Lesvos CCAP, Kara Tepes, Mavrovouni

27% of the total number of arrivals in 2022 entered Lesvos. The structure is located in the Mavrovouni location, about 5 km away from the centre of Mytilene. It began its operation as a Temporary Accommodation Structure for Asylum Seekers after the destruction of the Reception and Identification Centre in Moria from a fire in September 2020, and has since functioned as the Reception and Identification Centre of Mytilini (RIC Lesvos). In November 2022, the structure was transformed from a Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) to a Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC). It is located in a former shooting range and is very close to the sea, exposed to the weather conditions, especially to the north wind and dust, which makes living there really difficult.

We note that the structure has reached the upper limit of its actual capacity

(Lesvos Inter-agency coordination meeting, 27 March 2023)​


According to the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum[1], there were 95 unaccompanied minors on March 9 in Lesvos CCAC, 55 of whom lived in the “safe area” with a nominal capacity of 100 children.

There are worrying reports that unaccompanied minors, including unaccompanied girls, remain after arrival in the CCAC, often for an unspecified period of time, at periods when accommodation facilities for unaccompanied minors are full. RSA also points out that survivors of shipwrecks, belonging to a vulnerable group due to the state of danger they have experienced and because they often have lost family members, are driven to the CCAC immediately after their rescue, without receiving special reception conditions.

Regarding alternative forms of housing on the island, according to the UNHCR[2], the local NGO Iliaktida provides a structure for unaccompanied minors and IOM operates the “safe area” for unaccompanied minors. In addition, Diotima operates a programme for emergency housing for gender violence survivors, while the local NGO Solidarity Lesvos operates a housing programme for single women or/and with very young children. Finally, there are more than 220 people who have found housing on their own.

Within the CCAC, METAdrasi NGO provides non-formal education courses for minors and adults, while a few students attend evening schools. There is, however, an improvement over 2022 with regard to the participation of refugee children residing in CCAC in formal education, while at the same time, there are constant transfers of the children, since a significant number of the residents are transferred to structures in the mainland. In mid-March, out of 250 children at the age of compulsory education (4-14), 210 were enrolled in public schools, 150 were actually studying and 60 were on hold. Out of the 50 children in the 15-17 age group, 15 were enrolled and only 5 attended courses.

Difficult living conditions

The newcomers to Lesvos, before their official registration, resided quarantined in rubhalls[3] in the CCAC at least until the end of March 2023, with the exception of those who are transferred to the Controlled Facility for Temporary Accommodation of West Lesvos. According to testimonies from cases legally handled by RSA, there were cases in the previous period when newcomers had to sleep on mattress-free palettes and at particularly low temperatures.

There are shortages in hot water, children’s milk and bed linen, poor quality of mattresses, as well as complaints about the quality of food. Residents and people working in the structure speak of very frequent power cuts in addition to general problems. They also refer to economic hardship due to inability to find a job. Sabira*, an Afghan woman who has been living with her husband and three children for 5 months in a container, tells to RSA[4]: “We have no help. We used to be given shampoos and dish detergent, but now we receive nothing. There’s no organisation to help us here. (…) We have received the financial allowance only for 2 months. We used it to buy shampoo and internet access. Money is not enough. (…) My children need to take something to school for food, and we have nothing to give them. Not enough water is given to us, they only give us one bottle a day for each person.” Significant deficiencies are observed in adult empowerment and reception activities within the structure, aggravating the mental state of the residents. “One day spends like a year,” the woman adds.

On Lesvos, as in all CCAC, there are conditions of constant control, surveillance and repression, while actors in the field of protection report an increase in cases of violence and domestic violence. The mental state of many residents is especially burdened: “There are people who once they arrive on the island they are being chased by hooded people [in the context of informal forced return operations[5]]. They’re very traumatised. They constantly live in fear and insecurity” an employee emphasises to RSA.

Significant shortages of health and interpreting staff

Despite the relative improvement of housing conditions in relation to the notorious structure in Moria, the situation within the CCAC of Lesvos is particularly worrying, mainly due to the lack of medical staff, psychologists and interpreters. At the end of March there were only two National Public Health Organisation doctors inside the CCAC and the procedure for identifying vulnerability was very problematic. There is also reference to huge gaps in interpretation and shortages of personnel at the Reception and Identification Service.

There are people who have been granted refugee status and they have the document in their hand, and they don’t know what it writes and that they have been granted asylum,” a person working in an organisation tells us. We should also note that the National Public Health Organisation stated that from January 11, 2023 and until further notice, its Psychosocial Unit would not accept requests for psychological support due to lack of interpreters. By the end of March the provision of interpretation to the Unit had not been fully restored, resulting in significant gaps. The problems are exacerbated by the significant burden, due to the lack of staff, of the already understaffed general hospital of the island, causing reactions by the residents. In addition to this structure, Médecins Sans Frontières provides medical services and so does INTERSOS organisation with mental health and psychosocial support programmes. Regarding the effects of the security and surveillance regime within the CCAC on the physical and mental health of residents, Apostolos Veizis, doctor and general director of INTERSOS HELLAS, says to RSA: “Uncertainty, lack of health services, general lack of support services for these people, have serious consequences. We have seen in people who have had traumas, those traumas growing, and we have seen people who were healthy, then ailing, physically and mentally, under those circumstances. After the sessions in our centre these people have to go back to the CCAC, to the same place where the pain is ‘produced’.”

Problems with access to lawyers

Since the summer of 2022 and until the end of the year, there were significant problems in the access of lawyers within the structure. As RSA has pointed out in a joint submission along with the organisation HIAS to the European Ombudsman, lawyers wishing to enter the structure, had to submit a “request of entry” for each one beneficiary they wished to visit, at least one day in advance, in order to receive the “necessary approval” from the Administration of the CCAC. Beneficiaries also had to have given to the lawyers a signed authorisation in order for them to get an admission of entry – even for their first contact with them. These problems seem to have been solved for the time being after the reaction of the organisations in the field and the invocation of the opinion of the Athens Bar Association towards the Ministry of Migration and Asylum. At the present stage, for lawyers to enter, they must only show their lawyers’ identity.

According to the UNHCR[6], free legal services within the CCAC were provided in mid-March in the UNHCR Protection Centre on a daily basis, starting 10 a.m. by 5 pm, and alternately by the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) with a Greek lawyer, METAdrasi with two Greek lawyers and the European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL) with two Greek lawyers. Furthermore, as the UNHCR points out, apart from the ordinary presence of the aforementioned institutions, all legal assistance organisations in Lesvos have agreed to share their contact details in a “leaflet of legal assistance organisations”, which is available in eight languages and distributed by the UNHCR to all newcomers on the island, before registration by the Greek authorities, and at any other time that the residents in the CCAC request information for legal assistance by the UNHCR. Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) is among the organisations that offer free legal assistance to CCAC residents on a permanent basis.

The Black Hole of the Controlled Facility for Temporary Accommodation of West Lesvos

The Controlled Facility for Temporary Accommodation of West Lesvos (Megala Therma or Kastelia) is complementary to the CCAC of Lesvos (Mavrovouni)[7]. The newcomers arriving within the Municipality of West Lesvos are transferred there. Although it is now officially under the jurisdiction and responsibility of the Reception and Identification Service of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum[8], this structure does not abide by the prescribed registration and identification procedure and the identification of vulnerable cases, nor does it provide for appropriate reception conditions, with residents remaining in isolation from the outside world. The structure is located in a rented space in a remote area and receives people who have just arrived on the island. A deputy commander has recently been appointed there, but there is no administrative staff of the Reception and Identification Service on a 24-hour basis[9]. At the end of 2022, two posts of specialised security personnel were provided for 24/7, as well as one post for general cleaning and disinfection duties, for 14 hours a day[10]. The duration of these services was set on January 1, 2023 and ended on March 31, 2023. For the remaining hours and at a distance from the site, there is Greek Police staff, who cannot, however, de facto, respond to any urgent medical needs.

In this structure there is no medical or nursing staff, despite the fact that it is located more than 50 km from the Lesvos General Hospital “Vostanio” and about 30 km from the Kalloni Health Centre. The National Public Health Organisation Unit visits the structure in order to perform tests for Covid-19 and the Médecins Sans Frontières mobile unit visits the residents twice a week.

