Children, even alleged ones, are not to be detained

A recent decision of the Administrative Court of Athens safeguards the rights of children and persons under age assessment procedure in Greece

Athens, 2 May 2024

Jamal*, a child from Pakistan, was repeatedly registered by different Greek authorities as an unaccompanied minor. After his arrest by the Greek police and his arbitrary registration as an adult, he was detained in order to be returned. Withoutreasonable doubt, as required by law1, an age assessment procedure was belatedly initiated while the child was already 3months in detention in a Pre-Removal Detention Centre together with adults unknown to him and under conditions completelyunsuitable for children.

For a total of six (6) months the child remained in detention, following a story of Kafkaesque proportions, during which theGreek authorities refused to apply the legal procedure that requires a person to be treated as a minor for as long asthere is doubt about his age2 ("presumption of minority"). It also requires that a Guardian is appointed and that the child willbe placed in a shelter for unaccompanied minors.

Σύμφωνα με διάφορους μελετητές, η κλίμακα των εκτοπίσεων που προκύπτουν από την περιβαλλοντική υποβάθμιση είναι σημαντική με αποτέλεσμα οι «κλιματικοί πρόσφυγες» να αποτελούν τη μεγαλύτερη κατηγορία εκτοπισμένων ατόμων παγκοσμίως.

Η Διακυβερνητική Επιτροπή για την Κλιματική Αλλαγή (IPCC, 1990) επισήμανε ότι ο σημαντικότερος αντίκτυπος της κλιματικής αλλαγής μπορεί να είναι η ανθρώπινη μετανάστευση, εκτοπίζοντας εκατομμύρια ανθρώπους λόγω της διάβρωσης της ακτογραμμής και των παράκτιων πλημμυρών. Eκτιμήσεις της Παγκόσμιας Τράπεζας μιλούν για 200 εκατ. ανθρώπους, οι οποίοι θα εξαναγκαστούν να μεταναστεύσουν λόγω των δυσμενών επιπτώσεων της κλιματικής αλλαγής. Η Διεθνής Ομοσπονδία του Ερυθρού Σταυρού και της Ερυθράς Ημισελήνου (IFRC) προβλέπει ότι ο αριθμός των ατόμων που θα πληγούν θα διπλασιαστεί μέχρι το 2050.

Λευτέρης Παπαγιαννάκης
Διευθυντής του Ελληνικού Συμβουλίου για τους Πρόσφυγες

(σ.σ. Το κείμενο γράφτηκε πριν την συζήτηση και ψήφιση του Συμφώνου για τη Μετανάστευση και το Άσυλο, η οποία πραγματοποιήθηκε την Τετάρτη 10/4/2024)


Τα τελευταία χρόνια το προσφυγικό βρέθηκε στο επίκεντρο της δημόσιας συζήτησης και αντιπαράθεσης. Την ίδια στιγμή αποτέλεσε και αποτελεί καταλύτη πολιτικών και εκλογικών εξελίξεων σε πολλές χώρες ανά τον κόσμο.

Στην Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση (ΕΕ) μετά από πολλές, μακροχρόνιες και περίπλοκες διαπραγματεύσεις οι θεσμοί της ενέκριναν τη συμφωνία για το Σύμφωνο για την Μετανάστευση και το Άσυλο στην ΕΕ.

Τα τελικά κείμενα και οι λεπτομέρειες θα ακολουθήσουν, με την ψήφισή του να ολοκληρώνεται πριν τις ευρωεκλογές.

Σύμφωνα με κόμματα και οργανώσεις προάσπισης δικαιωμάτων το Σύμφωνο θα κάνει την πρόσβαση στο άσυλο πιο δύσκολη και πιο περίπλοκη. Στο επόμενο διάστημα και όταν δημοσιοποιηθούν τα τελικά κείμενα θα έχουμε καλύτερη εικόνα για το σύνολο των προβλέψεων, αλλά φαίνεται ότι το αποτέλεσμα είναι αρνητικό από την οπτική του δικαιώματος ασύλου και του σεβασμού των θεμελιωδών δικαιωμάτων.

Σε αυτή την πραγματικότητα έχει ιδιαίτερο ενδιαφέρον να δούμε πως εξελίχθηκε στην Ελλάδα, ειδικά μετά το 2015, το ζήτημα και πως  μια αλληλουχία γεγονότων επηρέασαν την πολιτική της ΕΕ.

Amidst warnings from over 50 Civil Society Organisations, EU lawmakers reached a political agreement on the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum in December. The agreement is a continuation of a decade of policy that has led to the proliferation of rights violations in Europe. Moreover, it will have devastating implications for the right to international protection in the bloc and greenlights abuses across Europe including racial profiling, default de facto detention and pushbacks. Next week, MEPs will be presented with a final chance to reject the files in a Plenary vote, and to give a political signal against the adoption of a Pact that would undermine fundamental rights.

Greece in Institutional Decline: 60-day update

Addendum to the Joint Civil Society Submission

to the European Commission on the 2024 Rule of Law Report 

Civil society organisations have reiterated to the European Committee their serious concerns about the backsliding of the country's institutions, in the context of its annual supervision of the Rule of Law operation in the countries of the European Union. 

On January 2023, independent organisations Vouliwatch, Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), HIAS Greece, Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR) and Reporters United submitted our report to the European Commission’s annual monitoring of Member States’ systems through its Rule of Law Report. In our submission, we documented persisting deficiencies and emerging threats to the rule of law in Greece.

