Access to Protection: a Human Right The Country Report of Greece

Access to Protection: a Human Right

The  Country Report of Greece



This report refers to the national legislation and the practices of the Greek Administration regarding the border controls and the procedure of asylum in the borders, as well as the access to the asylum procedure in areas far from the borders, where Greece exercises its extrajudicial authority. The above have been studied under the light of the Hirsi Jamaa and others versus Italy decision, which has been resolved by the European Court of Human Rights, and the obligations which imposes to the Members States such decision.


This report has been prepared in the frame of the Program “Access to Protection: a human right”, to which organizations from Greece, Italy, Spain, Malta, Hungary and Germany participate and has been funded by ΕPIM (European Program for Integration and Migration).


The report is based on the Greek and international bibliography, on relative reports of international organizations and non governmental organizations, as well as interviews with members of the academic community, the Coastguard, the Frontex, the Athens Office of UNHCR and lawyers of the Greek Council for Refugees.


In order to understand the structure of this report, it is been clarified that this report includes: 1) the texts in the blue frames which include the basic principles deriving from the decision Hirsi, 2) questions as a result of these principles (the texts as well as the questions are common elements for all the countries which participate in this Program) and 3) answers to these questions.




Short overview of the asylum procedure


The asylum reform brought about by Law 3907/2011 created an Asylum Service and an Appeals Authority. However, due to delays in the establishment of the new Asylum Service, the asylum procedure remained in a ‘transitional phase’ regulated by Presidential Decree 114/2010. A detailed Country Report on the asylum procedure in Greece can be found in Asylum information Data base (AIDA) [1]



The set in motion of the Asylum Service on 7 June 2013 marked the end of the ‘transitional period’, following which all new applications for international protection are governed by the new legal framework set out in Presidential Decree 113/2013.


Accordingly, Greece currently operates a twofold regime for applications for international protection, whereby

  • Applications lodged before 7 June 2013 fall within the scope of Presidential Decree 114/2010 (“old procedure”)
  • Applications lodged after 7 June 2013 are covered by Presidential Decree 113/2013 (“new procedure”).


A number of substantive changes to the asylum procedure are also brought about by Presidential Decree 113/2013.

The main change brought about by the new procedure relates to the competent authorities handling the asylum procedure, as applications for international protection are examined by the Asylum Service rather than police authorities.


(1)Lodging and registration


According to both legal frameworks, applicants for asylum/ international protection can lodge a claim before any Greek authority at entry points, at the border or in the territory, in written or oral form. The access to asylum procedure is still problematic.


(2)First instance procedures


Greece applies the following types of procedures: regular procedure, accelerated procedure, border procedure, Dublin procedure; no provision is made for admissibility procedures. However, the scope of the above procedures differs somewhat depending on the applicable legal framework.


Furthermore, the reported lack of interpreters in police stations and the use of fellow-detainees as interpreters regularly results in inaccurate registration of personal details, including age. Also, the lack of information on the possibility to apply for international protection, which constitutes a clear impediment to access to the procedure, has been reported at the border.[2]


Conversely, under P.D. 113/2013, applications at the border are now examined through the prioritised procedure. In that light, Presidential Decree 113/2013 brings about a welcome improvement in the law by ensuring greater guarantees to applicants whose claim is examined at the border.


Beyond manifestly unfounded applications or cases where the applicant comes from a safe country of origin, the new legislative framework empowers Greek authorities to apply the accelerated procedure inter alia to applicants who present contradictory and implausible information, who mislead the authorities by presenting false documents or withhold information pertaining to their nationality and identity or who destroy their documents in bad faith.[3]




Both P.D. 114/2010 and P.D. 113/2013 provide for the possibility of a first instance administrative appeal before the Appeals Committee which is an administrative body.


In all the aforementioned cases, only the appeal before the Appeals Committee has automatic suspensive effect. The applicant and the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection have the right to apply for the annulment of the decision of the Appeals Committee before the Administrative Court of Appeals (judicial authority). The latter appeal has no automatic suspensive effect, however. Only by interim measures before the same court can the appellant demand the suspension of deportation orders. Furthermore, suspension of deportation orders lies at the discretion of the court. The appellant can also appeal against the Appeals Court decision by a writ of error before the Council of the State; yet this appeal does not have automatic suspensive effect either.


National impact of the Hirsi case


Academic commentary on Hirsi Jamaa v Italy:


Giannis Papageorgiou, “Hirsi Jamaa and al v. Italy,  the protection of refugees in international waters”  (2013) 2-3-4 To Syntagma 862-901 (in Greek)


Costello, “Courting Access to Asylum in Europe: Supranational Jurisprudence Explored” (2012) 12:2 Human Rights Law Review 287-339


Reports on Greece:


Amnesty International, “Frontier Europe: Human Rights Abuses on Greece’s Border with Turkey” (2013)

Pro asyl, ”Pushed back, Systematic human rights violations against refugees in the Aegean sea (2013)


UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, François Crépeau, “Regional Study: Management of the External Borders of the European Union and its Impact on the Human Rights of Migrants” (2013) A/HRC/23/46


Greek Council for Refugees & ProAsyl, “Human Cargo: Arbitrary readmissions from the Italian sea ports to Greece” (2012),


1. Extra territorial jurisdiction of Article 1 of the Convention


Extra territorial application of the ECHR in case of migrants/eventual asylum seekers intercepted in order to hand them over to the authorities of a third country.