This structure was originally intended for a short stay of people. Even today, the necessary material living conditions are not provided, since it is located in a fenced open-air area, within walking distance from the sea and exposed to weather conditions. The individual parts within the structure are separated by barbed wire and people cannot move even within the structure, as the residents do not have the option of exiting the fenced area designated for them. Within each distinct fenced section, there have been placed plastic huts (RHUs/Refugee Housing Units) without beds, where residents reside in overcrowded conditions and without meeting the minimum standards of safe accommodation. There are makeshift faucets/showers/toilets inside the area, while there is insufficient access to basic sanitation. Access to hot water is also extremely limited given the often large number of people living there. Electricity is provided by a generator for a few hours a day, with no provision for heating or cooling.

Newcomers are in fact kept in the structure arbitrarily without any information provided to them, without any relevant decision and without respecting the strict guarantees of legislation on imposing administrative detention or at least the restriction of liberty within the structure applicable during the reception and identification procedure, without initiating reception and identification procedures and without being notified of documents for them to know their legal status. Since November 2022, this informal detention usually takes five days and at least until a Covid-19 test is carried out. The actual time spent there, however, is unspecified and extended when no places are available in the CCAC, a phenomenon which was observed at the end of March in cases supported by RSA. The result is that people are arbitrarily detained without a formal reason, without a legal procedure, for a period which is not counted, albeit should, in the maximum number of 25 days of their ‘restriction of liberty’, as provided for in the Asylum Code.

Temporary break for the EU-funded superstructure in Vastria by the Council of State

H υπό κατασκευή νέα ΚΕΔ στη Βάστρια

The Greek government aimed to inaugurate the new CCAC in the Vastria region and close the structure in Mavrovouni before Easter 2023. The new structure, despite the strong reactions of the local society, was located on an area of about 240 acres in a remote district in Northern Lesvos next to the landfill, and has a budget of EUR 76 million plus VAT. It is adjacent to a protected NATURA area and is 100% funded directly by the European Union through the Emergency Support Mechanism. The workings for its construction were conducted at an intensive pace in the previous autumn, despite the fact that a request for suspension had been submitted by the Northern Aegean Region and the neighbouring communities of Komi and N. Kydonia in the Council of State, while the issuance of the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment and the approval of the fire protection study were also pending. The Mytilene City Council in early February issued a unanimous negative opinion on the delayed Environmental Impact Assessment for Vastria and recommended the Region to reject it on grounds of public interest. The reactions from local factors are also strong, accusing the Minister of Migration and Asylum of lying.

The Council of State, in its interim decision (199/19.12.2022), upheld the application on the part examined related to the route of access to the Vastria structure, prohibiting its construction until the final judgement of the court on the application for annulment. The court upheld that the construction of the road would lead to irreversible destruction of the forest wealth and rare avifauna of the protected area. At the beginning of February, the Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarakis stated that the project had reached 50% of its technical completion and is in the phase of full completion within 2023. At the end of March, and despite legal impediments, the construction continued on even non-working days.

Capturing the change of the natural landscape due to the construction of the new Lesvos CCAC in Vastria through satellite imagery.

The structure is designed to have a nominal force of 3,000 people, with the prospect of infrastructure being increased to nominal capacity of 5,000 or more people, while, within the same area, a Pre-Removal Detention Centre (PROKEKA) is also planned, that will have an initial nominal capacity of 2,000 people, which can also reach 5,000. As a result, the total nominal capacity of the two structures can easily reach or even exceed 10,000 people. There are serious concerns that, due to the remote location, there will be no information and control on what will happen there, and of course there will be no potential for social pre-inclusion of refugees. There are also serious concerns regarding safety and forest fires. “We are opposed to this construction in the heart of the biggest pine forest of the Aegean, since the risk of fire in these structures is very high, as we all know, and if, in the summer, a fire starts from there, it will burn thousands of acres of virgin forest and risk people’s lives, as escape routes for so many thousands of people are problematic” Michalis Bakas, environmentalist and coordinator of the Ecologist Greens in Lesvos, points out in RSA.


*Names have been changed for privacy and security reasons.


  1. Written response to RSA on March 16, 2023, with the clarification that in Lesvos, along with the safe area within the structure, there is a place of unaccompanied minors accommodation. This 40-person capacity space operates under the Ministry of Migration and Asylum with the cooperation of the IOM. 40 unaccompanied minors are currently housed there. The discrepancy between all unaccompanied minors and those living in a safe area refers to minors separated by a temporary custody act.

  2. Information from the UNHCR written response to RSA on March 16, 2023.

  3. Particularly large, shifting structure like a tent, often used in emergency situations.

  4. Interview by telephone, March 7, 2023.

  5. According to reports, apart from cases of informal forced returns during sea operations, in Lesvos there have been recorded informal forced returns even of people who had already arrived in Lesvos and stayed in the quarantine area in West Lesvos. See here and here (p. 21-22).

  6. Ibid. 2.

  7. Founded by Article 34 para. 1 case c’ PD 106/2020.

  8. Article 12 PD. 77/17.11.2022 (FEK A ‘212/2022), that amended Article 34 PD. 106/2020.

  9. Decision under protocol number 747752/12.12.2022 of the Secretary-General for the reception of asylum seekers is relevant, available here.

  10. See the decision under protocol number 750660 of the Secretary-General for Migration Policy.

Back to the main publication:
What is happening today in the refugee structures on the Aegean islands

Read in detail about the conditions prevailing at:
Chios, Samos, Kos, Leros

Εδώ μπορείτε να βρείτε τη δημοσίευση στα ελληνικά


 Phone: +30 22711 03721
 Fax: +30 22711 00466
 Press: [email protected]
 Email: [email protected]

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) 2023

Privacy Policy
Complaint submission form



In Chios, there was also an increase of arrivals in the last months of 2022 compared to 2021. Vial’s former Reception and Identification Centre (RIC), which has been operating since 2016, was renamed in November 2022 to Chios’ Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC). It is located 8 km from the city of Chios, bordering the village of Halkios. The structure was built in an older, abandoned aluminium plant, where half of the factory has been used in recent years as a waste separation and recovery centre, resulting in severe stench during the summer months. Until November 2022, the newcomers were transferred to the quarantine structure in the Lefkonia area for a period of 14 days, as part of the protective measures for non-spreading Covid-19. The quarantine structure in Lefkonia was finally closed on 31 December 2022.

Recently, the number of residents has decreased substantially[1]

According to the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum[2], on March 9, 39 unaccompanied minors were in Chios CCAC, all of whom lived in the “safe area” with a nominal capacity of 72 children. In mid-March, there was no longer a Commissioner for unaccompanied minors on the island, as the contract of the lawyer with that duty expired. At the same time, the Governor of the CCAC, whose term officially expires at the end of April, has stated his resignation. In Chios, the number of organisations active in the field has also decreased, with significant impacts on the provision of basic services and goods.

Alternative forms of housing for vulnerable adults and families no longer exist on the island. According to the UNHCR[3], METAdrasi operates a transitional accommodation structure for unaccompanied minors, the Ark of the World has a shelter for children whose parental care has been removed upon a prosecutorial order, while there are also some persons who have found housing with their own resources (self-accommodated).

Non-formal education courses for minors and adults residing in the CCAC are provided by METAdrasi.

Without a doctor and a social worker

The main problem in Chios during the RSA research period was the lack of a doctor within the structure as well as the deficiencies in psychosocial support, even for unaccompanied minors. Since April 2021 there has been no stable presence of a doctor within the structure. Also, there has been no social worker for a year, so, when an incident must be looked into, normally carried out only by a social worker, psychologists conduct the procedure. The vulnerability evaluation procedure seems to be inadequate, as in an attempt to find a solution to the serious shortage of medical staff, nursing staff is called upon to fill the gap, by asking asylum seekers questions. Then, the relevant documents are signed by a doctor who visits the structure from Chios’ hospital or from a National Public Health Organisation Unit. This procedure excludes from medical examination those who are considered not meeting the vulnerability criteria, since they are provided for with a medical examination appointment and a medical card only in case of doubt.

