Detained refugees and migrants in pre-removal centres in mainland Greece left to survive

The situation in the pre-removal centers in Greece is becoming more and more tragic. While the big NGOs focus on helping refugees in the open camps, about 2,000 other refugees – most of which are asylum seekers – are suffering inhuman conditions in silence as they do not receive sufficient aid and have to endure inhuman and degrading detention conditions. Recent photos from sick persons lacking proper treatment inside the pre-removal center of Corinth are shocking.

Corinth pre-removal detention centre is a 1 ½ hour drive from Athens an has a capacity of 768. While it had been used extensively in the past and was considered by the new SYRIZA-led government in beginning of 2015 as closed for a while, it was “re-opened” in December 2015 with the re-use and transfer of more than 150 Morroccans planned to be deported. On the background of a closing Balkan corridor, the government at that time chose return to all infamous policies of systematic detention starting with the Maghreb nationalities who as a total were not considered to belong to the classical refugee producing nations, but are generally seen as migrants.

Detainees complained that access to medical services was particularly limited. Medical services are provided “on a voluntary basis” by the Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO), according to a AIDA report written by Greek Refugee Council (GCR). The Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection had hired doctors and nurses of the KEELPNO on temporary work contract for the medical care in pre-removal centres until the beginning of 2017. In December 2016 GCR had found that in Corinth pre-removal centre, where a number of about 650-700 persons were detained at that time, doctors were visiting the centre only three times per week. During a SYRIZA visit in beginning of March 2017, doctors were only visiting twice a week and there were even in those times no sufficient number of doctors available for all the sick. Also they noticed the very filthy state of the detention centre due to a funding gap for a cleaning company and insufficient and inadequate nutrition of the detainees. Respectively, and as the Unionist Movement “Overturning”, a faction of the Federation of Hospital Doctors in Greece (OENGE) resulted in a Press Release in March 2017, in Petrou Ralli detention centre was only one doctor for 200 detainees in a morning shift during the week and one other in Amygdaleza for 300 detainees (which is also visited twice a week by a psychologist).

Dozens of detainees, most of them belonging to the supposingly “non-refugee” and thus “unwanted nationalities”, like Pakistanis or Moroccans, are enduring scabbies and bacterial infections without proper treatment and while remaining in an inadequate environment where healing is almost impossible and the risk of re-infection ist high. They claim that they haven’t receive enough treatment and that they are left in the dark regarding their rights. “There is not enough medical staff. There is no access to lawyers without payment. We have no information about what will happen to us, how long we will stay in this prison.”, says one of them in a phone conversation.

Only last October 28, 2016, the detained refugees had put fire in the center, protesting against the extension of their detention decisions. People who transported there, from all other Greece, i.e. newcomers from Mytilene or Crete, are trying to find help for appealing their detention and for receiving asylum. Some of them are more than six months there. Even after a recent shipwreck in the Ioanian Sea near Patras, many of the 113 survivors got transferred to Corinth detention centre.

While administrative detention should be the exception, it is used regularly and without individual assessment and reasoning.

According to law ground for detention are:
– in order to determine his or her identity or nationality;
– in order to determine those elements on which the application for international protection is based which could not be obtained otherwise, in particular when there is a risk of absconding of the applicant;
– if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the applicant is making the application for international protection merely in order to delay or frustrate the enforcement of a return decision, if it is probable that the enforcement of such a measure can be effected;
– when he or she constitutes a danger for national security or public order;
– when there is a serious risk of absconding of the applicant, in order to ensure the enforcement of a transfer decision according to the Dublin III Regulation.

Many of the detainees in pre-removal centres got detained already on the islands of the Aegean soon upon arrival to Greece as it was considered they applied merely in order to delay or frustrate return or on “law-breaking conduct” grounds. Additionally, on 18 June 2016 a new Police Circular introduced a practice according to which third-country nationals residing on the islands with “law-breaking conduct” (παραβατική συμπεριφορά), would be transferred, on the basis of a decision of the local Director of the Police, approved by the Directorate of the Police, to pre-removal detention centers in the mainland where they would remain detained. Others while not having applied for asylum from within detention despite this fact got arrested after registering their claim and were detained while law prescribes that such kind of automaticity and lack of individual examination should not be carried out and asylum seekers should not be generally deprived of their liberty. Among the detainees in pre-removal centres there are not only many asylum seekers but also vulnerable persons. Reportedly there are detainees in Corinth how are held already more than 6 months.