Alternatives to Detention in Greece

Closing detention centres in favour of alternatives

The Greek government started releasing people from detention in February 2015 as part of a policy of more humane treatment of migrants.

For over ten years, Greece had systematically detained refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who entered the country irregularly, garnering heavy criticism for falling short of international minimum standards.

After visiting the notorious Amygdaleza detention centre, the Deputy Interior Minister stated “Detention centres – we’re finished with them … I’m here to express my shame, not as a minister but as a human being … I couldn’t believe what I saw. I really could not believe it. This must change and it must change immediately.”

The announced policy changes include:

  • The immediate revocation of the Ministerial Decision allowing for the prolongation of detention beyond 18 months.
  • The immediate release and referral to accommodation facilities of vulnerable groups, including unaccompanied minors.
  • The release of registered asylum seekers whose detention exceeds six months.
  • The immediate implementation of measures to substantially improve detention conditions.
  • The use of alternative measures to detention

Law providing for the detention of specific vulnerable groups as a measure of last resort 

Unaccompanied minors and families with minors are only to be detained as a measure of last resort—when no other adequate and less coercive measure can be used for the same purpose—and for the shortest period of time possible.

Families must be provided with separate accommodation guaranteeing adequate privacy. Whenever possible, unaccompanied minors are to be accommodated in institutions that have specialised personnel and facilities (Law 3907/2011, article 32).

Asylum legislation provides that the detention of minor asylum seekers should be “avoided.”

When unaccompanied minor asylum seekers are detained, it must only be for the time necessary for them to be transferred to specialised accommodation for children (Presidential Decree 114/2010, article 13(6)(b)).

Open reception centres, hostels

In Greece, there are open reception centres and several hostels run by the Red Cross (three centres), Médicins du Monde, and other agencies (ELINAS, Social Solidarity, Voluntary Work of Athens).

If an asylum seeker is assigned to the centre in Lavrio, he or she must obtain permission for any absences, and if he or she leaves without permission, his or her asylum claim will be suspended.

There are some problems with dispersal and assignment to the more remote centres, with people choosing instead to move to Athens despite their destitution.

Monitoring: Reporting Requirements

Non-nationals may be placed in pre-removal detention if no other sufficient but less coercive measures can be applied effectively in a specific case.

Such less-coercive measures include regular reporting to the authorities, deposit of an adequate financial guarantee, the submission of documents, or the obligation to stay at a certain place (Law 3907/2011, articles 22(3) and 30(1)).

Find out more:

Mana Rabiee, “Greece pledges to shut immigration detention centers,” Reuters U.S., February 14th 2015.

UNHCR, “UNHCR Welcomes the Envisaged Changes in the Administrative Detention of Third Country Nationals” Press release, February 19th, 2015

There are alternatives cover

Over the past five years, the IDC has undertaken a program of research to identify and describe a number of positive alternatives to immigration detention (‘alternatives’) that respect fundamental rights, are less expensive and are equally or more effective than traditional border controls.

This research, entitled There are alternatives, provides readers with the guidance needed to successfully avoid unnecessary detention and to ensure community options are as effective as possible.

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There are alternatives cover

Over the past five years, the IDC has undertaken a program of research to identify and describe a number of positive alternatives to immigration detention (‘alternatives’) that respect fundamental rights, are less expensive and are equally or more effective than traditional border controls.

This research, entitled There are alternatives, provides readers with the guidance needed to successfully avoid unnecessary detention and to ensure community options are as effective as possible.