In mid-February, Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario (SmH), which covered serious deficiencies in medical care within the CCAC, and was registered in the previous Registry of the Administration, had to cease its operation due to non-registration in the NGO Registry of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum. SmH had been on the island since 2015 with doctors and nurses, also providing ultrasound for the residents. Due to the withdrawal of SmH, which was cooperating together with the German organisation Offene Arme for the transport of emergency incidents to the hospital by taxi, and for supporting scheduled appointments, there was a large gap created, which has not been filled until now. The emergencies that arise in the structure must be served by the single National Emergency Centre (EKAV) vehicle on the island, which cannot already serve the existing needs of the local population, thus losing human lives. After the departure of SmH, residents – even pregnant women – must also address private doctors or the hospital (with significant delays) to make an ultrasound.

Shortages of basic goods

There is a significant improvement in the sense of security compared to the past. However, people who work inside the structure talk about containers in very poor condition, which need extensive maintenance to be habitable, and in most of which air conditioning does not operate, resulting in winter residents buying halogen stoves to warm up. Also, disinfestations are carried out, because of the many cockroaches in the spaces. The food is of low quality, and there are reports of food poisonings.

There are also serious problems with the schedules for transporting students from Vial to the public school. Clothes and shoes are provided by very few organisations outside the structure, such as Offene Arme. Employees report that there are shortages of basic goods at times, even for unaccompanied minors living in the structure.

Interpretation and legal support

In mid-March, the structure had three Arabic speakers, a French-speaking and a Somali interpreter, who were called to meet needs in other services as well, as at that time no other service had interpreters. The General Hospital of Chios “Skylitsios” no longer has interpreters, which makes it often extremely difficult for patients to communicate with staff. When an emergency arises, interpreters by telephone are provided by the CCAC.

According to the UNHCR[4], legal assistance is provided within the CCAC by METAdrasi, with a full-time lawyer, as well as by PRAKSIS for legal proceedings of children in families, with a part-time lawyer. The organisations Equal Rights Beyond Borders, A.Ss.i.S.T. and RSA also provide legal support, but have no presence within the CCAC.

Obstacles to the construction of the new superstructure in the Tholos area

The Ministry's goal was to open the new closed structure in April 2023, but a new deadline has been given for September 2023. Satellite lite Imagery: 9/7/2021

Despite the fact that the local society has expressed in various ways and repeatedly its total opposition to the construction of any superstructure in Chios and in particular in the Tholos area, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum insists on its construction. The Ministrys goal was to open the new closed structure in April 2023, but a new deadline has been given for September 2023. The construction of the 100% financed directly by the European Union closed structure in the Tholos area proceeds neither with the acceptance of the local society nor lawfully, with the Ministry’s request for access of the machinery to the disputed area being challenged in four consecutive court decisions. Last December, Chios’ single-member Court of First Instance, which discussed the Ministry’s request for interim measures in order to secure access to the Tholos area in question, refused issuing an interim order for the fourth time. The rediscussion of the interim measures is expected to take place on July 5, 2023, before the Chios’ single-member Court of First Instance. The Minister of Migration and Asylum has extended by amendment the possession of Vial (of municipal property) until December 31, 2023 for its use as a Reception and Identification Centre[5].


  1. According to the UNHCR weekly snapshot for Chios, as of April 2, 2023.

  2. Written response to RSA on March 16, 2023. The discrepancy between all unaccompanied minors and those living in a safe area refers to minors separated by a temporary custody act.

  3. Information from the UNHCR written response to RSA on March 16, 2023.

  4. Ibid. footnote 2.

  5. L 5003/2022 FEK 230/A’/14.12.2022, Article 136.

Back to the main publication:
What is happening today in the refugee structures on the Aegean islands

Read in detail about the conditions prevailing at:
Lesvos, Samos, Kos, Leros

Εδώ μπορείτε να βρείτε τη δημοσίευση στα ελληνικά


 Phone: +30 22711 03721
 Fax: +30 22711 00466
 Press: [email protected]
 Email: [email protected]

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) 2023

Privacy Policy
Complaint submission form


Samos CCAC

There were increased flows of people recorded in Samos in the last months of 2022, as were in the first months of 2023. The Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC) of Samos was inaugurated in September 2021 after the closure of the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Vathi and despite the reactions of local actors and civil society. It is located in the location “Zervou” of the Municipality of Eastern Samos, in a mountainous spot, in the area of the old slaughterhouses, about 9 km from Vathy (the capital of the island). Within the structure, office infrastructure has been created for around 400 jobs, to meet the needs of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, the Greek Police and other stakeholders. According to the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors of the Ministry for Migration and Asylum[1], on March 9, 50 unaccompanied minors resided in the CCAC of Samos, 44 of them inside the “safe area”, which has a nominal capacity of 320 children.

NGOs operating on the island provide accommodation outside the structure to a very limited number of people. According to the UNHCR[2], as regards alternative forms of housing, there is only the transitional accommodation structure for unaccompanied minors by METAdrasi and a limited number of self-accommodated people, supported by the NGO Space Eye for renting apartments in an urban environment.

METAdrasi offers non-formal education courses for adults within the CCAC, while outside the CCAC, Greek courses are provided by volunteers. According to the RSA research, in mid-March a significant proportion of the children residing within the CCAC attended the public schools. However, there is a shortage of space in the halls of the Gymnasium and Lyceum’s reception classes, due to the lack of rooms. The Centre for Homework and Creative Activities by ARSIS operates in Samos, providing evening tutoring services for refugee children attending the public schools of the island, teaching Greek and English language and mathematics for unaccompanied minors, as well as providing life skills courses for all children[3]. At the end of March a total of 98 children attended.

Isolation and strict guarding conditions

The structure is guarded by the Greek Police and by a private security company 24 hours a day, with at least 50 uniformed people present on each shift. As refugees and lawyers told us, some of the main problems facing residents are isolation from the local community, disproportionately strict guarding, and even the use of force by the authorities. In a publication earlier this year, refugees complained that police officers — border guards had ferociously and unfairly beaten them, after taking them to a darkened part of the structure. The North Aegean Police Directorate has announced the launch of a Sworn Administrative Examination (EDE) on the incidents. Regarding the severe guard and surveillance conditions, employees were complaining about the violation of privacy experienced by residents and themselves as early as the beginning of 2022[4]. According to publications, even children are forced to undergo strict controls every day, i.e. in their school backpacks.

Samos’ CCAC was the first structure in which such strict control and surveillance measures were applied. The Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) had warned as early as 2021 that this regime “violates the right of residents to private individual and family life” and that “the imposition of all manifestations of these people’s lives within a closed structure, within strict planning and control, implies the absence of private life, the destruction of their identity and dignity”. Médecins Sans Frontières have described the new structure as a “dystopian nightmare that will contribute to isolation and further re-injury” and have noted that the high-security infrastructures affect people’s mental health.

By talking to residents, it emerges that some people feel a sense of security in the presence of security and surveillance measures; others, however, feel that these are excessive and do not make sense: “They are strict and we do not feel their effectiveness, since there are still property losses, damages and quarrels” says Mohamed*, a Palestinian asylum seeker[5]. It is also doubtful whether data collected from the cameras can also be used when the residents themselves need it, for example for legal reasons. “As lawyers of the organisation HRLP, we have received dozens of complaints regarding police violence within the CCAC of Samos and we have also filed a complaint for one of our principals. To the best of our knowledge, no CCTV cameras have been yet used to investigate the complaints. We also know from principals convicted by the Samos’ Criminal Court for their alleged involvement in incidents within the structure, that they were asking both the police authorities and the Court to use the video footage of the CCTV cameras in order to prove their innocence, which however never happened. Having now undertaken their defence, we will request the reception of the material for the Court of Appeal” as lawyers Ioanna Begiazi and Dimitris Choulis from the organisation Human Rights Legal Project (HRLP), point out to RSA.

It should be noted that in Samos there has been recorded a case of illegal and arbitrary detention of eight asylum seekers of Palestinian origin in a police station on the island for a month, when they entered voluntarily to register their asylum request. Among them was a 20-year-old woman who, for 26 days, was held in a cell enclosed by bars — akin to a cage — inside the cell where the seven men were kept.