  • The Greek legislation and case-law does not  foresee the extra territorial application of the ECHR in case of migrants intercepted at sea in order to hand them over to the authorities of a third country


  • The Hirsi case produced any change in your legislation and case-law



2. Prohibition of direct and indirect refoulement (chain deportation)


Where substantial grounds indicate that a person, if deported, would face a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 of the ECHR in the receiving country there is an obligation of States Parties to the ECHR not to send the individual to that country.


The State carrying out the return has the obligation ensure that the intermediary country offers sufficient guarantees to prevent the person concerned being removed to his country of origin without an assessment of the risks faced, in particular in case the intermediary country is not party to the Convention.


  • Question: Does the national legislation foresee a prohibition to send back a person in a country where he would face a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 and/or violations of the principles of non-refoulement?


No such provision was included in Law 3386/2005 which regulates entry and residence of third-country nationals in Greece.


However, Law 3907/2011 transposing the Returns Directive 2008/115/EC expressly provides that return measures need be compatible with the principle of non-refoulement.[4]


  • Is there any relevant case law relating to direct/indirect refoulement?


Well-established principles of European and international law have been restated by the Greek judiciary. These concern:


-       Absolute nature of the principle of non-refoulement under Article 3 ECHR (Council of State, Suspension Committee, 551/2010)


-       Subsidiary protection: Where return of a third-country national would amount to refoulement, the State is under duty to issue a residence title (Council of State 1241/2007)




  •  Question : Are there cases of direct refoulement?


A recent incident of direct refoulement occurred in May 2013 and concerned a Turkish citizen  Bulut Yayla. On 20 May 2013, B.Y., a survivor of torture, sought assistance from the Greek Council for Refugees in his unsuccessful attempt to access the asylum procedure, as he faced significant impediments to submitting his claim at the Alliens Police Directorate in Athens (Petrou Ralli). While efforts to submit his asylum application were underway, B.Y was kidnapped on 30 May 2013.


Despite Greek Council’s for Refugees interventions on the same day and on 31 May 2013 to inform the Greek police of the risks B.Y would run upon his return to Turkey, the Greek Council for Refugees was informed on 1 June 2013 that B.Y. had been readmitted by Turkey and was detained in Turkey.[5]


Strikingly, when confronted in relation to the issue, the Greek police on 2 June 2013, it denied having any official registration of BY’s asylum claim or any personal contact with BY. However, on 3 June 2013, it issued a second statement confirming the Greek Council for Refugees’ intervention in BY’s case.[6]


  • Please indicate whether in the above incidents readmission/cooperation agreements were used as legal basis for the return of the alien. In case of positive answer, please specify whether these agreements include safeguards to ensure respect for the basic human rights of person concerned and adequate protection of asylum seekers and refugees, in particular in regards to the principles of non-refoulement.


There are cases of refoulement  where the Greek-Turkish readmission agreement  was not used as any base for the return of aliens. In many cases it is used as legal basis for the return of the alien.

 However his recent report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants agrees that the Greek-Turkish readmission agreement ensures insufficient human rights guarantees for those returned.[7]


  • Are there cases of indirect refoulement?.


A number of incidents of indirect refoulement of Syrian nationals at the Greek sea borders have been reported by Amnesty International in its recent report.[8]


UNHCR’s concerns in the context of a risk for indirect refoulement, have in the past been raised through UNHCR’s public positions on Greece (see, in particular “Observations on Greece as a country of asylum”, UNHCR, December 2009, available at, as well as through formal interventions to the authorities.   These concerns related primarily to first entry/border and return procedures that did not encompass adequate procedural safeguards for the identification of persons with international protection needs, as well as to long-term deficiencies of the Greek asylum system which did not ensure full and unobstructed access for asylum seekers.  Additionally, cases of reported “push-back” (forced return under informal means) had been noted.


Presently, UNHCR has received reports and testimonies of persons making reference to informal forced returns (push-backs) or attempted informal returns to Turkey that may lead to indirect refoulement for the persons affected. UNHCR is trying to monitor and document such cases with a view to raising the issue with the Greek authorities and seeking their in effectively addressing (halting) such practices, if existing. 


  • Do national legislation and/or administrative orders foresee the possibility to carry out interception measures in territorial/international/third-countries waters in the framework of border controls activities?


Greece has transposed into national legislation the provisions of Directive 2008/115/EC “on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals” with L. 3907/2011. The Articles 20, 21 refer to the obligation of the State to conform to the non-refoulement principle while art. 24 provides that the removal of a third-country national who is under return procedure is compulsorily postponed when it would violate the principle of non-refoulement.


According to the L. 3907/2011, removal procedures are subjected to a monitoring system that operates under the independent authority “the Greek Ombudsman”, which cooperates for this purpose with international organizations and NGOs. Within this framework, it is very important that the monitoring mechanism has competency over the whole scope of the return process, including the legitimacy of the removal, in the context of the national and international law. Moreover, this monitoring procedure should also concern removals of third country nationals on the basis of readmission agreements or on the basis of deportation decisions according to the L. 3386/2005. Lastly, in order for the monitoring procedure to be effective, the Greek Ombudsman should be given adequate resources to fulfill this duty.


