13 March 2015
Despite its potential, the Greek system of referral of third country nationals to the appropriate procedures (known as ‘first reception’), coupled with a dramatic lack of reception places, results in practice in asylum seekers and migrants, including children, being held in detention, often for prolonged periods. This is the conclusion of a report published this week following an ECRE delegation visit to the Fylakio First ‘Reception’ Centre and the adjacent Fylakio Detention Centre in the Evros region.
Migrants arriving irregularly in the Evros region may be detained for up to seven days in a police station, or in the Fylakio Detention Centre, before they are transferred to the First Reception Centre in Fylakio. Although the facility is called a ‘reception centre’ and the conditions are better than in the Fylakio Detention Centre, it is ECRE’s view that the situation is also one of detention as they are deprived of their liberty; people are not allowed to leave without permission and the centre is secured with barbed wire and permanently guarded by the Hellenic Police. From the ‘First Reception Centre’, many people are referred back to the Fylakio Detention Centre, or another detention centre, either for their removal, for the completion of their asylum application or because there is no appropriate open accommodation available.
A major concern is that in practice, the Regional Asylum Office for Northern Evros, which is located on the premises of the First Reception Centre is not able to register the asylum claims of the majority of people who express their wish to apply for international protection within 15 or 25 days – the maximum period that people can spend in the First Reception Centre. This means that they are considered ‘irregular migrants’ and are referred by the Director of the First Reception Centre to the Fylakio Detention Centre. Once it registers the asylum applications, the Regional Asylum Office systematically issues a recommendation to the Hellenic Police on the necessity to detain (or continue the detention of) persons applying for international protection, mostly on the basis that detention facilitates the speedy completion of the asylum procedure. As a positive development a new policy adopted after ECRE’s fact-finding visit aims at releasing asylum seekers with identity documents and who are likely to receive international protection from the First Reception Centre or the Detention Centre more quickly. However, it is not clear yet to what extent this is applied in practice.
The lack of places in suitable reception accommodation for vulnerable asylum seekers and in particular unaccompanied children is extremely problematic as it may result in the transfer of unaccompanied children to detention centres, including to Fylakio Detention Centre.
The conditions in the Fylakio Detention Centre are extremely bad, in particular as migrants may be detained for prolonged periods of time up to 18 months. The dormitories in Fylakio Detention Centre are large cells, behind bars, containing between 50 to 60 bunk beds, access to the courtyard of the detention centre is limited to 3 hours a day, weather permitting. The ECRE delegation found the place to be cold and damp. There is no doctor present in the detention centre and detainees only receive paracetamol, irrespective of any medical complaint they have. Although women with small children and babies are regularly detained there, including at the time of the ECRE visit, the detention centre neither provides baby food nor baby milk. Access to free legal assistance is very limited as there is only one lawyer, deployed by the Greek Council for Refugees, which is clearly insufficient to meet the needs of the persons wishing to challenge either their detention or a negative decision relating to their asylum application.
In addition to increased capacity in open reception accommodation and suitable accommodation for unaccompanied children, amongst other recommendations, ECRE calls on the competent Greek authorities to stop the detention of unaccompanied children and other vulnerable groups, evaluate and strengthen age assessment procedures at the First Reception Centre and take the necessary measures to ensure swift registration of asylum applications in the Centre.
The ECRE delegation visited Evros between 1 and 5 December 2014. The visit was organised in close collaboration with the Greek Council for Refugees and as part of the Asylum Information Database (AIDA) project.
This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 13 March 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.