Shortages of services

RSA spoke with refugees that reported significant shortages of basic goods. “There is a lack of shoes and soap. Previously, there were volunteers who gave us such items. Now volunteers in Vathy give us these items, but again they are not enough” points out Samuel* from Sierra Leone, who has been living in the CCAC for several months and is waiting for an answer to his subsequent asylum application[6]. “The decision is ready (…) but they don’t tell me anything. The lawyer won’t let me know either. I’m very stressed. I don’t know what will happen” he adds.

Of particular concern is the information of planning to limit the availability of Wi-Fi access to the structure only to persons with a valid International Protection Applicant Card, from the beginning of the year. This would practically mean that access to the internet would not be given to other groups of persons, including those subject to reception and identification procedures, applicants awaiting a preliminary assessment of a subsequent application and those rejected. This measure has not yet been implemented, but if so it would bring an even greater isolation for these groups of residents in the CCAC. “This is essentially a plan for [mental] exhaustion of these people” as a member of a group of people who act in solidarity with the refugees characteristically told us.

Problems in legal support and medical care

Problems in the access of lawyers within the structure had been observed since the summer and until recently in Samos too, similar to those in Lesvos. Lawyers of the Avocats Sans Frontières, HRLP and I Have Rights organisations who do not work within the CCAC signed a report to the Ombudsman on the problems they face with access to the structure. As lawyers Ioanna Begiazi and Dimitris Choulis from HRLP told RSA, lawyers of these organisations must ask for permission and state the reasons why they want to enter the structure and with whom they want to speak, and they must also have an authorisation from this person. Upon entering the CCAC they have their (political) identities kept, while until recently their lawyers’ identities were enough – which should normally allow them to enter any public service[7]. Further, they are accompanied everywhere by a private security officer (G4S), from November 2022 until today.

According to the UNHCR[8], legal support within the structure is provided by METAdrasi with a lawyer, and by PRAKSIS for unaccompanied minors with a part-time lawyer. In addition, there are other legal assistance providers that provide legal assistance without a constant physical presence in the CCAC, namely Avocats Sans Frontières, HRLP and I Have Rights.

In the CCAC of Samos there was no doctor of the National Public Health Organisation in mid-March. A mobile infirmary by Médecins Sans Frontières is located outside the structure. The hospital on the island has no interpreters. An Arabic-language interpreter of the National Public Health Organisation from the CCAC and interpreters from organisations assist the hospital when necessary. Also, according to reports, donated medical devices have not been put into service. As publications report, National Public Health Organisation employees have come to the point of giving money from their own pockets in order to buy medicines for residents who needed them.

Significant shortages of human resources and equipment are also observed in the Samos hospital, with all that this implies for the inhabitants of the island and the residents of the CCAC. There are organisations that were active within the structure, but due to non-registration to the Ministry’s Registry, they no longer have access, and offer their services in places outside the CCAC, providing, inter alia, food and clothing.

*Names have been changed for privacy and security reasons.


  1. Written response to RSA on March 16, 2023. The discrepancy between all unaccompanied minors and those living in a safe area refers to minors separated by a temporary custody act.

  2. Information from the UNHCR written response to RSA on March 16, 2023.

  3. The Centre for Homework and Creative Activities operates under the programme “All Children in Education”, which is an initiative of UNICEF co-financed by the European Union and implemented by a number of partners, including ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth.

  4. See here and here.

  5. Interview by telephone on March 17, 2023.

  6. Interview by telephone on March 17, 2023.

  7. Article 34 L 4914/2013, FEK A’ 208/27.09.2013.

  8. Ibid. footnote 2.

Back to the main publication:
What is happening today in the refugee structures on the Aegean islands

Read in detail about the conditions prevailing at:
Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Leros

Εδώ μπορείτε να βρείτε τη δημοσίευση στα ελληνικά


 Phone: +30 22711 03721
 Fax: +30 22711 00466
 Press: [email protected]
 Email: [email protected]

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) 2023

Privacy Policy
Complaint submission form



On the island of Kos arrivals were increased since the end of the year compared to 2021[1]. The Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC) of Kos is located in an area of about 90 acres, at the site of the former camp “Makrygianni”, on a hill in the village of Pyli, 15 kilometres from the city of Kos. The CCAC was inaugurated in November 2021 despite opposition from local residents and stakeholders against the expansion of the existing structure. It is designed to run an office infrastructure for around 270 jobs.

According to the General Secretariat for Asylum Seekers of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum[2], on March 9 in the CCAC of Kos there were 53 unaccompanied minors, 34 of whom lived within the “safe area”, which has a nominal capacity of 170 children.

According to a recent publication by Equal Rights Beyond Borders and Terre des Hommes, conditions in the “safe area” for unaccompanied minors are miserable and extremely inadequate, as unaccompanied minors have limited access to schools, recreational or child-friendly activities and are guarded by the security staff at all times. Even very young children and babies separated from their mothers have been brought into the safe area. According to the publication, unaccompanied minors are not allowed to leave the safe area and remain restricted there for the whole duration of their legal procedure, which may take several months. Although there is a basketball court and a net, children sometimes cannot even use it, as the organisations report. “I was inside the safe area for two months along with other unaccompanied minors. We weren’t allowed out of there. There were no activities and the food was of bad quality; we felt like we were in a prison” says Khaled*, 17 years old, who is living in an space for adults along with his adult cousin who is in charge of his guardianship[3].

According to the UNHCR[4], there is no alternative accommodation other than self-housing in an urban environment on the island.

Volunteers provide Greek courses in places outside the structure. Volunteers also provide clothing and other essentials and try to help with medicines when needed.

As regards the non-formal education of children, based on the ARSIS data[5], in mid-March 70 children, of ages 4-17, attended the Centre for Homework and Creative Activities – KEDU, in Kos, which is part of the programme “All Children in Education”. Courses in Greek, English, natural sciences, art, as well as social skills development workshops are provided. According to the UNHCR[6], based on the most recent data available at the end of March (there may be deviations), approximately 40 children participated in the DYEP classes (Reception Facilities for Refugee Education – in kindergarten, primary and secondary school). Enrollment procedures have been normalised, while the number of children attending DYEP classes has increased.

Small amounts of food and problems of living

Refugees report poor food quality and very small amounts of food and also drinking water[7]. “We were given food once a day, and sometimes we received only one orange in the morning. We had reached the point where we were starving,” says Karim*, a 21-year-old Palestinian who is granted asylum status[8]. According to information provided by organisations working on the island, the catering company provides the three meals of the day (lunch, dinner and next morning’s breakfast) in one delivery every day at noon. There are also major shortages in the provision of essential food for children. “Previously, they were giving us a litre of milk a day for each child, now they give us only a glass of milk for each child; we have not received our monthly allowance and we have no money to buy food” emphasises Mahmoud* from Palestine, father of a small child[9].

Communal dining room, which while ready, has not been commissioned

Also, according to residents and organisations’ testimonies with whom RSA spoke, the washing machines and communal kitchens, while their construction is completed, are not put into service. There are also reports of shortages in clothes and shoes. “I arrived in September, and I’m still wearing the same clothes that I arrived with. When we arrived they only gave us soap and a sleeping bag” Ahmed*, a young Palestinian man, told us.

Finally, as is clear from refugees and solidarity groups’ testimonies, an extremely urgent housing problem arises for those who are granted international protection status and are forced to immediately leave the structure. They are mostly single men who are actually homeless, trying to either find an emergency solution by living together with several people in the hard-to-find apartments of Kos and looking for a job, or move to another Greek city with the same purpose. “Most people manage to find a job in the hotels when the [tourist] season starts in late April/early May, in poor working conditions (same as for local workers), mainly because of the exhausting working hours. Until then, they find themselves in a very bad state and even in conditions of homelessness, if they do not manage to find a solution through friends and acquaintances” a volunteer on the island points out to us.

