Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 10/06/21


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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

Following the establishment of the Special Secretary for Unaccompanied Minors (SSUM) under the MoMA in February 2020[4], and the entry into force of L. 4756/2020 in November of the same year, the SSUM has become the competent authority for the protection of UAM, including the accommodation of UAM, while EKKA, under the supervision of the Directorate for the Protection of Children and Families of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs remains responsible for the representation of UAM, including through the guardianship provided under L. 4554/2018.[5] As far as GCR is aware, the handover of activities (e.g. referrals) in the context of accommodation for UAM had been fully handed over to the office of the Special Secretary by the end of 2020.

Increased, yet still insufficient reception capacity for unaccompanied children

As of 15 January, 2021, there were 4,048 unaccompanied and separated children in Greece but only 1,715 places in long-term dedicated accommodation facilities, and 1,094 places in temporary accommodation.[6] An estimated 930 UAM were still living in insecure and/or precarious conditions, with unknown adults and/or homeless.

The total number of referrals of unaccompanied children received by EKKA and/or SSUM in 2020 was 6,006, marking a 39% decrease when compared to the same period in 2019 (9,816). At the same time, the number of long-term accommodation spaces, specifically designated for unaccompanied minors, continued to increase, reaching a total of 1,715 places by year’s end, as opposed to 1,286 by the end of 2019 (approx. 33% increase) [7]. Of the 6,006 UAM that were referred to accommodation, 5,530 were boys, the majority of who above the age of 12 (97%), and 476 were girls, most of who (78%) older the 12 years old.[8]

The average waiting period for the placement of unaccompanied minors residing in and/or outside of island RICs to suitable accommodation places for UAMs throughout the whole of 2020 remains unavailable up to the time of writing. Yet out of the total UAM referred to accommodation throughout the year, an increasing number were placed to a dedicated facility for UAM closer to the time of their referral, highlighting a positive trend as the year progressed.

Q 2020 No. of requests for accommodation % of UAM that were placed to accommodation within the specific quarter* % of UAM that were placed to accommodation after the specific quarter *
Q1 2,458 31.6 58.0
Q2 975 29.1 57.7
Q3 1,398 59.2 20.0
Q4 1,175 57.0 10.7
Total 6,006

Source: Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors. Data received on 28 January 2021* The percentage of UAM that were placed within the specific quarter or afterwards, includes accommodation requests that were addressed or rejected after verification

This positive trend was reaffirmed in December 2020. More precisely, the average waiting time for the placement of UAMs from RICs to an accommodation place for UAMs in December 2020 was 11.2 days, amounting to a highly welcome reduction in the waiting times compared to previous years. Following the abolition in “protective custody” in law, waiting times were even shorter for UAMs in detention. In December 2020, the average waiting time for the placement of UAMs in “protective custody” to an accommodation place was 6.4 days for the Evros RIC and 1.9 days for other facilities[9].

Overall, however, it should be noted that delays with respect to transfers from RICs to dedicated accommodation for UAM remained pertinent in 2020, with the average waiting time for transfer from the RICs to dedicated shelters throughout the whole of 2020 being 4 months for the RIC of Kos, 7-8 months for the RIC of Leros and the Evros RIC, 3 months for the RIC of Lesvos, and 6-7 months for the RICs of Samos and Chios.[10]

Yet despite significant improvements, by the beginning of 2021, more than 900 UAM remained homeless and/or were living in precarious conditions that expose them to safety risks.

The lack of appropriate care, including accommodation for unaccompanied children, in Greece has been repeatedly raised by human rights bodies.[11] 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”,[12] 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”.[13]

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.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

In March 2020, a number of EU Member States have accepted to relocate a number of about 1,600 unaccompanied children from Greece.[17] Despite the fact that the number of children to be relocated remains significantly low, compared to the number of unaccompanied children present in Greece (3,776 children as of 15 April 2021[18]), this a welcome initiative and tangible display of responsibility sharing that facilitate UAM’s access to durable solutions.

The first relocation under the scheme took place on 15 April 2020, with the first 12 UAM being relocated from Greece to Luxemburg, after previously having stayed for months in the overcrowded, unsuitable and unsafe RICs of Lesvos, Samos, and Chios. As noted by the Regional Director of IOM at the time “[t]he importance of this crucial initiative is amplified now due to the challenges we are all facing from COVID-19. Relocation of vulnerable children especially at a time of heightened hardship, sends a strong message of European solidarity and we hope to see this expand soon”[19].

By 27 April 2021, a total of 749 UAM, amongst who 95% boys and 5% girls, had been relocated to 12 EU member states, most of whom to France (271), followed by Germany (204) and Finland (98)[20].

