UPDATED - Immigration detention in the first half of 2021: Systematic deprivation of liberty and inaccessibility of remedies

UPDATED - Immigration detention in the first half of 2021: Systematic deprivation of liberty and inaccessibility of remedies

Official data for the first half of 2021 released by the Hellenic Police in response to parliamentary questions demonstrate that the Greek authorities continue to systematically detain asylum seekers and irregular migrants. The figures reveal a severe violation of the duty of the state to use deprivation of liberty only as a last resort, when necessity and proportionality so require.

Figures at a glance

  • Serious disparities persist in the detention statistics held by different Greek authorities, namely the Ministry of Citizen Protection, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum and the Ministry of Justice. As a result, inconsistent data have been provided in response to the same parliamentary question.
  • 9,575 detention orders were issued
  • 4% of deportation decisions were followed by a detention order
  • About 1 out of 10 detention orders were challenged before the courts
  • Automatic judicial review quashed only 2 out of 3,918 detention orders
  • Out of 2,392 people in pre-removal centres, 1,109 were held for over six months
  • There were only 10 doctors for 2,392 detainees across 7 pre-removal centres
  • Xanthi and Fylakio pre-removal centres had no interpreters, and Paranesti and Kos only had one each
  • There were only 9 psychologists for the total number of detainees in pre-removal centres and only one psychiatrist in Tavros
  • Health visitors were only deployed in Amygdaleza and Corinth

Systematic recourse to detention

During the first six months of 2021, the Hellenic Police issued a total of 9,575 detention orders under migration and asylum legislation. Of those, 7,247 were issued in the context of return proceedings under L 3907/2011, 1,980 under deportation proceedings pursuant to L 3386/2005 and 348 in the context of the asylum procedure.

Statistics reveal widespread resort by the Greek authorities to deprivation of liberty for the purpose of effecting removal. The use of detention is palpable in so-called deportation procedures conducted under L 3386/2005 in derogation of the Return Directive safeguards. Deportation decisions were followed by detention in 99.4% of the cases.

Inaccessible remedies against detention

Greek law foresees the possibility to challenge detention through “objections” before the competent Administrative Court. Prolongation of asylum and pre-removal detention is also subject to ex officio judicial review by the same court.

About one out of ten persons sought legal redress against their detention during the first half of the year. Out of 9,575 detention orders, only 1,268 (13%) were challenged before the administrative courts through the objections procedure.[1] RSA has documented a series of barriers to access to the objections procedure, in particular the fact that people are not informed of the reasons for their detention in a language they understand and of access to legal assistance. The detention order issued by the police authorities is written in Greek and interpretation together with information on the right to challenge such decision are often not provided. For its part, the obligation to provide legal aid is not ensured by the state in practice.

Most objections against detention were filed before the Administrative Courts of Athens (457), Corinth (220), Piraeus (133) and Kavala (97).

The success rate of objections against detention before the administrative courts during the first half of the year stood at 39%[2]

The breakdown of decisions on objections across the main Administrative Courts concerned is as follows:

In sharp contrast, ex officio judicial review of the prolongation of asylum and pre-removal detention by the same courts continued to overwhelmingly result in approval of detention orders, with only 27 in 3,918 decisions opposing the continuation of detention:[3]

The majority of ex officio reviews of asylum detention were carried out by the Administrative Courts of Corinth (1,767), Kavala (758) and Athens (614). As for pre-removal detention, most ex officio reviews were conducted by the Administrative Court of Komotini (358) and Rhodes (100).

The above statistics demonstrate palpable disparities in the functioning of available judicial review mechanisms. Whereas over half of the detention orders brought to the courts through objections were found to be unlawful, no more than 0.3% of automatically reviewed detention orders were quashed. The figures highlight yet again the pressing need for adequate legal aid to ensure fair and effective detention review.

Conditions of detention

At the end of June 2021, 2,392 persons remained in pre-removal centres. Of those, 46% have been in detention for more than six months:

Note, however, that there were 96 people detained for over six months in Kos, according to the Kos Prosecutor.

Severe gaps persist in the provision of health care and support to people detained in pre-removal centres. The already limited number of medical staff deployed across the pre-removal centres dropped from 37 at the end of 2020 to 34 at the end of the first half of 2021:

The number of interpreters remains worryingly low as well. At the end of June 2021, there were no interpreters in Xanthi and Fylakio, only one interpreter in Paranesti and Kos and only two interpreters in Amygdaleza, Tavros and Corinth.

Finally, the Greek authorities continue to impose immigration detention in police stations, in dereliction of sharp and consistent criticism from international bodies. 601 people were held in police stations at the end of June 2021.

For more information:


[1]        The Ministry of Citizen Protection refers to 828 objections.

[2]        The Ministry of Citizen Protection refers to 437 decisions quashing detention and 391 decisions upholding detention.

[3]        According to Ministry of Citizen Protection statistics, the administrative courts quashed 10 asylum detention orders and 17 pre-removal detention orders, and upheld 1,360 asylum detention orders and 731 pre-removal detention orders.