Reported strict controls resembling imprisonment

Increased surveillance measures are prevalent also in Kos. In particular, the turnstiles with card readers placed in the separate sections of the structure result in certain categories of residents (such as those not registered or those whose asylum request is rejected) having their liberty restricted even within the CCAC, as we were told. There are also bad and dismissive behaviours towards residents and a severe shortage in interpreters, which significantly impedes communication between employees and residents and leads to tensions. Because of the exhaustive controls, many residents avoid leaving the structure at all. Residents told RSA that they had undergone intra-body controls upon their return in the evening to the structure, in search of drugs. In fact, we were told that this control has been implemented to female residents as well, with female police presence. “We do not have the money to buy food, would we buy drugs?” says Karim*[10]. We met him in the centre of Kos while he was waiting for his family from Gaza to send him money, in order to buy a ferry ticket and move to the mainland. The presence of the police is particularly intense around the CCAC and also in the city of Kos.

Further, there is tension in the area where the structure is located, with part of the residents and official representatives developing aggressive reflexes. In late March, the president of the Municipality of Pyli, declared in a publication that the anger of the residents for the whole situation is so great that they tell him that, unless something changes soon, they will take the guns and the law into their own hands.

Next to the CCAC is the Pre-Removal Detention Centre (PROKEKA). This is the only PROKEKA that operates on the islands of the Eastern Aegean, while transfers are made there from Kos and Leros CCAC. According to the testimonies we collected, the authorities ask newcomers to destroy the cameras on their mobile phones upon their arrival at the CCAC in order to prevent filming inside the PROKEKA.

Deficiencies in medical care and legal support

At the end of March there was neither a doctor nor a psychologist within the structure. Palestinian refugees told RSA that there are women even in late pregnancy who have not received the necessary medical help. “My wife is pregnant. (…) We went to the hospital and she had a blood test; when she asked for an ultrasound she was told to go to a private doctor. All we want is for a gynaecologist to see her (…) I don’t want her to give birth here (…) Since she hasn’t conducted an ultrasound, we don’t know exactly what month she is in, we count on ourselves” a resident in the structure told us[11].

Staff shortages in the hospital of the island are significant, with all that this entails for the local population and refugees in need of medical care. The fact that Kos’ hospital does not have an interpreter makes communication with patients significantly more difficult. Interpretation is extremely inadequate as it is conducted either by a compatriot accompanying the patient, or by another emergency solution. Due to the lack of a psychiatrist in the hospital of Kos, psychiatric cases involving those administratively detained are transferred, with the escort of police and even handcuffed, to the Leros Mental Hospital. In addition, there have been cases where severe psychiatric cases in the reception procedures in the CCAC, instead of being referred, have their “geographical restriction” lifted and are obliged to seek medical care elsewhere on their own.

According to the UNHCR[12], the organisations METAdrasi, Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and PRAKSIS provide legal assistance within the CCAC: METAdrasi with two lawyers (one position is currently vacant), GCR with one lawyer and PRAKSIS (providing legal assistance to unaccompanied minors in the “safe area”) with another. In addition, Equal Rights Beyond Borders operates in the CCAC with four members.

*Names have been changed for privacy and security reasons.


  1. During 2022, 30% of total arrivals arrived in the Dodecanese. This is the largest percentage compared to the other islands.

  2. Written response to RSA on March 16, 2023. The discrepancy between all unaccompanied minors and those living in a safe area refers to minors separated by a temporary custody act.

  3. Interview in Kos on March 21, 2023.

  4. Information from the UNHCR written response to RSA on March 16, 2023.

  5.  Written answer of ARSIS to RSA on March 15, 2023. The programme  All Children in Education – ACE is an initiative of UNICEF, co-funded by the European Union, and  and is implemented by a series of partners, among which is ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth.

  6. Written answer to RSA on March 23, 2023.

  7. The information about the small amount of food and water is confirmed by reports that the UNHCR has received from residents of Kos CCAC.

  8. Interview in Kos on March 22, 2023.

  9. Interview in Kos on March 22, 2023.

  10. Interview in Kos on March 22, 2023.

  11. Interview in Kos on March 22, 2023.

  12. Ibid., footnote 4.

Back to the main publication:
What is happening today in the refugee structures on the Aegean islands

Read in detail about the conditions prevailing at:
Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros

Εδώ μπορείτε να βρείτε τη δημοσίευση στα ελληνικά


 Phone: +30 22711 03721
 Fax: +30 22711 00466
 Press: [email protected]
 Email: [email protected]

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) 2023

Privacy Policy
Complaint submission form


Leros CCAC

The Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC) in Leros is located on an area of about 60 acres in a remote area on a mountainside, about 6 kilometres away from Agia Marina, the capital of the island. The structure was inaugurated in November 2021 despite strong reactions to its construction from local authorities. For its operation, it is designed to provide office infrastructure for approximately 300 jobs.

Aside from the direct arrivals, there are also transfers from other islands (Rhodes and Symi), exclusively to Leros.

According to the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors of the Ministry for Migration and Asylum[1], on March 9, 19 unaccompanied minors were in the Leros CCAC, 18 of whom lived within the “safe area”, which has a nominal capacity of 100 children.

According to the UNHCR[2], there is no alternative accommodation other than self-housing in an urban environment on the island. Employees in organisations report that those who are granted asylum are called upon by the authorities within a few days to leave the CCAC without an alternative or support mechanism, with the result that, at times, there are even cases of homeless families on the streets of the island.

Within the CCAC, non-formal education courses for adults are provided by METAdrasi and educational activities for children and parents by ARSIS. ARSIS also runs the Educational Intervention Mobile Unit in Platanos area, LEDU, which provides Greek and English language courses, creative activities and school support to refugee and migrant children of 4-17 years old[3]. In addition, social skills workshops, external activities and psychosocial support are provided to both pupils and parents/guardians. At the beginning of March, 48 children residing in the Leros CCAC were attending courses in LEDU.

According to the UNHCR[4], at the end of March, two children attended DYEP classes (Reception Facilities for Refugee Education) in Leros, as the local Refugee Education Coordinator has only recently taken office.

Shortages of basic goods

In Leros there are also serious shortages of basic necessities and delays in the payment of monthly allowances. In the mixed sector, the public laundry and communal kitchens operate, but the shops don’t, as employees report. Τhe food is also of poor quality and small quantity, while the catering company provides all three meals of the day once a day. There is a general lack of recreational activities, while unaccompanied minors remain restricted within the safe area without any recreational activities and with substandard psychological support. Food is not allowed to be consumed in the containers and is consumed only in public areas, while there are not enough shading areas for residents. The Citizens’ Collectivity still provides clothes, shoes and children’s items (nappies, clothes).

According to the UNHCR, at the end of March there were two doctors and a psychologist inside the CCAC. At the local hospital, staff shortages, which make the medical care of all patients problematic, have been repeatedly denounced. The hospital does not have an interpreter. Where necessary, the hospital cooperates with the CCAC to find an interpreter who will perform the interpretation either remotely or in person.

Body checks out of legality

The control and surveillance systems are the same as those in the CCAC of Samos and Leros. In early April, the Union of Employees in the National Public Health Organisation reported in a statement that employees are being asked to work in different environments than those for which they were hired, and called on them not to accept these conditions either for themselves or for the refugees. The Panhellenic Association of Employees in the Reception and Identification Service also issued a statement in early April, reporting, inter alia, that the security company’s guards carry out a body check on the employees because they refuse to undergo daily radiation fearing the effects on their health; a body check that crosses the line. As employees complain, there is a check even under the underwear, thus violating the dignity of women and men. In their statement, they refer to grotesque situations, as they say that employees are forced to pass through the X-ray control system even food items such as yoghourts, water, etc.; they are then told that they can consume them after an hour, in order to avoid a risk to their health.

Even children are forced to undergo strict controls mainly on entry, such as checks in their school backpacks, while inappropriate behaviour is observed by certain people of the staff in the structure towards the residents.

Shortcomings in legal assistance

In recent months in Leros, legal assistance is insufficient, as the number of available lawyers is not enough to serve the needs. At the same time, according to information from employees, in some cases there is not even sufficient information about the provision of legal support. According to the UNHCR[5], METAdrasi started providing legal assistance within the CCAC with one lawyer in February 2023. A UNHCR team from Kos visits Leros three days a week, for providing information to newcomers and residents and on issues related to integration.