Types of accommodation for unaccompanied children

Out of the total number of available places for unaccompanied children in Greece at the end of 2020:

  • 1,621 were in 62 shelters for unaccompanied children;
  • 412 places were in 103 Supported Independent Living apartments for unaccompanied children over the age of 16;
  • 450 places were in 15 Safe Zones for unaccompanied children in temporary accommodation centres; and
  • 1,085 places were in 15 hotels for unaccompanied children.[21]

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 by 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).

Shelters (December 2020)
Region Number of units Capacity (min-max) Implementing actors
Attiki (mainly Athens) 36 903 (12-40 places) The HOME Project, Nostos, Medin, Apostoli, Arsis, IOM, Hellenic Red Cross, European Expression, Iliaktida, Medin, KEAN, Kinoniko EKAV, METAdrasi, Zeuxis, ERP, SMAN, Pharos
Central Macedonia 6 169 (15-34) Arsis, IOM, ERP
Eastern Macedonia & Thrace 3 61 (10-26) Arsis, The Smile of the Child
Epirus 3 120 (40) ICSD, Youth Center of Epirus
Northern Aegean (mainly Lesvos) 8 183 (16-36) Iliaktida, METAdrasi
Thessalia 2 60 (30) Arsis, Hellenic Red Cross
Western Greece 2 49 (19-30) IOM, Hellenic Red Cross
Western Macedonia 2 76 (36-40) Kinoniko EKAV, Municipality

 Source: Information provided by Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum on 28 January 2021


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.[22]

SILs (December 2020)
Area Number Capacity (per unit Implementing actor
Athens 56 224 (4) IRC, METAdrasi, PRAKSIS, SolidarityNow
Ioannina 10 40 (4) Arsis, METAdrasi
Kalamata 1 4 (4) METAdrasi
Kozani 4 16 (4) Arsis
Thessaloniki 32 128 (4) Arsis, METAdrasi, SolidarityNow

Source: Information provided by Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum on 28 January 2021

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.

Safe Zones (December 2020)
Unit Capacity Implementing actor
Agia Eleni 30 Arsis
Alexandria 30 GCR
Elaionas 30 GCR
Diavata 30 Arsis
Drama 30 Arsis
Kavala 30 Arsis
Lagadikia 30 Arsis
Malakasa 30 IOM
Philipiada 30 IOM
Ritsona 30 Arsis
Schisto 30 Arsis
Skaramangas 30 IOM
Thiva 30 Arsis
Vagiochori 30 IOM
Veria 30 IOM

 Source: Information provided by Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum on 28 January 2021


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.

Hotels (December 2020)
Area Number Capacity (min.-max.) Implementing actor
Athens 3 410 (60-200) IOM
Ioannina 2 85 (35-50) Arsis, SolidarityNow
Konitsa 1 52 SolidarityNow
Kamena Vourla 1 70 IOM
Kozani 2 131 (60-71) IOM
Serres 1 90 IOM
Thessaloniki 5 247 (35-65) IOM

Source: Information provided by Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum on 28 January 2021



[1]  Article 58(1) IPA.

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

[3]   Article 39(4)(d) IPA.

[4]  Article 1(3) P.D.18/2020, Gov. Gazette 34/Α/19-2-2020.

[5]  Articles 13 & 14 L.4756/2020.

[6]  EKKA, Situation Update: Unaccompanied Children (UAC) in Greece, 15 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/36lLJa3.

[7]  AIDA, Country Report for Greece: 2019 Update and EKKA, Situation Update: Unaccompanied Children (UAC) in Greece, 15 April 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3vpPEMR [last accessed 28 April 2021]. 

[8]  Information provided by Special Secretariat for Reception of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum on 28 January 2021

[9]  Information provided by Special Secretariat for Reception of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum on 28 January 2021

[10] Information provided by the RIS on 26 February 2021.

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

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

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

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

[15] 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.

[16]   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.

[17]  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.

[18] EKKA, Situation Update: Unaccompanied Children (UAC) in Greece, 15 April 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3vpPEMR [last accessed 28 April 2021]. 

[19] IOM, UNHCR & UNICEF, “UN agencies welcome first relocation of unaccompanied children from Greece”, 15 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2Pv0BNY.

[20] IOM, Voluntary Scheme for the Relocation from Greece to other European Countries, updated up to 27 April 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3gTfi8G. [last accessed 28 April 2021]

[21] All data provided by the office of the Special Secretary for Unaccompanied Minors on 28 January 2021.

[22] 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