The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants argues that EU Member States externalise border controls through stepping up the Turkish coastguard’s interception capacities.[9]


  • Are there nationals of specific countries more exposed than others to the risk of direct/indirect refoulement?


This can only be assessed on an individual basis.  Any person forcibly returned can be exposed to the risk of direct (in case of direct deportation) or indirect refoulement (chain refoulement, through readmission or other indirect return procedures), if not sufficiently given the chance to seek international protection and receive a fair treatment, with all due procedural guarantees, during the examination of his/her claim. 


  • Have there been cases of refoulement in the framework of search and rescue operations?



Refoulement can only be substantiated on an individual basis.  In the latter years, such substantiation has not taken place in connection to a particular case or cases, in the framework of interception and SAR operations at sea. However, UNHCR remains concerned over the “grey zone” of operation at sea border areas, and reports that refer to informal forced returns to Turkey, by the Greek Coast Guard, when having full jurisdiction over the persons concerned (Greek territorial waters or otherwise).


According to the L. 3907/2011, removal procedures are subjected to a monitoring system that operates under the independent authority “the Greek Ombudsman”, which cooperates for this purpose with international organizations and NGOs. Within this framework, it is very important that the monitoring mechanism has competency over the whole scope of the return process, including the legitimacy of the removal, in the context of the national and international law. Moreover, this monitoring procedure should also concern removals of third country nationals on the basis of readmission agreements or on the basis of deportation decisions according to the L. 3386/2005. Lastly, in order for the monitoring procedure to be effective, the Greek Ombudsman should be given adequate resources to fulfill this duty.


3. Positive duty of the State to find out about the treatment to which the applicants would be exposed after their return


When removing an alien the State has a duty to find out about the treatment to which the aliens would be exposed after their return. In this sense the existence of domestic laws and the ratification of international treaties guaranteeing respect for fundamental rights are not in themselves sufficient. At the same time the State cannot evade its own responsibility by relying on its obligations international agreements.


  • How are aliens identified at the borders and/or in territorial waters and high sea? Where is the identification procedure carried out? In case of interception operation on the territorial/high sea is this operation carried out on board? (Please provide details on national legislation and practices)?


Greece has transposed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea with the L. 2321/1995, the  International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) with the P.D. 201/2000 and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) with the P.D. 199/2005. Furthermore,according to the art. 13 of L. 3907/2011, third-country nationals who are arrested while entering the country illegally shall be directly taken, under the responsibility of the authority that conducted the arrest, to a First Reception Centre or Unit for the purposes of identification and other first reception procedures. Regarding identification carried out on board, to UNHCR’s knowledge this has taken place only in cases of stowaways, where the competent authorities will allow disembarkation of stowaways if they explicitly state their wish to claim asylum.  In other occasions, namely interception or sea border control procedures, UNHCR has not documented cases where identification was carried out at sea (on board); in such instances, either the persons were not allowed access to territory, or where (often following rescue operations) brought to land territory and referred to available structures.


Greece relies substantially on the assistance provided by FRONTEX in the context of JointOperationPoseidonSea at the maritime borders with Turkey.However, as Amnesty International states in its recent report, FRONTEX has deployed only one screener to interview persons apprehended while entering Greece through the island of Lesvos.[10]


Amnesty correctly notes that FRONTEX provides very little information on its role at the Greek border; for instance, no thorough information on its practices is provided in the agency’s lengthy Annual Risk Analysis 2013.


  • Does national legislation foresee the duty to find out the treatment to which the persons would be exposed after their return (this duty may include also specific safeguards for certain national, ethnic/etc. groups)? Please give details. Does this happen in practice?


No, not as a general provision/duty.


The L. 3907/2011 (Art. 25) requires in particular for the treatment of unaccompanied children, that the best interest of the child should be taken into care, and that children should be returned only if adequate protection (namely, return in the framework of family reunification or to appropriate reception structures) is in place at the country of origin.


A person not formally registered as an asylum seeker, is in practice not protected from removal proceedings (this meaning, the mere statement does not incur immediate obligations for the Greek State, although the law (PD 113/2013) mentions in Art 2 (d) that asylum seeker is any person who declares “verbally or in writing”, against any public authority, [..] his/her wish to seek asylum or subsidiary protection, or by any means asks that he/she is not deported to a particular country in fear of persecution).Regarding the First Reception Center, the third country nationals are informed about their rights and obligations, including as asylum seekers, in a more institutionalized framework, however, again, they are considered as asylum seekers only if they formally apply for international protection and their claim is registered.  Recently, upon political decision of the Greek government, Syrians are given automatic postponement of their deportation, irrespective of whether they file an asylum claim or not.


  • How is this risk assessed? Does your country look at the existence of domestic laws and the ratification of international treaties guaranteeing respect for fundamental rights? Does your country take into consideration if such instruments are applied in practice? How (e.g. using COI; embassies)? Does the State ask for the opinion of the alien?


According to the Greek authorities, there are some countries where they do not forcibly remove anyone (e.g. Somalia, Syria, Mali, etc).