  1. Written response to RSA on March 16, 2023. The discrepancy between all unaccompanied minors and those living in a safe area refers to minors separated by a temporary custody act.

  2. Information from the UNHCR written response to RSA on March 16, 2023.

  3.  Written answer of ARSIS to RSA on March 9, 2023. The programme All Children in Education – ACE is an initiative of UNICEF, co-funded by the European Union, and and is implemented by a series of partners, among which is ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth.

  4. Written answer to RSA on March 23, 2023.

  5. Ibid. 2.

Back to the main publication:
What is happening today in the refugee structures on the Aegean islands

Read in detail about the conditions prevailing at:
Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos

Εδώ μπορείτε να βρείτε τη δημοσίευση στα ελληνικά


 Phone: +30 22711 03721
 Fax: +30 22711 00466
 Press: [email protected]
 Email: [email protected]

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) 2023

Privacy Policy
Complaint submission form

Stronger and more transparent oversight needed from the European Commission on compliance with EU asylum standards on the Greek islands

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) and HIAS Greece highlight a lack of clarity and transparency on the functioning of the Task Force Migration Management set up by the European Commission in September 2020, in their contribution to a targeted consultation launched by the European Ombudsman under an inquiry on how the Commission ensures human rights compliance in new EU-funded reception facilities on the Greek islands.

The Task Force is presented by the Commission as an operational coordination mechanism, yet it appears to have a role in monitoring compliance with EU asylum standards. The Task Force “addresses” issues of “bad implementation” in its dialogue with Greece, as stated by the Commission when dismissing four complaints supported by our organisations last year. However, documentation obtained from the Task Force shows that several of the infringements raised in complaints have not been covered in discussions with the Greek authorities.

Concerns also surround the monitoring of implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the EU and Greece in December 2020 as part of a plan for a new Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centre (MPRIC) on the island of Lesvos, since many of the targets set therein have not been met two years later. Task Force meetings with authorities under a dedicated Steering Committee have stopped since April 2022, while no records seem to be kept of meetings with civil society organisations.

Our contribution also lays out the multi-faceted impact of MPRIC on the human rights of people seeking protection through an analysis of breaches of:
* the right to asylum on account of arbitrary dismissal of applications based on the “safe third country” concept and of barriers on subsequent asylum claims 

* the right to dignity stemming from extreme material deprivation and legal limbo facing asylum seekers subject to the “safe third country” concept

* the right to liberty through various forms of arbitrary detention, including the use of pre-removal detention without removal prospects and the prohibition on exiting MPRIC during reception and identification procedures

* the right to privacy and data protection due to the roll-out of surveillance systems in camps without adequate safeguards

* the right to legal assistance owed to impermissible authorisation requirements for lawyers’ access to the MPRIC, coupled with unlawful use of truncated border procedures under extremely short timeframes

Massive protests by islanders are challenging the government's narrative on new prison structures in the Aegean.

Massive protests by islanders are challenging the government's narrative on new prison structures in the Aegean.

Two years after the violent crackdown on citizens in Chios and Lesvos who oppose the transformation of the islands into prisons for refugees and migrants, dissatisfaction with the refugee response is growing. The narrative of successful management of refugees (border security, decongestion of the islands, fast registration and identification procedures) promoted by the government does not seem to convince the islanders, who see huge new structures being built despite the decrease in the refugee population on the islands. Legal disputes, dozens of decisions of political groups, bodies and mass peaceful demonstrations unite people across different political positions once again against the government policy and the EU’s dictates for “superstructures” on the Eastern Aegean islands.

Brussels seems to be satisfied with figures showing a significant reduction in the number of refugees residing on the islands and with a drop in arrivals. However, ongoing allegations directly connect such figures to the practice of illegal push backs, often witnessed by islanders themselves. In many of the islands where residents’ resistance has been ignored in the past, the climate has become explosive once again. Residents in Samos are shocked to see the authorities ignoring even court decisions regarding the prohibition on refugees’ exit from the new superstructure. The EU insists on a policy of confinement of asylum seekers on the islands, while the Minister of Migration and Asylum himself speaks of a violation and failure of the EU-Turkey Statement.  

Mass reactions on Chios and Lesvos

Although the regional authority and the municipal authorities on Chios and Lesvos are affiliated to the ruling party, which would allow the Ministry’s planning to proceed uninhibited, the situation shows a radical distancing on the part of several officials regarding planning for the new centres. The regional authority is opposed to the construction of new centres on the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos and supports the demands and protests of the residents.

On Chios, the Municipal Council has unanimously or by majority vote adopted more than ten decisions in the last three years, which set as a red line the creation of a facility for up to 500 people only for registration and identification.

On Lesvos, the Municipal Council accepted the proposal to build a new centre in Vastria by a narrow majority, amid complaints about the decision-making process.

The atmosphere on the islands has been particularly loaded since the beginning of this year, when mass reactions started on Chios against the construction of the new Closed Controlled Facility (Κλειστή Ελεγχόμενη Δομή, KED). In total there were three points of protest: in the area of Tholos, where the KED is expected to be built; in Mesta (south port) where an overnight protest took place on 5 January with a significant presence of citizens until the dawn of the next day, thus preventing the landing of machinery (excavators) of the contractor company GEK/TERNA from the ship Pelagitis. On the morning of Thursday 6 January, another attempt was made to land the machinery at the main port of Chios, but the protesters did not even allow the ship to dock.

The ship was ordered to continue to Lesvos. There too, citizens organised to prevent the machines from landing. A protest was held at the port of Mytilene and the reaction of many actors was immediate. 

"The island cannot bear another camp. Islands are not prisons," a resident of Lesvos who participated in the protest told Refugee Support Aegean (RSA).

The ship headed to Thessaloniki without disembarking the machinery.

On Chios, residents had already made their intentions known since the summer and had started patrolling the area around the Tholos area. The Municipal Council of Chios and dozens of unions and bodies of the island have opposed the construction of the KED and are claiming in court proceedings a significant part of the land where the new centre is planned to be built. Local bodies agree only on a centre for registration and identification of refugees with a capacity of up to 500 people.  

Similar reactions come from Lesvos residents against the construction of a KED in the area of Vastria. In fact, a large part of the land where the new structure is planned to be built has been designated as a forest area and is close to a landfill site.

The Fire Service of the island opposes the construction of the new structure in this area due to the high risks of fire in the adjacent forest area, while a Forest Service opinion considered the construction of a new fire zone outside the new structure a prerequisite.

Despite the above, the government decided to ignore the voices of the islanders and proceed with its plan for the construction of the two superstructures on Chios and Lesvos. The president of the Chios NODE (the ruling party’s branch on the island), in an attempt to convince the islanders of the need to build the closed structure, recently went so far as to compare migration flows to the coronavirus and the structures to the vaccine. In a speech given on Chios immediately after the protests, the Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, tried to convince the residents that the creation of the KED would bring a solution to migration. During the speech, hundreds of citizens participated in a motorcade to protest against the government’s plans. In light of the developments, an extension of one month (until 18 February 2022) has already been granted to the contractor GEK/TERNA by decision of the General Secretary for Migration Policy, Patroklos Georgiadis.

The first “EU golden cage” 

In Samos too, the reaction of the local authorities was essentially ignored. In September, the inauguration of first KED on the island was lauded by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, EU officials and the resounding absence of the entire local government and protests of stakeholders outside the new structure. In November 2019, the Mayor of Eastern Samos George Stantzos and the Municipal Council had announced their resignation in response to the government’s plans to create a closed camp. Northern Aegean Regional Governor, Kostas Moutzouris, had stated at the time that capacity on Samos should be for 1,700 people. A superstructure was ultimately developed on 154 acres of land in the remote location of “Zervou” in the Municipality of Eastern Samos, with a capacity of 3,000 people and under maximum security conditions. The entire facility is surrounded by a double NATO-type security fence. No one can dispute the obvious improvement in living conditions, even if these have not really been tested under increased numbers of residents and in times of crisis. However, this does not alter their true character as dehumanisation centres where asylum seekers and refugees are held in maximum security prisons for an unknown period of time, at a distance from local communities. At the entrance, control systems such as turnstiles, magnetic gates, x-rays, two-factor access control system (identity and fingerprint) have been installed for controlled entry and exit from the structure even for staff, thereby creating a dystopian situation of denial of freedom and privacy for refugees and employees. Additionally, a Closed Surveillance System (CCTV) has been installed throughout the structure which uses “smart” software to promptly alert of any emergencies and to transmit notifications and images to the Local Incident Centre, to the Centre for Management of Incidents & Emergencies Athens and to the Control Centres of other involved bodies.

