Pro Asyl follow-up report on the Greek asylum system

On November 13, 2008, Karl Kopp, Pro Asyl director of European Affairs, published a follow-up report on Greece, carrying the title “The situation in Greece is out of control”. Issues touched are:

  • Claiming asylum made impossible: asylum seekers facing arrest
  • The law and reality: homelessness is the general rule
  • The situation at Athens airport: No interpreters and poor detention conditions
  • Overcrowding in detention camps – 11, 001 new arrivals on the island of Lesbos alone
  • Inhuman detention conditions – e.g. Pagani in Mitilini, Lesbos
  • What can go wrong for Dublin II returnees


For months, thousands of protection seekers had tried in vain to claim asylum – they were turned away. “Come back in two months,“ asylum seekers were told at the entrance. This policy of closed doors means that people wishing to claim asylum cannot enter the building and, therefore, have no access to asylum procedures. As a result, people seeking protection are at risk of arrest.

The prefecture on Lesbos reported 11,001 new refugees arriving in the first ten months of 2008. In 2007 that figure was still 5,995 and in 2006 1,766 people. All these individuals were held in the Pagani camp. Mitilini prefecture38 says it has a capacity of 436 beds – on 4.11.2008, there were no fewer than 862 detainees.39 I have visited Pagani more than ten times over the last twelve months. Even when 200 people were held there it was exceedingly cramped and the sanitation facilities had broken down.

As my research progressed, it seemed increasingly impossible to attempt any systematic portrayal of the way Greek asylum procedures work, particularly vis-à-vis Dublin returnees. In Greece, the rule of law simply does not apply to the asylum system. Interviews at the airport are conducted without interpreters. The first instance is not an asylum instance, merely a mechanism for issuing negative decisions. The second instance has not been convened since July 2008. Access to the Central Immigration and Asylum Authority is denied to asylum seekers. I spoke to lawyers at asylum organisations whose main task consists of writing letters for refugees so that they can get past the asylum authority’s door. All the Dublin returnees from Germany whom I spoke to are homeless with no means of subsistence. The reception system offers no prospect of a decent life or fair asylum procedures to these individuals. It is impossible to assess whether transposing several EU directives has had an impact because the directives concerned have not yet been implemented. There is no shortage of laws or presidential decrees, more a lack of implementation. No purpose is served by analysing the various presidential decrees, since the reality on the ground bears no relation to them.

It does not matter whether you take a trip to Athens, go round Eleftherios Venizelos airport or the Central Immigration and Asylum Authority in Petrou Ralli Street, visit the parks, public squares and derelict buildings where homeless asylum seekers live; it is plain to see that Greece is currently incapable of meeting its legal obligations concerning refugees. I can conceive of no justification for returning asylum seekers to Greece, a country where the reception system is extremely limited and of help to few refugees, and where asylum procedures are unlawful.

Download the whole report (pdf)

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Voices from the Inside of Pagani (2009)

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