  • In order to be considered as an asylum seeker does the alien has to explicitly request for international protection or is it enough for him/her to express fear of suffering serious harm if s(he) is returned to his/her country of origin?Are there instructions on this point for border police? If yes, what’s the content of these instructions?


According to P.D. 114/2010 and P.D. 113/2013, an expression of fear of suffering serious harm within the meaning of the Qualification Directive suffices for a person to be considered an applicant for international protection.


5. Article 4 of Protocol No. 4


5.1 Extraterritorial application of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4


The notion of expulsion is also principally territorial, in the sense that expulsions are most often conducted from national territory. However when the Court finds that a Contracting State has, exceptionally, exercised its jurisdiction outside its national territory, also violation of article 4 of protocol 4 can take place.


  • Do your legislation and case-law foresee the extra territorial application of article 4 of protocol 4?




  • Has the Hirsi case produced any change in your legislation and case-law?


Not to this day.


5.2 Prohibition of collective expulsion


When transferring aliens to another country the State has duty to ensure that the individual circumstances of each of the individuals concerned are the subject of a detailed examination.


  • Do national legislation and case law foresee a prohibition of collective expulsion? Which legal guarantees do apply in this case (e.g. obligation to carry out an identification procedure and detailed examination of the case; to issue a decision based on the individual case, etc)?




  • Is this duty respected in practice? (Please give detailed data about the incident: where and when it happened; which were the authorities involved; information about migrants involved: number, nationality, gender and any indication about vulnerability (e.g. potential asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, victims of torture). Please indicate the source of the information (media, UNHCR reports, etc) and whether your organization was directly involved in the case.


Amnesty International reports on average one push-back per week and states:[11]


The alarming number of testimonies collected by Amnesty International alleging collective expulsion suggests that these practices are regularly employed by Greek border guards and coastguards. In April 2013, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in Greece also reported that “[s]ome testimonies of Syrians received by UNHCR make reference to informal forced returns (push-backs) or attempted informal returns to Turkey.” In response to a query by Amnesty International, Frontex also wrote on 6 June 2013 that since 2012, Frontex Headquarters had received 18 reports of alleged violations of fundamental rights which included “unofficial returns (“push-backs”) involving groups of migrants (up to ten people) or single individuals that had allegedly been returned to Turkey by the Hellenic Police”.Frontex informed Amnesty International that it had raised such allegations with the Greek authorities in writing on three separate occasions and received a response denying that such push-backs had taken place


All those who claimed to be pushed back in this way reported that they were never given an opportunity to explain their situation or challenge their deportation. This is a breach of Greece’s international and regional obligations - most importantly the non-refoulement obligation as well as Greece’s domestic law. It also risks the lives and well-being of the people sent back either as a result of the manner in which they are sent back or by putting them at risk of being further sent back to a country where they may face persecution or other harm (indirect refoulement) once they are in Turkey  (amnesty-report-frontier-europe-greece-report- July 2013).


Furthermore, there have been reports on incidents occurring in 2012 involving Syrian nationals apprehended in Greek waters and collectively returned to Turkey without any prior individual examination; under Hirsi, such practice triggers Article 4 Protocol 4. As reported in the Guardian, “The officers put people in small plastic boats, which they tied to larger, motorised boats, and returned them to Turkish territory”.[12]


According to a recent report of PROASYL, has been established that illegal push-backs from Greek sea and land borders occur systematically. While trying to enter Greece by using the sea way, 149 people have lost their lives-mostly Syrian and Afghan refugees, since August 2012. Although Greece has been accused of such blatant human rights violations before, the brutality and the extent of violations found in this report are shocking. Masked Special Forces officers are accused of ill-treating refugees upon apprehension, detaining them arbitrarily without any registration on Greek soil and then deporting them back to Turkey, in breach of international law. In fact, there are “grey” zones where refugees are detained outside any formal procedure; in practice these refugees don’t exist. Greek Special Forces of the Coastguard abandon often the refugees to Turkish waters without any concern for their safety. All the reported push-backs have occurred in the Greek waters, the Greek islands and land borders. The majority of the victims are refugees from Syria – men, women, children, babies, and people suffering from severe illness. While the EU publicly repeats its commitment to stand by Syrian refugees, their fundamental human rights are being ignored and violated at the European border.


More specifically, in the EU’s external south-eastern frontier between Turkey and Greece is more than 2.200 km long. In 2012, it saw the largest number of irregular entries to the EU out of all the EU’s external borders, while in 2013 numbers of detections dropped significantly ……12 According to the Hellenic Police, during the first nine months of 2013, 8.052 persons were arrested for crossing the sea borders and 764 persons for crossing land borders (compared to the same period of 2012: 1,329 in the Aegean Sea and 30,143 in Evros). PRO ASYL research included interviews with men, women, children and vulnerable groups of people (such as unaccompanied minors, sick and elderly people) from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea – persons prima facie in need of international protection - who have allegedly been pushed back to Turkey from the Greek/European territory (from the Aegean Sea and the Evros region).


The findings of the research have shown the following:


- Push-backs as described indicate a systematic and collective practice carried out by the Greek authorities at an increasing rate.


-Refugees are pushed back to Turkey: a) from the Greek territorial waters b) from the Greek islands c) from Farmakonisi military island after being detained incommunicado, d) after a distress alert is launched, e) in Evros area at the land border directly after their arrival on Greek territory via the Evros River, either in the forest where they are trying to hide or while walking in the streets of the first village they reached in the area.