Recently, civil society organisations and solidarity groups on the island have expressed their concerns about the illegal detention regime that has been imposed since mid-November on those who do not have an asylum seeker card after a rejection decision or on new arrivals who have not yet been granted such a card.  While on 17 December the first-instance Administrative Court of Syros ruled that the prohibition on an Afghan asylum seeker from leaving the new structure was illegal, the denial of exit for those without an active asylum seeker card continues, according to the local solidarity group “Movement for Human Rights – Solidarity with Refugees”. In a statement on 13 January, the group noted, among others,the impact of this regime on refugees: 

Στιγμιότυπο από τη διαμαρτυρία στη Λέσβο
Photo from the protest on Lesvos

"Their psychological situation, according to their testimonies, is bad. Some are dropping out of school, others are seeking psychiatric medication. If the Governor unlawfully took the measure as stated in the decision [from the Syros Administrative Court of First Instance], why does the illegality continue? How can we tolerate the torture of people, young people, children, by putting them in barbed wire next to us?"

Panoramic photos of the KED in Samos, Kos and Leros: Ministry of Migration and Asylum)

Structures isolated from urban areas on Leros and Kos

On 27 November, the KED on Kos and Leros were inaugurated in the presence of the Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, and the Vice-President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas. On Leros too, there had been opposition from the local authorities against the construction of this structure from the outset. The Mayor of Leros, Michalis Kolias, did not attend the inauguration of the new structure as a sign of protest. In January 2021, he appealed to the Council of State against the construction of the new centre. The decision on the case is pending. “The money spent on the construction of this centre could have been given for infrastructure projects in Leros. For the past year we have had almost zero inflows. What is the new centre for? I am in favour of creating a small structure, not such a monstrosity in a place for which we did not even consent and which even has detention facilities”, Kolias told RSA. The new KED on Leros is developed on an area of about 60 acres in Lepida, on a hillside 6 km away from Agia Marina, the capital of the island.  It has capacity for 2,140 people and 29 people currently live there, while the current number of staff seems to be 300, despite zero arrivals. 35.3 million € (including VAT) have been allocated to its construction.

Similarly, the new KED on Kos is established on a very large area of about 90 acres, on the site of the former “Makrigiannis” camp, on both sides of the existing structure in the village of Pyli. It has capacity for 2,140 persons and it is not yet operational. Similar to the one in Samos, it has double NATO-type fencing, as well as turnstiles with card readers, using fingerprints, in the distinct sections of the structure for controlled entry and exit. Provision has also been made for the installation of Closed Surveillance System (CCTV). 

The new structure in Kos cost 39.36 million €, including VAT. Residents contacted by RSA speak of a “no-go area” within a radius of several metres around the structure. This is a remote area about 15 kilometres from the town of Kos. There had been strong reactions from local residents in 2016 outside the “Makrigiannis” camp in Pyli where the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) was being built. Then Mayor of Kos had sent a letter to then Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, requesting the revocation of the decision to create a registration centre on the island and urging the government to discuss the Municipality of Kos proposal to create only one registration site on the island and for those registered to leave within 24 hours. Despite the protests, the RIC was built. In 2019, it was overcrowded, with refugees living in squalid conditions and trapped on the island under geographical restrictions based on the toxic EU-Turkey deal. In December 2019, the Municipal Council voted against the expansion of the existing structure. As a sign of protest, neither the Mayor nor any member of the Municipal Council attended the recent inauguration of the KED.  The fact that the new closed structure is located in a non-tourist area and that refugees are not visible in Kos town seems to have eased tensions for the moment. The presence of the structure seems to be tolerated so far by the local community to the extent that scenes from the past with increased arrivals are not repeated.  However, there is dissatisfaction regarding the huge sums spent on the creation of the new structure despite the immediate needs to be met in order to improve the infrastructure on the island, including first and foremost the island’s hospital.

Against this backdrop, six years after the implementation of the failed EU-Turkey deal that has only brought misery to the refugee population and suffering to island communities, it is clear that the Greek authorities and EU institutions must respect the local communities and the sensitive geopolitical situation of the islands and not create polarisation and social divisions by exploiting the xenophobic and racist reflexes fuelled by current policies.

Interview |
Michalis Psimitis "The anti-immigration policy makes the islands a field of conflicts and tensions"

Interview |
Michalis Psimitis "The anti-immigration policy makes the islands an arena of conflicts and tensions"

Michalis Psimitis, Professor of Sociology at the University of the Aegean and Coordinator of the Anti-Racist Observatory of the University of the Aegean, explains the goals served by the escalation of control and surveillance regimes for refugees, including the creation of closed structures promoted by the government with the support of the EU. He analyses the qualitative elements and the ideological features of the counter discourse, explains why the solidarity climate of 2015 and 2016 no longer exists on the islands and points out that the arena of conflict between progressive people and fascist and far-right views is and will remain open for a long time to come.

From the ‘chaos’ of Moria to the controlled structure of Kara Tepe and to the planned centre in Vastria, what changes do you consider the most important in terms of surveillance and control for refugees? What are the signals and the most important issues that arise from the design of the new centres as points of criticism of the state’s intervention? 

It is obvious that this escalation of control and surveillance regimes to which you rightly refer serves, among other things, two main goals. The first is located within Lesvos and consists in the pursuit of a pattern of total isolation, complete control and total surveillance of refugees on the island. Thus, we gradually move from the vast and uncontrolled camp of Moria, as a ‘necessary evil’ of a first and chaotic refugee response, to the smaller, organised and police-controlled structure of Kara Tepe, while the final goal is a centre in the Vastria area where refugees will be isolated, trapped in a 245-acre fenced area very far from Mytilene. They will thereby be more effectively controlled: on the one hand they will be deprived of the possibility to move around the city, on the other hand, any forms of collective protest they (are forced to) choose  to resort to in the future will be far from the ‘centre’ and therefore remain invisible.  

The second goal is nationwide, insofar as the creation of the Centre in Vastria aims to send or rather reinforce an older message to all potential refugees, i.e. those who in the future might venture across the Aegean to reach the Greek islands. The message is “do not bother to come, because a life of deprivation and hardship awaits you, without any possibility to move freely, to circulate, to interact with others, to consume, to protest, in short, a life without dignity”. This realises an older and well-known slogan of the political leadership, to “make their life unbearable” as a precondition for preventing migration! This objective, coupled of course with the fact that we have systematically had deaths at the borders in recent years (as demanded a few years ago by a far-right official who now heads a ministry tasked with protecting life…), marks the essence of our country’s migration policy under the New Democracy era. The planning of the construction of the new concentration centre in Vastria absolutely serves this policy.

What are the qualitative elements and the ideological features of the counter discourse, of mobilisations and arguments against the new structure in “Vastria” and in Kara Tepe? There is a feeling that people with a far-right agenda prevail. To what extent is this true?

The debate around the new structure broadly reflects the different perceptions prevailing not only about migration but also about life itself. We have seen one point of view, that of the government and the more conservative part of Greek society, which exudes racist, xenophobic, chauvinistic stereotypes full of nationalist and religious fanaticism. An inexpensive jingoistic patriotism  practiced with deadly repressive effectiveness against defenseless people whose crime is the search for a better life! The opposite ideological discourse is that of the most active civil society, of progressive and socially sensitive people, of social movements defending the rights of refugees as part of universal human rights. It is a discourse which proclaims that values such as freedom, justice and dignity are reduced to rhetorical pomposities when we tolerate people living in coercion, injustice, and indignity. 

