Working Group on Arbitrary Detention : Preliminary Findings from its visit to Greece (2 - 13 December 2019)

Source : Groupe de travail des Nations Unies sur la détention arbitraire

Date : 13 décembre 2019

Sommaire et extraits :

« I. Introduction

II. Good practices and positive developments

Ratification of international human rights instruments

Alternatives to detention

Provisions for early release

Cooperation by the authorities

III. Deprivation of liberty in the context of the criminal justice system

Presentation before a judicial authority

Pre-trial detention

Presumption of innocence

Right to legal counsel

Provision of information in other languages

Short trials

Overcrowding of detention facilities

Conditions of detention

Monitoring of places of detention

IV. Detention of persons in the context of migration

Right to seek asylum

Protective custody

According to the Government, article 19 of Presidential Decree 220/2007 obliges the competent authorities, such as the Reception and Identification Service, the Asylum Service and the Police, to undertake all the necessary measures for the representation of unaccompanied minors. This entails the competent authorities informing the Prosecutor for Minors or, when there is no such Prosecutor, the Prosecutor at the local First Instance Court, who acts as a temporary guardian. Moreover, Law 4554/2018, which will enter into force on 1 March 2020, foresees that all unaccompanied minors in Greece are appointed a professional guardian.

According to article 118 of Presidential Decree 141/1991, children can be placed under protective custody until they are referred to appropriate reception facilities or until they are reunited with the persons responsible for them. Protective custody under Greek law does not always amount to detention but, in practice, it has mostly been implemented through the detention of children in pre-removal detention facilities or police stations. In some cases, children have been placed under protective custody in hospitals, also under the care or supervision of police forces.

According to data from the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA), as of 30 November 2019, there were 257 children held in protective custody. EKKA prioritises unaccompanied minors in administrative detention for placement in alternative emergency accommodation or proper shelters. However, the Government points to the considerable lack of such places in order to cover the needs of all unaccompanied minors in Greece. The Working Group was informed that while the number of unaccompanied minors in the country has reached approximately 5000, there are 1376 places in long-term accommodation and 840 in short term accommodation.

The Working Group confirmed the existing substantial burden on shelter facilities, resulting in many unaccompanied children being held in protective custody in unacceptable conditions in facilities that are not appropriate for the detention of children, such as police stations and pre-removal facilities on the mainland. Although officials appear to be providing the best support available in the circumstances, the Working Group noted that some children were being held for prolonged periods (ranging from a few days to more than two months) in conditions similar to those of criminal detention, especially in police stations. These children were being held together with adults, in dark cells, with no access to recreational or educational activities, and no information on what would happen to them in future. There is no maximum time limit on the period in which a child may be held in protective custody.

Furthermore the Working Group was informed that the prosecutor, as institution responsible for the care and security of the children under protective custody, does not visit the children in the detention facilities.

In February 2019, the European Court of Human Rights found that the automatic placement of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under protective custody in police facilities, without taking into consideration the best interests of the child, violated article 5(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Working Group urges the Government to uphold its obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child and ECHR by putting an end to the detention of children under the protective custody scheme in police stations or other facilities related to the criminal or immigration systems.

The Working Group invites the Government to ensure that the best interest of each child is prioritized and that children who enter the country in an irregular manner are not detained and are placed in facilities appropriate to their age. As the Greek Ombudsman has observed, this could be achieved by transitioning to community-based care, foster care, supported independent living, and the gradual reduction of institutional structures.

Age assessment

The Working Group notes that these provisions are not being applied in practice. At present, the police reportedly rely primarily on x-ray and dental examinations under the third step of the age assessment procedure, and these examinations are not sufficient to accurately assess a person’s age. Persons claiming to be children are reportedly not generally represented or informed of their rights in a language that they understand during the assessment. In order to challenge the outcome of the assessment, the person must submit an appeal to the Secretariat of the RIC within 10 days of notification of the decision, which poses difficulties for persons based within a RIC who cannot access relevant documentary proof of their age within such a short timeframe. In addition, the assessment procedure appears to be ad hoc and only applies to persons undergoing reception and registration procedures, as well as those who have applied for international protection. The guarantees applicable to age assessment do not apply to unaccompanied children who are in protective custody under the responsibility of the Hellenic Police.

As a result, unaccompanied minors and other children are being detained unnecessarily due to inaccurate assessment procedures, and are treated as and detained with adults. The Working Group recommends that the authorities consistently apply the guarantees outlined above when conducting age assessments, particularly the presumption that a person is a child unless the contrary can be conclusively proven. The Working Group reiterates the Greek Ombudsman’s call to the Government in 2018 to put a complete end to all administrative detention of migrants under 18. (...)

Vulnerability assessment

Opportunity to challenge detention and removal decision

Support to lawyers and human rights defenders

Pushbacks at the Greece-Turkey border

Legislative amendments and the announced policy on migration

V. Deprivation of liberty in the context of psychosocial disability and social care

The Working Group was informed that psychosocial disabilities, including depression and anxiety disorders, are increasingly common in Greece as a result of the economic crisis in recent years. The Ministry of Health has committed to prioritising the deinstitutionalisation of persons with psychosocial disabilities whenever possible, which is a commendable approach and has resulted in community-based care being made available to more individuals. For example, the Dromokaiteio Psychiatric Hospital in Attica provides hospices, boarding houses, and supported-living apartments to allow persons who would otherwise have required hospitalisation to live independently in the community.

With regards to the care institution for children and young adults with disabilities in Lechaina, the Working Group would like to encourage the Government to continue with the deinstitutionalisation process and, in the meanwhile, to provide it with sufficient financial and material resources and personnel including doctors, nurses, auxiliary personnel, as well as occupational therapists and physiotherapists, in order to enable the institution to fully comply with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (...)


These are the preliminary findings of the Working Group. The Working Group is mindful of the complexity of the legal framework and the current challenges in relation to the deprivation of liberty in a variety of settings in Greece. It looks forward to engaging in a constructive dialogue with the Government of Greece in the coming months, while determining its final conclusions in relation to this country visit. The Working Group acknowledges with gratitude the willingness of the Government to invite it to Greece and notes that this is an opportunity for introducing reforms to address situations that may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.  »



Communiqué de presse du Groupe de travail des Nations Unies sur la détention arbitraire - « Greece praised for progress but must end widespread detention practices, say UN experts »

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