-Many of those affected, are Syrian refugees trying to enter Europe to seek international protection and to reunite with their families that live in various European countries.


- In many cases, either on coast guard boats, provisory on islands or in informal detention places in Evros, refugees were arbitrarily detained for some hours, without being officially registered, without access to the outside world and without any food and water offered.


- In the Aegean, in almost all cases, the officers involved in the push-back operations wore “black uniforms, carried guns and wore full face-covering masks”. In other cases, officers were “wearing blue uniforms’’. In Evros they were described either as wearing blue, military green or dark green uniforms, accompanied by some people in plainclothes, and others wearing full face masks.


-Many of the interviewees claimed that their personal belongings (mobiles, money) were arbitrarily taken away and not given back. Many Syrians alleged that they also have had their documents taken away.


- All of the interviewees stressed to PRO ASYL, that they were not heard by the Greek authorities, that they were not afforded an opportunity to either ask for international protection or to challenge their removal back to Turkey. Even in those cases, where refugees told PRO ASYL that they had explicitly requested international protection and/or not to be removed because they were refugees fleeing war, their pleas were in vain.

-The majority of the interviewees claimed that they had been ill-treated. In the cases of those who were pushed back from the island of Farmakonisi, the severity of the reported ill-treatment towards nine male Syrian refugees could amount to torture.


-Three push-back incidents concerning Farmakonisi (an uninhabited island, except for a military unit) were reported, involving dozens of refugees from Syria, claiming to have been apprehended by Greek coastguards either just off the coast of the island, or after their arrival on the island. The refugees report that they were detained incommunicado and deprived of any rights for periods ranging from 16 hours to three days, before being pushed back and left adrift in Turkish waters.


-Push-back operations (from the sea and land borders) in the way they are carried out as described by refugees, put their lives at risk. People expressed that they were terrified, as they could not protect their lives and dignity, nor did they know what exactly would happen to them.


- Aliens reported being forced and even threatened with guns to return to Turkish waters.


- In the majority of cases, the pushed back refugees claim to have been left in life threatening situations upon being pushed back in the Aegean when left adrift in unseaworthy boats or being thrown in the water of river Evros.


-With regards to the pushback operations from the Aegean Sea, some refugees alleged that even though, they had dialled the emergency number to launch a distress alert, when they were later on located by the Greek authorities, they were pushed back.


- Once pushed back to Turkey, refugees were allegedly arrested and detained under degrading detention conditions. Some of them faced the risk to be deported to their countries of origin, without being offered the chance to seek international protection (among them Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis who are in risk of chain refoulement).


-During their stay in Turkey they faced the lack of an effective refugees’ protection system, were subjected to deploring living conditions and were exposed to a series of other human rights violations as Turkey is not considered a safe country for refugees.


- Most of the interviewees, tried to enter into European territory more than once, after having been pushed back and were therefore exposed to further risks. In one case reported to PRO ASYL, an Eritrean refugee who was pushed back from the Evros region and then tried to cross the borders from the sea is missing since the Canakkale shipwreck (Pushed back-Systematic human rights violation against refugees in the Aegean sea and at the Greek Turkish land border-PROASYL Report)

Also some detainees declared that they have tried several times to enter Greece via Samos from Turkey but they have been pushed back again towards the Turkish coastline, regardless the presence of women and children on the boats.In some of the attempts, the Greek Coast guard has interrogated them on their vessel about how they have arrived in Greece and afterwards, they have been pushed again towards Turkey (  

Furthermore, the Greek Coastguard has mentioned that there are cases, in which the Hellenic coast authorities have entered the Turkish seawaters in order to push back  boats with aliens , with the collaboration and acknowledge  of the Turkish authorities which apprehend them and turn them back to the Turkish coasts.  

Upon relevant question to the European Parliament on the 11th November 2013, regarding the reporting of human rights violations by the Greek authorities, the possibility for FRONTEX to suspend  its mission in the borders between Turkey and Greece, the suspension or termination of such mission, the opening of infringement procedures against Greece, the Parliament’ s response was positive regarding the further investigation of these allegations, which in any case have been reported by FRONTEX (


Close cooperation between Greek and Turkish authorities at the land border has been in place since summer 2012. Coupled with electronic surveillance of the border, deployment of patrol boats on the Evros river and completion of the border fence, this has led to a significant reduction of migrants crossing the Evros border (over 90 per cent since August 2012, according to Greek authorities). Most of the migrants who try to cross this border are now apprehended on the Turkish side. A decrease in apprehensions on the Turkish side of the border since October 2012 indicates that the migration flow towards the Greek-Turkish land border has diminished.               

A readmission protocol between Greece and Turkey was signed in 2002. The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Francois Crepeau has recently expressed his worries that this agreement focuses almost exclusively on combatting “illegal” migration. While it “does not affect the rights and obligations arising from other international agreements binding upon the Parties”, it does not provide any specific guarantees for respecting the human rights of migrants, such as non-refoulement or the principle of the best interests of the child. Given the obstacles to access asylum procedures and to identify other vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied children, victims of trafficking and victims of torture in Greece, there is a serious risk that persons returned under the readmission agreement with Turkey might indeed be in need of protection.

