Irregular migrants and asylum seekers remain in detention for several months under wholly inappropriate conditions during a pandemic, despite repeated recommendations from national and international bodies to guarantee dignified detention conditions and access to medical and other support.
In a press release on 14 June 2021, the Ombudsman points out the inadequacy of administrative detention facilities, citing, among others, overcrowding, especially in police detention facilities, absence or shortages of medical and nursing staff, psychologists, social workers, lack of interpretation services, lack of sanitary items and linen / clothing, complete absence of or limited yarding.
Detainees* in pre-removal detention centres (PRDCs) spoke to Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) of unacceptable conditions.
The death of two people in the space of a few days three months ago provoked a series of reactions, without however triggering any changes or improvements to conditions or to the policy of prolonged detention. Already in mid-January, RSA had warned of severe shortages in health care for detainees and in the prevention of health risks inside pre-removal centres, as well as of worrying gaps in communication of people with health care staff due to the absence of necessary interpretation services.
On 24 March, 44-year-old Maki Diabate from Guinea, detained in the pre-removal centre of Kos since January, died. According to reports, the forensic report concluded on intestinal obstruction as the cause of death. Diabate was shouting in pain for three days and had repeatedly asked to be taken to the hospital. “We saw that person begging the authorities to take them to the doctor every day and being told that there was no car, there was no doctor, until he died”, stated Amin, an asylum seeker detained for 18 months in the same centre.
On Kos, since the end of 2019, all new arrivals are systematically detained in the pre-removal centre, despite the fact that detention is permissible only as a measure of last resort, following an individualised assessment. The only groups exempted from the automatic detention policy on Kos are unaccompanied minors and people with evident vulnerability. Nevertheless, given that not all arrivals are subject to reception and identification procedures, namely those arriving there from nearby islands e.g. Symi, Kastellorizo, unaccompanied minors have also been subjected to prolonged detention until their identification and recognition as children.
A few days following the death of the Guinean refugee on Kos, on 27 March, 24-year-old Ibrahim Ergun was found dead in the bathroom of the Corinth pre-removal detention centre. According to reports, the young Kurd from Turkey had been detained for 16 months. Shortly before ending his life, he had been informed of further prolongation of his detention.
Following a November 2019 reform, detention can be extended to a total period of 36 months, since the 18-month time limit under L 4636/2019 is separate from pre-removal detention under L 3907/2011, which may also last for 18 months. Bearing in mind the lack of prospects of removal to Turkey due to the indefinite suspension of readmissions under the EU-Turkey deal since March 2020, the legality of continuous prolongations of detention – during a pandemic – is called into question.
During their detention, people face crucial gaps vis-à-vis access to medical and psychosocial services, lack of legal assistance and interpretation, as well as arbitrariness and police violence. Following the suicide of the Kurdish refugee in Corinth, the authorities further restricted yarding instead of taking necessary measures to mitigate the psychological pressure attached to detention. Hussein, detained in Corinth, states that people were allowed outdoor access twice a day prior to the tragic incident. However, yarding is now allowed once a day.
Amin, detained in the pre-removal centre of Kos, states: “There is a yard totalling 100 metres. Wandering here for 18 months is torture. It is a prison with high walls, barbed wire and a lot of police.” Detainees also denounce problems such as poor quality and limited quantity of food, the lack of heating and hot water, poor hygienic conditions and other gaps exacerbating their confinement.
Regarding the detainees’ effective access to remedies against detention and deportation decisions, UNHCR notes the lack of adequate provision of information to the detainees in a language they understand regarding their detention, the lack of interpretation in detention facilities as well as the fact that no legal aid scheme has yet been established by the Greek authorities for the provision of free legal assistance and representation to detainees as foreseen by Article 9(6) of the Reception Conditions Directive.
“If you want [legal] help you have to find a private lawyer. Most people paid a lot of money to private lawyers, but they never helped them. It happened to me too “, says Sohaib, an asylum seeker, who has been detained for more than four months at PRO.KE.KA in Paranesti, Drama, after an attempt to leave Greece for another European country.
“Every now and then we are forced to sign documents [extension of detention] that are written in the Greek language and if we do not sign them, they hit us,” says Amin from the pre-removal centre of Kos.
In statements to RSA, detainees state that they do not have sufficient information about the length of and reasons for their detention, and denounce police violence in cases of protest.
“No one knows how long they have to stay here. We have to wait and wait. Some people go crazy because they do not know when they will be free and have nothing to do here. Others are protesting. They go on hunger strike or injure themselves. Yesterday a man set himself on fire and fell from a building. As soon as he fell, the police went and beat him badly. When you complain, you are beaten or taken to the hospital where you are given an injection and then you sleep for a week. Many detainees take sedatives here… The police usually ignore us. The police mainly become aggressive when we protest… If I ask why I am here, how long I will stay, then they always answer, 18 months“, says Sohaib, from the pre-removal centre of Paranesti.
Similar situations are described by other detainees. “So far [for the 18 months I have been here] we have had three suicide attempts, where we detainees stopped them at the last minute. The police did not worry at all… We do not have a camera on our mobile phones. As soon as we arrive, they break them so that we do not talk to organisations“, underlines Amin from the pre-removal centre of Kos.
In their statements to RSA, detainees highlight difficulties in accessing medical services and serious gaps in measures to protect them against COVID-19.