Tomorrow, Thursday, 14 March 2024, the preliminary questions referred by the Plenary of the Council of State in its judgment No 177/2023 concerning the inclusion of Turkey in the national list of "safe third countries" (JMD 42799/2021) will be discussed in an oral hearing before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg (see here and here).  This decision of the Council of State was issued following a request for annulment by the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) against the above-mentioned Joint Ministerial Decision, which designated Turkey as a safe third country for asylum seekers and applicants from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The organisations will appear before the CJEU in Luxembourg, through their legal representatives.

WWF Greece and the Greek Council for Refugees are launching a public dialogue in the context of a joint research project on "climate refugees". In this pre-consultation on climate migration, we invite experts to participate by submitting comments, with the aim of formulating proposals for the definition and protection status of "climate refugees". The pre-consultation is also open to interested members of the general public.  

Walking the corridors of European institutions, we pass posters and banners trumpeting our continent’s commitment to rights, freedoms, and justice. These should be values we live, not words we use when politically expedient, MEP Cornelia Ernst and Spyros Vlad Oikonomou write.


Last month, a report documented vicious punishment beatings of people held in Greek refugee camps and detention centres.

Most who spoke to the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) reported having been beaten indiscriminately. 

Others said they were beaten for daring to complain about inhumane conditions in Greece’s EU-funded detention camps. Respondents also reported being shocked with electric weapons and subjected to racist abuse.

Such violence should make headlines across the continent. Instead, we have normalised it. 

The week the report emerged, the European Court of Human Rights censured Greece over an incident in which its coastguards shot at asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea, resulting in the death of a Syrian refugee after months of hospitalisation.

Almost simultaneously, investigators at Forensic Architecture released another update to their massive database on Greece’s systematic and illegal campaign of violence and ‘driftbacks’ in the Aegean Sea. 

The list includes dozens of cases where people were thrown into the sea without lifejackets by the Hellenic Coast Guard or unidentified masked men, and in three instances, handcuffed.

A fundamental breakdown of the rule of law

Greece’s Coast Guard has and continues to carry out crucial lifesaving work. But the state’s failure to address serious allegations is an insult to those crews who do save lives at great personal risk.


Meanwhile, humanitarians faced absurd charges including espionage in a Greek court, for nothing more than saving lives. 

They were thankfully acquitted last month, but the case has lasted six years. It is one of many where people migrating or people providing assistance are dragged through the courts whilst authorities endanger lives with impunity.

The situation in Greece reflects a fundamental breakdown of the rule of law, as 17 human rights and press freedom organisations said earlier this month in a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. 

The European Parliament has now adopted a resolution on threats to the rule of law in Greece. This must also be followed by meaningful action.

Europe is not, as it claims, powerless to act, and this is not only a Greek problem. Greece’s violence takes place with the tacit consent of Europe, the privately acknowledged price of fortifying the continent’s borders.

The EU has refused to remove its border agency, Frontex, from the Aegean despite the scandal of its complicity in Greek pushbacks and violence, and a recommendation to do so by the agency's own fundamental rights monitor. 

Europe provides lukewarm condemnation of Greek abuses while aiding and abetting them in practice.

A corrosive and corruptive effect

It is telling that EU institutions, which were all too quick to mete out brutal and damaging economic punishments to Greece during the sovereign debt crisis, refuse to hold it accountable for its systematic erosion of European human rights standards.

The EU funds detention camps where people — many of whom have fled torture elsewhere — are beaten and abused by guards. 

At least €276 million has been pumped into Greek facilities in recent years, which European Commission officials have hailed as a success. 

Repeated condemnations of the camps in the European Court of Human Rights suggest otherwise.

Worse still, through the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum, EU leadership wants the Greek model exported across Europe. 

Dozens of civil society organisations warned of the risks of child detention, racial profiling, and other harms, while people detained in removal centres have been protesting conditions, but so far their words have fallen on deaf ears.

Border control has had a corrosive and corrupting effect on Greek, and European, politics as a whole. 

It is time to ask a serious question: how many more will have to die in the Mediterranean, be beaten in camps, dumped in the rivers and seas, denied their basic right to claim asylum, prosecuted for carrying out life-saving aid, or wiretapped for reporting on abuses before we realise that something has gone seriously wrong?

As well as being immoral and illegal, this approach has not met its supposed goal of ending irregular migration. 

People are still coming to Europe, with border violence only succeeding in creating a cruel and costly humanitarian crisis that need not have existed. As arrivals continue, politicians demand more of the same, producing a vicious cycle.

All the time, resources that could be going into the real problems Europeans face — from collapsing living standards to the climate emergency — are diverted to those who profit from building camps, weapons, and walls.

Rights, freedoms, and justice should be values we live

Last week, the European Commission raided fresh funding from the Green Deal and aid budget for migration control and war.

We are in dangerous and difficult times, where European leadership is urgently needed. 

The EU has demonstrated positive leadership during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, welcoming significant numbers of refugees by triggering the Temporary Protection Directive. 

None of the problems that the alarmists predicted happened. We can and should learn from that experience.

Walking the corridors of European institutions, we pass posters and banners trumpeting our continent’s commitment to rights, freedoms, and justice. 

These should be values we live, not words we use when politically expedient. We sacrifice them at our own and future generations’ peril.

Cornelia Ernst (Die Linke/The Left) is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), and Spyros Vlad Oikonomou is Advocacy Officer at the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR).

Photo Copyright: AP Photo/Euronews
22 February 2024
Read the Joint Statement on the Revision of the EU Victims’ Rights Directive here
17 organisations who actively monitor and defend the rule of law and human rights in Europe, including the Greek Council for Refugees are writing to a joint letter to express their strong concern about the ongoing deterioration of the rule of the law and fundamental rights in Greece.
Read here the joint letter
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