The Special Rapporteur notes that the number of migrants returned to Turkey under the bilateral agreement is low, and that Greece expects that it will be able to readmit more migrants once the EU-Turkey readmission agreement enters into force.

The Special Rapporteur strongly urges Greece to fully respect its human rights obligations in relation to all its readmission agreements, including the Greece-Italy, Greece-Turkey and EU-Turkey agreements. The non-refoulement principle must always be respected for all migrants proposed for readmission, according to Francois Crepeau (Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau on his mission to Greece, 25 November to 3 December 2012).

The collective push backs of foreign nationals in the Greek borders and the Hellenic Coast Guard practices of ill-treatment had also caught the attention of Nils Muižnieks, the Counsil of Europe’ s  Commissioner of Human Rights, who actually  wrote to the Greek Ministers of Public Order and Citizen Protection, Nikolaos Dendias and of Shipping and the Aegean, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis last December, to express his worries about the large number of reported systematic expulsions by Greece of migrants, and to point out  his view that “Greece has to radically change its migration policy and practice”.

In his letter to the Greek Ministers, the Commissioner underlined that although his last visit in Greece has been satisfactory, since the adoption of legislative measures aimed at enhancing human rights protection has been established, such as Ministerial Decision N. 92490 which guarantees the medical care of irregular migrants, in initial reception centers, recent reports by expert refugee organizations seriously concern him. Nils Muižnieks referred to the abovementioned PROASYL report on push backs by the Greek border authorities, according to which 2000 immigrants, including Syrian refugees, who are considered as prioritized receivers of international protection, have been illegally pushed back to Turkey, from December 2011 to August 2013. Also, the Commissioner stated that ill treatment of the illegal migrants and confiscation of their personal belongings by the Greek authorities in the borders, have been widely occurred, while his letter underlines that collective expulsion of foreign nationals is a violation of the Article 4, Protocol n. 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which dates from 1963 and is not as yet acceded to by Greece.

Publishing the letter on the 10th January 2014, the Commissioner for Human Rights stated: “The large number of reported collective expulsions by Greece of migrants, including a large number of Syrians fleeing war violence, and allegations of ill-treatment of migrants by members of the coast guard and of the border police raise serious human rights concerns”, while he pointed out that this kind of behavior is a violation of the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, established by the art. 33 UN Refugee Convention, by which Greece is bound. 

“I call on the Greek authorities to carry out effective investigations into all recorded incidents and take all necessary measures in order to end and prevent recurrence of such practices.”

Also added that “to uphold its human rights obligations, Greece has to radically change its migration policy and practice. This is all the more necessary now that Greece has taken on additional responsibilities by holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union”.

The Greek Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection, Mr. Dendias, in his official reply to the Commissioner stated that “With reference to your letter dated 5 December and with regard to the recent reports (PRO-ASYL, Amnesty International as well as Media reports) concerning allegations for un-proceed returns to Turkey through the Evros river (“push-backs”) and ill-treatment of  intercepted of illegal migrants, I would like to inform you that every such case is being thoroughly investigated by the Hellenic Police and if necessary by the Judicial Authorities. Upon completion of the ongoing investigation and in case that substantial evidence occurs, appropriate penal and disciplinary measures will be imposed. Moreover the outcome of this investigation will be communicated to you at the earliest convenience”.

The Minister also outlined that the readmission to the neighboring Turkey is being implemented according to the Readmission Protocol between Greece and Turkey(

Moreover, since March 2013, Amnesty International has spoken to nearly 30 people in Greece and Turkey who, in at least 39 separate instances, have been stopped trying to cross the Aegean or the northern land border between the two countries along the river Evros.

Almost all of them described how they had experienced or witnessed violence and/or other ill-treatment by the Greek authorities. Many said guards had taken their belongings, including money, family photos and heirlooms, and in some cases thrown them into the sea (

“What’s happening along the Greek border does not just shame Greece. It shames the European Union as a whole,” said Jezerca Tigani, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“The number of push back stories we collected is extremely alarming. It suggests that the Greek authorities are employing this practice on a regular basis, despite the fact that it is unlawful. And it is also extremely dangerous - to the point where it puts people’s lives seriously at risk.”

Testimonies collected by Amnesty point to the blatant disregard for human life shown by the Greek coastguard during these operations carried out in the Aegean Sea. Thirteen of the 14 interviewees who described being returned to Turkey said how their inflatable boats were rammed, knifed, or nearly capsized while they were being towed or circled by a Greek coastguard boat. They said their boats’ engines were disabled and their oars removed, then they were just left in the middle of the sea. Life-endangering practices were also reported by people caught after crossing the river Evros.

The route across the Aegean has become more popular since last year when authorities built a 10.5 kilometer fence and deployed nearly 2,000 new border guards along the border at the river Evros. But it is a dangerous one. As well as the threat of push backs, since August last year more than 100 people – including women and children and mostly Syrians and Afghans - have drowned trying to reach Greece.

“As the weather gets better and conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia continue, we expect more people to attempt the journey and we are likely to see more tragedies like these,” said Jezerca Tigani.

Those who do make it to Greece are routinely detained in dark, dirty cells for long periods. Many of the people Amnesty spoke to had spent nearly nine months behind bars. Health problems are rife.

