Greek government extends detention for migrants awaiting removal beyond 18 months allowed under EU law

The International Detention Coalition (IDC) joins UNHCR and civil society in expressing concern about the Greek government’s decision to prolong detention of migrants beyond the 18 months permitted by the EU Returns Directive.

In March, the Greek State Legal Council, the legal service of the Greek administration, published an Advisory Opinion that migrants for whom a detention order had been issued could be detained indefinitely until they agreed to return to their home countries. The opinion was issued in response to a query from Greek police regarding 300 migrants who were about to be released because they had completed 18 months in detention and could not be returned within this period.  Although Advisory Opinions are not binding, it has reportedly been embraced by Greek police who are already implementing it.

UNHCR reacted by asking the Greek government to ‘review the decision resulting in the prolongation of detention beyond 18 months for all foreign nationals who are subject to return and whose removal has not been carried out yet. Instead, UNHCR recommends applying the relevant procedures provided by the Greek law, i.e. the issuance of decisions for the “postponement of removal” in this case’. It further reiterated that detention for the purposes of return should be imposed only as a last resort.

Vasilis Kerasiotis of the Greek Council for Refugees was quoted by ECRE as stating. “This is a clear violation of Greece’s obligations under the Return Directive. Extreme measures such as this one go beyond the rule of law and present alarming similarities to the unlawful deprivation of liberty as described in art. 325 of the Greek Criminal Code”.

Meanwhile, the NGO Medicins Sans Frontiers published a report calling on the Greek government to end the systematic and prolonged detention of migrants, which is having “devastating consequences on their health and dignity”. The report, entitled Invisible Suffering highlights the massive impact of detention on the physical and mental health of migrants and points out the gaps in healthcare provision and the absence of medical assessments, which lead to detainees with serious medical conditions being neglected or even being forced to interrupt their treatment.

For more information:

When can states detain migrants in prisons? EU Advocate General publishes opinion.

The Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union has issued an opinion relating to when migrants can be detained in prisons in the EU. The opinion relates to three cases referred to the Court of Justice by German courts. The question in the first two cases is whether states within a Federal state can detain migrants in prison, when they have no dedicated immigration detention facilities. The third case relates to whether detention of migrants in prisons can be justified when the person has consented to it. The Advocate General provided the opinion that the detention of migrants in prisons would be in breach of EU law in both cases.

“Taken as a whole, the Advocate-General’s opinion neatly brings together excellent arguments about the literal interpretation of the Directive with an appreciation of what a humane interpretation of the Directive would suggest. Although Advocate-General Bot has a reputation for taking a strict view in cases involving convicted criminals, his Opinion in this case shows that he has a very clear understanding of the importance of the difference between convicted criminals and migrants who have committed no crime (leaving aside immigration offences). His analysis certainly ought to be followed by the CJEU”, said Professor Steve Peers on his blog on EU law.

International standards are clear that detention of migrants on the ground of their immigration status should never be punitive in nature and should not take place in prisons. The Human Rights Committee has stated this in its case law as well as in its draft General Comment 35. It is also the position of a number of other bodies, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants (SRHRM), the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

Statistics on detention in Malta: UNHCR and EPIO #know the facts booklet

A booklet published by UNHCR and the European Parliament Information Office, #knowthefacts, aims to provide MEPs with accurate information and statistics on asylum and migration in Malta, including on its use of immigration detention. It is part of efforts to contribute to well-informed dialogue on asylum and migration, in the run up to EU Parliament elections. According to the booklet, over 1,900 individuals, including children, were detained because of their migration status in 2013 in Malta. Although vulnerable people are assessed for release from detention, this can take weeks and sometimes months. Malta’s policy of mandatory detention is heavily criticised by civil society and international organisations including UNHCR. See also: Migration: know the facts (Times of Malta)

Opportunity for IDC members in Africa

IDC members in Africa are this year looking at how to highlight the issue of immigration detention with the before the Africa Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Lucy Bowring, Africa Regional Coordinator

Find out more here 

Ongoing crackdown in Kenya raises concern about detention

Detention news this month in Africa has been dominated by the mass round up of foreigners in Kenya following a government directive that all refugees should reside in camps rather than urban areas.  What followed was the widespread arrests, detention and forced move to camps or return home.  It is thought that the majority of those affected are refugees.  Concerns around treatment in detention, conditions of detention, access to protection and independent monitoring are some of the key issues highlighted by international media.

Member news

Refugee Consortium of Kenya news round up (RCK)

Kituo cha Sheria newsletter  (Kituo cha Sheria)

More news 

Kenya Demands Refugees Return To Camps (Eurasiareview)

UNHCR Seeking Access to Detained Asylum - Seekers and Refugees in Nairobi (All Africa)

Respect human rights in Eastleigh crackdown-US (Capital News)

Kenya: Halt crackdown on Somalis' (HRW)

46 Ethiopians charged with illegal residence in Kenya, security sweep continues (Sabahi Online)

Kenya: Somalis Detained in Squalor At Kasarani (The Star)

State orders refugees back to camps (Standard Media)

Prisoner of my identity (The Nation)

Kenya restricts Somali refugees to camps (BBC World News)

65 Ethiopians arrested (The star)

UNHCR disturbed by arrests and deportations of Somali refugees (

Increasing legal immigration channels to save lives?

In MENA, news of more deaths at sea, as well as deaths in desert areas at the hands of human traffickers, is highlighted this month.

Escape from Africa  (Good Governance Africa)

The Migrants who cross the Sahara to reach Europe  (BBC News Africa)

Migrant dreams turn into Sahara sex work (BBC News Africa)

Notably, discussions between the EU and AU held in April focused on plans to increase legal immigration channels and in doing so reduce the market for smugglers and traffickers - and save lives.

EU, AU summit plan to boost legal immigration (Business Day)

EU-Africa summit agrees plan to stop migration tragedies (AFP)




Detention Action is recruiting an Independent Evaluator for its alternative to detention project

IDC member Detention Action is tendering for an independent evaluator for its new Community Support Project in the UK, an alternative to detention for young ex-offender migrants at risk of indefinite detention.  The deadline is 12 May 2014.  See more here:

Historic win: lawsuit by a migrant against Mexico’s immigration service

Stephen Compton, an Australian painter from Dalby, was awarded 2 million Mexican pesos (AU$171,000) in damages from Mexican immigration authorities after he was detained for four months on an expired tourist visa.

IDC member Sin Frontera defended his case, initiated in 2009 .

More details.

Workshop on strengthening capacity to implement alternatives to immigration detention

The IDC and Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) co-hosted a workshop on strengthening capacity to implement alternatives to immigration detention on 30th April and 1 May in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


The workshop was attended by 40 participants from 10 countries, comprised of 19 APRRN and IDC NGO members, the National Human Rights Commissions of Indonesia and Malaysia, and the UNHCR regional office.

 The workshop report is available here.

The workshop focused on skills sharing by participants on different strategies for implementing alternatives, including conducting country assessments, surveying populations in detention, forming and maintaining strong civil society networks, the use of strategic litigation to challenge unlawful detention, monitoring and evaluation of alternative to detention projects and different strategies for government engagement on promoting alternatives to detention.


Materials from this workshop can be shared with members on request. Contact Vivienne Chew.


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