cognitive or mental disability and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, victims of female genital mutilation and victims of human trafficking.[1] The assessment of the vulnerability of persons entering irregularly into the territory takes place within the framework of the Reception and Identification Procedure and, since the entry into force of the IPA, on 1 January 2020, it is no longer connected to the assessment of the asylum application.[2]

Under the reception and identification procedure, upon arrival, the Head of the RIC “shall refer persons belonging to vulnerable groups to the competent social support and protection institution.”[3]

However, shortages in the Identification of vulnerabilities, together with a critical lack of reception places on the islands (see Types of Accommodation) prevents vulnerable persons from enjoying special reception conditions. This could also be the case on the mainland, due to the limited capacity of facilities under the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA), the lack of a clear referral pathway to access temporary camps and the poor reception conditions reported in many of those. Moreover, the high occupancy rate of reception places under UNHCR scheme may deprive newly arriving vulnerable families and individuals from access this type of accommodation.


Reception of unaccompanied children


The Directorate General for Social Solidarity (DGSS) of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs[4] is the responsible authority for the protection, including the provision of reception conditions, of unaccompanied and separated minors.[5] The Directorate for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors,[6] under the National Centre for Social Solidarity (Εθνικό Κέντρο Κοινωνικής Αλληλεγγύης, EKKA), receives and processes referrals for the accommodation of unaccompanied and separated children.

Persisting lack of reception capacity for unaccompanied children

As of 31 December 2019, there were 5,301 unaccompanied and separated children in Greece but only 1,286 places in long-term dedicated accommodation facilities, and 748 places in temporary accommodation.[7] As noted by UNHCR “[l]iving conditions for the 5,300 children who arrived alone in Greece are critical as only one in five has a place in an appropriate shelter… In the reception centres, the 2,200 boys and girls who are unaccompanied face grave risks of exploitation and abuse. Their transfer to a shelter suitable for their age is lengthy adding to the hardship of fleeing conflict and persecution.”[8]

The total number of referrals of unaccompanied children received by EKKA in 2019 was 9,816, marking an increase of 2,844 when compared to the same period in 2018. At the same time, the number of long term accommodation spaces, specifically designated for unaccompanied minors, was increased by only 224 places throughout the year.

The average waiting period for the placement of unaccompanied minors residing in and/or outside of island RICs to suitable accommodation places for UAMs in 2019 was 6.6 months. This was similar for unaccompanied minors in Evros RIC, with an average of 6 months.

More precisely, the average waiting time for the placement of UAMs from RICs to an accommodation place for UAMs by the end of 2019, is as follows:



Average time for the placement to a shelter for UAMs

RIC Lesvos

6 months (3 months in case of high vulnerability)

RIC Chios

8 months

RIC Samos

6 months


6 months

RIC Leros

7 months

RIC Evros

6 months

Information provided by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum Special Secretariat for Reception, 6 February 2020.


The lack of appropriate care, including accommodation for unaccompanied children, in Greece has been repeatedly raised by human rights bodies.[9] Among others in 2019, in the context of his visit to the Lesvos, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated he was “very worried about children, especially children travelling alone…[who] are the most exposed to violence and exploitation”,[10] while Human Rights Watch inter alia noted that “the lack of prompt transfers [from the islands] put vulnerable people, including people with invisible disabilities and children, at higher risk of abuse and violation of their rights”.[11]

In November 2018, ECRE and ICJ, with the support of GCR lodged a collective complaint before the European Committee for Social Rights of the Council of Europe with regards the situation of inter alia unaccompanied children in Greece.[12] In response to the complaint, In May 2019, the Committee on Social Rights exceptionally decided to indicate immediate measures to Greece to protect the rights of migrant children and to prevent serious and irreparable injury or harm to the children concerned, including damage to their physical and mental health, and to their safety, by inter alia removing them from detention and from Reception and Identification Centres (RICs) at the borders.[13]