“The conditions refugees and migrants are being held in are often appalling.  In fact, when we visited people in those cells it was difficult to remember we were actually in the EU. Many of them are fleeing conflict, poverty and hunger but too often they are being held in dark, dirty, damp cells, with limited access to fresh air and not enough food,” said Jezerca Tigani.

“Some detainees told us they had to call the police when they needed to use the toilet as there were no toilets in their cells. They said their calls were often not answered for hours so they had to urinate in bottles. Others said their bedding had not been washed for months, and that they had limited access to soap, shampoo or sanitary towels,” she added.

Amnesty International is calling on the Greek authorities to stop push backs immediately and investigate allegations of collective expulsions and ill-treatment, and to prosecute those involved. It wants all those intercepted trying to cross borders to have their cases for international protection heard fairly. It wants the Greek authorities to end the indiscriminate and prolonged detention of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers; and use alternatives to detention.

The EU has a role to play too. It must support the Greek authorities by helping to improve reception services instead of sealing off borders. The EU should also explore new ways of sharing responsibility for refugees and migrants.

“It is obviously Greece’s prerogative to control its borders, but not at the expense of the human rights of those trying to reach safety, or looking for a better life, in Europe. These are difficult times in Greece, and for millions across Europe, but there is no excuse for how refugees and migrants are being treated,” said Jezerca Tigani.

“Other EU Member States appear only too happy for Greece to act as their gatekeeper. But the policies and practices along the Greek border expose the bitter irony of European countries pressing for peace abroad while denying asylum to and putting at risk the lives of those seeking refuge in Europe. The EU must act now to stop these human rights violations at its borders,” she said:


In fact, on the 24th of January 2014, a tragedy which has caused international shock occurred in the premises of Farmakonisi island in the borders between Greece and Turkey, in the Aegean Sea, when a boat of migrants sunk in their attempt to reach the Greek territory, causing the death of 12 people[13]. The survivors strongly alleged that cause of the tragedy was the attempt of Greek Coast Guard to push-back the migrants in to Turkish waters.

Regarding the devastating loss of the unfortunate aliens, Neurope wrote:

“The EU expects Greece to investigate the sinking of a migrant boat near the small island of Farmakonisi, in which twelve people, half of them women and children, died.

"It's a terrible loss of life of course," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom –in Greece for an informal meeting of Home Affairs minister- said, stressing that the details of the accident were still unclear. "I hope there will be an independent investigation to see what happened, who's possibly responsible, to establish all the facts."

The circumstances of the sinking are unclear. Only two bodies have been found. Initially, according to the authorities, the 16 surviving migrants said the Greek Coast Guard had saved them but later accused them of towing their boat back to Turkey at very high speeds and, when it capsized, doing all they could to prevent those that found themselves in the water from saving themselves.

Greece's government and Coast Guard deny the accusations and on Friday the latter released satellite data showing the boat was not being towed towards Turkey but towards the Farmakonisi island itself.

International organizations and Greek political parties, including the ruling coalition's Socialist junior partner,have called for a full investigation of the incident.

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said the incident "appears to be a case of a failed collective expulsion."

Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said on Friday the latest accounts were not the same as those given by survivors to Greek authorities immediately after the sinking.

"In their statements, a father who lost his companion and their four children states clearly that the Coast Guard saved us. A brother who lost his mother and three brothers states the same," he said, adding that the alleged change in accounts was "striking and curious."

Malmstrom noted that so-called pushbacks, in which migrants are forcibly and clandestinely returned to the country they started out from, are illegal.

"I note that there have been allegations of pushbacks," she said. "I presume that the government is looking into that."

The UN High Commission for Refugees has also urged Greece to investigate the incident”(


  • Are there nationals of specific countries more exposed than others to the risk of collective expulsion?

Already mentioned above.


6. Effective remedies (available for those aliens who are not in the asylum procedure and that are subjected to removal)


In case involving violation of art. 3 of the ECHR the meaning of “effective remedies” under article 13 requires firstly “independent and rigorous scrutiny” of any complaint made by a person in such a situation where “there exist substantial grounds for fearing a real risk of treatment contrary to Article 3” and secondly “the possibility of suspending the implementation of the measure impugned”.


  • Does national legislation foresee a right to an effective remedy in case of procedure of removal of aliens at the borders? Is this right guarantee also in case of interception operation in the territorial/high seas?


National law provides a remedy against return/deportation decision with suspensive effect. However, this remedy is not always accessible due to lack of sufficient legal aid or interpreters, thus it may be not effective.


Is this right respected in practice? (Please give detailed data about eventual violations: where and when it happened; which were the authorities involved; information about migrants involved: number, nationality, gender and any indication about vulnerability (e.g. potential asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, victims of torture). Please indicate the source of the information (media, UNHCR reports, etc) and whether your organization was directly involved in the case. It is not effectively respected, for the reasons mentioned above, namely absence of appropriate procedural safeguards (information, interpretation, legal assistance).



  • Are there factors that may prevent from enjoying this right (e.g. limited access to lawyers and tribunal by the alien; notification of the return decision without any/sufficient time to lodge an appeal, etc.)