It is a mistake to define discourse which unites political and religious opinions with social attitudes ranging from political solidarity to the philanthropist conception of coexistence as exclusively left-wing. Far-right discourse also comes into play in the conflict between the two different views. It sometimes appears as dominating the local agenda, especially in recent years. The truth is that the climate of solidarity of 2015 and 2016 no longer exists. Much of local society today has become more reluctant towards refugees and has activated defensive reflexes that had been set aside in that two-year period. However, this does not mean that far-right and fascist attitudes have become dominant in the local society. The far-right tries to exploit these reflexes but its ominous ideology repels many people, so it tries to disguise it as love for our country and religion! In any case, the arena of conflict between progressive people and fascist and far-right views is and will remain open for a long time to come on Lesvos and the other islands.

What are the most significant points of criticism of the new structure and what are the biggest fears of the local communities on the Aegean islands already hosting RIC?

Local communities in the Aegean fear that the islands will remain the main levers for ‘dealing’ with the refugee issue in the coming years. It is a fear that stems from the visible developments of the implementation of the anti-immigration policy of the Greek government with substantive support from the EU. In other words, to the extent that a ‘Fortress Europe’ is being built against refugees, then the Aegean islands will become places of permanent confinement for these people and, naturally, the islanders will assume the role of ‘jailers’ with all the consequences this carries for the development of local communities.

We still have to see from which angle we should criticise the new structures that have been designed and whose construction has already been attempted by the government, while in the last few days the residents of Chios and Mytilene have prevented the first disembarkation of the machinery intended for use in the construction of these centres on their islands. The need to prevent new detention facilities from operating on the islands must not lead to acquiescence of the far-right view of getting rid of refugees by any means possible. Local communities certainly need a fresh start in development. At the same time, however, refugees need support and solidarity in order to build a better life in the places where they want to settle. The fact that the EU pretends not to understand that its anti-immigration policy renders the islands arenas of conflict and tension should not result in the detriment of either local communities or refugees. We need a response that does not assume from the outset that local communities and refugees are incompatible concepts, now more than ever.  

How has the movement against the creation of new closed centres on the Aegean islands evolved since the announcement of their creation? 

In reality, this movement began to take shape in February 2020, with large protests of islanders and clashes with the 14 riot police squads that the government had sent at the time to suppress local opposition to construction works for the planned closed detention centres for refugees in the requisitioned areas of Lesvos and Chios. Already then, we had noted the phenomenon of a very massive reaction to the government’s repressive operation and a powerful, albeit extremely heterogeneous movement in social, political, age and professional terms. In fact, the intensity of that joint two-day struggle temporarily concealed the unbridgeable differences within the movement.

These manifested immediately after the departure of the riot police, when far-right assault groups set up roadblocks at key points on the island, terrorising and harassing volunteers and journalists, setting fire to the short-term refugee accommodation centre in Skala Skamnia and preventing refugees from disembarking at the port of Thermi. The situation does not differ much today. For example, a few days ago, in the spontaneous effort of citizens to prevent the disembarkation of construction machinery of the structure in Vastria in the port of Mytilene, right-wing and left-wing citizens were side by side, reacting from different starting points. Of course, this time no one was under the illusion of a so-called ‘common struggle’. In reality, there is a movement that defends peaceful coexistence and creative cooperation between people of different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, and a counter-movement that cultivates hatred and rejection of different people. Therefore, the question is not only what exactly will happen with the new structures, but also which perspective for the solution to the problem is needed. Whether the movement or the counter-movement prevails will largely determine the quality of social coexistence on the islands in the years to come!

Another dignified reception facility shut down

Another dignified reception facility shut down

Photo: Elias Marcou

The refugee reception facility run by the Mytilene Municipality in Kara Tepe is expected to close until 30 April. This follows the closure of the open reception facilities of PIKPA in Mytilene and PIKPA in Leros last autumn. It is expected that by the of the year, the remaining reception facilities (ESTIA flats) on Lesvos and Chios will cease their operation. The government took this decision amidst the pandemic, while Greece has received repeated criticism for the reception conditions in the temporary Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) of Mavrovouni, Lesvos. Residents of Kara Tepe are already being transferred there.

The reception facility in Kara Tepe was made available in 2015 by the Mytilene Municipality during the large arrivals of refugee. It is situated in a former traffic park adjacent to a sewage installation. The place was abandoned and looted. It was gradually built thanks to donations and the assistance of hundreds of volunteers. It offers accommodation capacity for 1,200 persons and has at times hosted up to 1,350 persons belonging mainly to vulnerable groups, such as families with small children, elderly people, people with chronic health conditions, people with disabilities and single women. Kara Tepe is under the management of Mytilene Municipality, with the support of UNHCR and other organisations. On Friday 23 April 2021, 620 persons were hosted there. According to media reports, 50 people were transferred in the early hours of 24 April 2021 to the temporary RIC of Mavrovouni, while more are to be gradually transferred in the coming days. According to available information, recognised refugees are being transferred to the RIC. 

The residents of the Kara Tepe reception facility live in containers. In addition, there are beds, heating, water and electricity, meaning conditions guaranteeing basic dignified living. Despite the significant problems that residents faced over the years of operation of the facility, there were a series of creative activities for minors and adults, as well as educational and intercultural initiatives. In addition, refugee children had been enrolled in public schools and attended classes either in person or online due to COVID-19 restrictions. A play area is also set up in the facility.

It remains unclear how many of the asylum seekers required to leave Kara Tepe will be transferred to mainland facilities and how many will be transferred to the temporary RIC in Mavrovouni, where people live in tents without beds, hygiene conditions or any safety. Meanwhile, children are excluded from accessing public schools.

Jafar*, a man from Afghanistan residing with his family for one year in the Kara Tepe facility, is worried about the prospect of their transfer to Mavrovouni. “We have no choice and we have nowhere to go. We waited here for two years, without knowing what will happen to us. We have no other choice… Things will be hard for us in that camp, because we have a very small child”. One of the children of the family is enrolled in a Mytilene primary school but will not be able to continue attending classes when the family is transferred to the temporary RIC of Mavrovouni.

Moreover, people transferred to Kara Tepe last October from the former open reception facility in PIKPA are yet again faced with uncertainty, as they have not yet been informed of the exact time and place of their impeding transfer.

“I was informed last night that the centre will close. Everyone will be transferred to the new camp. I could not sleep that night. I remember that morning, when PIKPA closed, everyone was stressed. Europe has become a nightmare for asylum seekers”, states a former resident of PIKPA who is waiting to be transferred from Kara Tepe to the temporary RIC.

Photo: Elias Marcou

The Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, has promised to deliver Kara Tepe to the town citizens. This promise seems highly cynical, in light of yet another humanitarian tragedy unfolding a few meters away in the temporary camp. Through this decision, the government is in essence moving people to substantially worse conditions without sufficient grounds. The same Minister spoke of “poor living conditions for residents” and of “facilities without security safeguards for residents or locals… which must immediately close and be replaced by adequate infrastructure”, referring to the temporary RIC in Mavrovouni and the VIAL camp on Chios a few days ago.

Mr Mitarakis has also stated that the remaining accommodation sites on Lesvos (ESTIA apartments) will cease operating upon the completion of the new facility, in any event by November 2021. This demand has also been expressed in a recent decision of the Mytilene Municipal Council. According to the statements, the policy aims at “phasing out phenomena of multiple reception centres in various locations on the same island”. The Minister has repeatedly stressed that the so-called Closed Controlled Island Facility (Κλειστή Ελεγχόμενη Δομή Νήσων, KEDN) will constitute within 2021 the sole place of residence for asylum seekers in the Municipality of Mytilene. In a letter to the Mytilene Mayor, the Minister refers to a capacity of 3,000 people, whereas a memorandum with the EU refers to 5,000 people.

The facility is set to be built in Vastria, in proximity to a waste burial site in a remote area of north-eastern Lesvos. It will be equipped with a NATO-type double military fence and advanced security systems. A closed detention centre will operate adjacent to the site. According to the letter addressed to the Mytilene Mayor, that centre will serve among others for detention of new arrivals for a 25-day period.

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) highlights the obligation of the Greek State to guarantee dignified reception conditions for asylum seekers. Imposing destitution on people seeking refuge in Europe in inadequate facilities such as the temporary RIC of Mavrovouni is not a deterrence measure. It only acts as a burden on refugees themselves and on local communities. 

*Names have been anonymized to protect privacy and security