Furthermore, in December 2019, in a case represented by GCR, in cooperation with ASGI, Still I Rise and Doctors Without Borders, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, granted interim measures to five unaccompanied teenagers, asylum seekers, who had been living for many months in the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) and in the "jungle" of Samos. The interim measures indicated to the Greek authorities their timely transfer to a centre for unaccompanied minors and to ensure that their reception conditions are compatible with Article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment) and the applicants’ particular status.[14]

In March 2020, a number of EU Member States have accepted to relocate a number of about 1,600 unaccompanied children from Greece.[15] Despite the fact that the number of children to be relocated remains significantly low, compared to the number of unaccompanied children present in Greece (5,379 children as of 29 February 2020), this could be an important precedent.


Types of accommodation for unaccompanied children


Out of the total number of available places for unaccompanied children in Greece at the end of 2019:

  • 1,352 were in 52 shelters for unaccompanied children;
  • 136 places were in 34 Supported Independent Living apartments for unaccompanied children over the age of 16;
  • 300 places were in 10 Safe Zones for unaccompanied children in temporary accommodation centres; and
  • 541 places were in 14 hotels for unaccompanied children.[16]          

Shelters for unaccompanied children: long-term and short-term accommodation facilities for unaccompanied children (shelters) are managed by civil society entities and charities as well as and with the support of IOM. There is only one shelter, operating by a non-profit, public institution established as a legal person governed by private law and supervised by the Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs, the Youth and Lifelong Learning Foundation (INEDIVIM),

Supported Independent Living: “Supported Independent Living for unaccompanied minors” is an alternative housing arrangement for unaccompanied children aged 16 to 18 launched in 2018. The programme includes housing and a series of services (education, health etc.) and aims to enable the smooth coming of age and integration to Greek society.[17]

Safe zones in temporary accommodation centres: Safe zones are designated supervised spaces within temporary open accommodation sites dedicated to unaccompanied children. They should be used as a short-term measure to care for unaccompanied minors in light of the insufficient number of available shelter places, for a maximum of 3 months. Safe zone priority is given to unaccompanied children in detention as well as other vulnerable children.

Hotels for unaccompanied children: Hotels are emergency accommodation spaces being used as a measure to care for unaccompanied children in light of the insufficient number of available shelter places. Priority is given to children in RIC. 

[1] Article 58(1) IPA.

[2] Article 58(2) IPA, citing Article 39 IPA.

[3] Article 39(4)(d) IPA.

[4] Formerly under the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Social Solidarity, which was renamed following the July 2019 reforms introduced through P.D. 81/2019.

[5] Article 22(3) L 4540/2018.

[6] Established with article 27(1) of L. 4554/2018.

[7] EKKA, Situation Update: Unaccompanied Children (UAC) in Greece, 31 December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/37YhbJX.

[8] UNHCR, Factsheet: Greece, December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2UkNxea, p.3.  

[9] For instance, see UNHCR, ‘Lone children face insecurity on the Greek islands’, 14 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/36XQ6pf.

[10] Euronews, ‘U.N. refugees chief urges Greece to improve 'miserable' camp conditions’, 27 November 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2vWsjt3

[11] HRW, ‘Human Rights Watch Submission to the United Nations Committee against Torture on Greece’, 4 July 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2S5ewch.

[12] Council of Europe, ‘New complaint registered concerning Greece’, 21 December 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2SG0FpF.

[13] European Committee of Social Rights, Decision on admissibility and on immediate measures in the case  International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) v. Greece, Complaint No. 173/2018, 23 May 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/39clrGj.

[14] GCR, The European Court of Human Rights provides interim measures to unaccompanied minors living in the RIC and the "jungle" of Samos island, 30 December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2GYQY2p.

[15]  EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Intervention (via video conference) in European Parliament LIBE Committee on the situation at the Union’s external borders in Greece, 2 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3adzSKl.

[16]  EKKA, Situation Update: Unaccompanied Children (UAC) in Greece, 31 December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2GqlZf0.

[17] Metadrasi, Supported Independent Living for unaccompanied minors, available at: https://bit.ly/2tPEljv.


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