“There is a doctor but in order to go you have to make a lot of noise, to injure yourself, in order to visit a doctor or a social worker. We do not have masks, we do not wear them, nor do we do tests“, says Hussein, who has been detained for six months in the pre-removal centre of Corinth.
“There is no doctor in the detention centre, but the hospital is very close. If someone gets sick we must inform the police that we need medical help. We do not have masks for everyday life, only if we have to go to the hospital. Most police officers do not usually wear masks. Only when [senior] officials visit the detention centre. There is nothing we can do to protect ourselves from the coronavirus. The police are the only ones coming in and out. They could carry the virus to us. We can’t get it anywhere else. But no one cares. We are forgotten here“, states Sohaib from in the pre-removal centre of Paranesti.
Amin from the pre-removal centre of Kos states: “We have a doctor who, whatever happens, gives you pills for the headache… We have diseases due to lack of hygiene, such as scabies. There is a psychiatrist and you can make an appointment every 8 days and when you go there he tells you all I can give you is a sleeping pill … They give us absolutely nothing to protect ourselves from the coronavirus and they do not pay attention to how we gather [to prevent overcrowding]”.
Parallel to the creation of so-called Closed Controlled Facilities on the Aegean islands, the government is proceeding with the upgrade of the pre-removal centre of Fylakio, Evros which has been out of operation since last September, while the new Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) and pre-removal centre in Samos are expected to be up and running soon. The Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD), which was released last week and designates Turkey as a “safe third country” for asylum seekers originating from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia, is expected to increase prolonged and indiscriminate detention and to exacerbate conditions, as thousands of refugees and migrants will find themselves in a legal limbo.
Prolonged detention following the rejection of asylum applications, combined with proposed changes to deportation and return procedures currently under public consultation and expected to be adopted soon, is aimed at serving as a deterrent for asylum seekers in Greece
Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) calls on the Greek authorities:
- To immediately end the generalised and systematic implementation of administrative detention against refugees and migrants.
- To comply with their obligation to conduct an individual assessment of the necessity of imposing in each case, taking particularly into account the conditions of detention in light of the pandemic.
- To take immediate action to improve detention conditions in accordance with the recommendations of national and international bodies.
- To immediately address deficiencies in the treatment of detainees and the prevention of health risks.
- To ensure the communication of detainees with appropriate and adequate medical staff, as well as their access to legal assistance.
* The names and nationalities of the respondents are not listed to protect their privacy. The interviews were conducted by telephone between 7-26 May 2021.
- According to the AIDA (Asylum Information Database) report, six pre-removal centres are in operation with the following capacity: Corinth 960 persons, Amygdaleza 922 persons, Paranesti Drama 500 persons, Kos 474 persons, Tavros (Petrou Ralli) 270 persons, Xanthi 200 persons. During 2020, detention was applied to a total of 14,993 persons, of whom 10,130 asylum seekers. ↑
- In response to a parliamentary question in May, the Ministry of Citizen Protection states among others that a Sworn Administrative Inquiry has been ordered for the death in the pre-removal centre of Corinth. A Preliminary Administrative Inquiry was launched for the death in the pre-removal centre of Kos. ↑
- According to a report, citing the Hellenic Police, eight deaths have been reported in detention centres from 2012 to 2020. ↑
- According to UNHCR, vulnerable asylum seekers, including persons with medical conditions, are likely to remain in prolonged detention on Kos during the examination of their asylum application. Until April, newly arrived families were also detained in the pre-removal centre. The practice ended, however, following UNHCR intervention (Written response, 27 May 2021). In March, RSA published the stories of two vulnerable women held in the pre-removal centre of Kos, including one minor: https://rsaegean.org/en/stories-of-refugees-eu-turkey-deal-five-years-of-shame/ ↑
- According to UNHCR, conditions of detention differ among the PRDCs. While the provision of medical and psychosocial services in PRDCs by Health Units S.A. during the past years has gradually improved, there are still significant gaps in some PRDCs. Although refurbishment works have been conducted in some PRDCs (the most recent being Fylakio and Tavros), material detention conditions continue to be challenging in a number of PRDCs. This is due to a lack of maintenance of the infrastructure, inadequate provision of hygiene and non-food items, including clothes and shoes, clean mattresses and blankets and cleaning services, limited supply of relief items and limited access to recreational activities. Detention conditions are seriously substandard (e.g. no access to open air, natural light, poor hygiene conditions) in most police/port-police stations and border guard stations, where detention exceeds the 24 hours limit set by the European Committee for the prevention of torture (CPT) as upper time limit for detention in this type of facilities. (Written answer, 27 May 2021). ↑
- Written answer, 27 May 2021. ↑
- In late January, a group of detainees went on hunger strike, denouncing assault and mass torture by police. An international media report states that asylum seekers in Thessaloniki are hiding to avoid police control because, despite having documents, they end up in months of administrative detention or are illegally returned to Turkey, while there is a report of systematic use of force by police in the Paranesti pre-removal centre. ↑
- In response to a parliamentary question in December 2020, the Directorate of Migration Management of the Ministry of Citizen Protection spoke of a demarcation of quarantine areas for suspected cases of COVID-19 and newly arrived detainees, of provision of medical supplies to detainees, and of strict observance of hygiene standards. ↑
- According to a media report, scheduled appointments for asylum interviews in Attica structures have already been postponed, pending instructions for the implementation of the JMD. ↑