Limited interpretation services, limited legal assistance


7. Right to obtain information


States must ensure to the aliens the right to obtain sufficient information to enable them to gain effective access to the relevant procedures and to substantiate their complaints.


  • Does national legislation foresee a duty to give information at the borders to non-nationals concerning access to the asylum procedure? Please give detailed description of the content of the law.


Art. 7 of the L. 3907/2011 requires that all third-country nationals who are arrested while entering the country without the legal formalities shall be subjected to First Reception procedures which include providing proper information about their obligations and rights, in particular about the conditions under which they can be placed under international protection.


  • Are these information given to all migrants or only to those who have already explicitly expressed the intention to apply for asylum?
  • Where is this information available (at the borders, offices in the national territory, on the ships)?
  • Who provides this information?
  • How is this information given? In which form (orally, leaflets, etc)? In which language?


As State provision/duty, this information is available in the First Reception Centers and in other facilities where the First Reception Service operates.

All third-country nationals who are arrested while entering the country without the legal formalities should be subjected to First Reception procedures. All law enforcement officers (whether police or coast guard), involved in particular with border procedures, should be given clear instructions on how to clearly relay information on the asylum procedure, and should be assessed/controlled in effectively fulfilling this duty.


8. Duty to train the personnel


Personnel at board and the military ships should be trained to conduct individual interviews.


  • Does national legislation foresee a duty to train on human rights standards/international protection competent authorities (military personnel; border police) who first come in contact with migrants?




  • In this duty respected in practice? Which authority/organization delivers these trainings? Which are their contents? How often are they delivered?


At sea and land entry points, there is no experienced staff available to respond to the needs of vulnerable persons such as unaccompanied children or traumatized individuals and as a result in most of the cases these persons are left helpless or do not receive the necessary attention, which discourages them from going on with the asylum procedure.[14]


To UNHCR’s knowledge, regular trainings are organized by the PoliceAcademy, either for regular students, or in the framework of post-graduate trainings. In the framework of a standing cooperation between UNHCR and Police, in particular on training issues, UNHCR is invited to upon initiative of the PoliceAcademy, and delivers training seminars to police officers, including those who are competent for irregular migration.


  • Are national authorities (military personnel; border police) regularly updated on the situation (in particular on security and human rights conditions) in relevant countries of origin and transit? How?


By Frontex


9. Duty to provide interpreting services and legal advisers


Aliens should be assisted by interpreters and legal advisers.


  • Does national legislation foresee a duty to provide legal advice and interpreting services to non-nationals? In which languages are the services available?


Article 8(1)(b) P.D. 114/2010 and P.D. 113/2013 provides for the right to interpretation services which are funded by the public purse. However the number of interpreters is quite limited.


Article 8(1)(c) P.D. 114/2010 and P.D. 113/2013 entitles applicants for international protection to communicate with legal advisors. However, free legal assistance is only provided in appeal procedures before the Administrative Court of Appeals in accordance with the provisions of Law 3226/2004. However even this right is not guaranteed in practice. The L. 3907/2011 regarding First Reception Service requires that in the Screening Centers which are named First Reception Centers (FRC), third country nationals should have access to ‘guidance and legal advice’ regarding their situation. NGOs not working in the FRC are denied to have access to these Centers in Thrace. As regards to the removal procedures, Greece has opted to exclude from the scope of the Return Directive (transposed in the Greek legislation with the L. 3907/2011) any persons apprehended for irregular crossing of an external border and who have not subsequently obtained authorization to stay, according to the Article 2 (2) (a) of the Return Directive, thus there is no obligation of providing the necessary legal assistance and representation on request free of charge in accordance with the provisions of the art. 33 of the L.3907/2011. There is limited legal assistance provided by NGOs.



  • Are these services available to all aliens or only to those who have already explicitly expressed the intention to apply for asylum?


Mentioned before.


  • Who delivers these services (UNHCR, NGOs, etc)?


Mentioned before


  • Where are these services available (at the borders, offices in the national territory, on the sea)?


Not on the sea, not at the borders.


  • Are these rights guaranteed in practice?


 Mentioned  before.



This report has been redacted and lastly updated on the 27th of January 2014 by Spyros Koulocheris (Lawyer-Greek Council  for Refugees), with the contribution of Minos Mouzourakis and Aliki Alexiou (Lawyers).

[2] Greek Council for Refugees, GCR Mission Leros – Agathonissi – Kos (22 September 2012 – 24 September 2012) documenting the case of a group of Syrians in Leros who were first detained for 20 days on Farmakonnisi and then transferred to the Police Department of Leros without having been informed about the asylum procedure or their legal status and rights.

[3] Article 16(4) P.D. 113/2013

[4] Article 20 Law 3907/2011 (Article 5 Directive 2008/115/EC)

[5] Greek Council for Refugees, Link

[6] Greek Council for Refugees, Link

[7] UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants (2013), para 65

[8] Amnesty International (2013), p. 9 et seq.

[9] UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants (2013), paras 56-58

[10] Amnesty International (2013), p. 7

[11] Amnesty International (2013), pp. 9-10

[12] Omonira-Oyekanmi, “Syrian refugees ‘turned back from Greek border by police’” The Guardian (London, 7 December 2012),


[13] According to the survivors’ testimonies who are currently being offered legal and social support by the GCR, eleven people died, among them eight children and three women


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