UNHCR welcomes the envisaged changes in the administrative detention of third country nationals

The UN Refugee Agency's Office in Greece (UNHCR) wishes to express its appreciation for the recent joint statement of the Alternate Minister of Citizen Protection, Mr. Ioannis Panousis, and the Alternate Minister of Migration Policy, Ms. Anastasia Christodoulopoulou, which recognizes and addresses a number of problems concerning the administrative detention of third country nationals in Greece.

This announcement comes at a time when three detained third country nationals died (one due to pathological causes and two who committed suicide) while they were subject to administrative detention, in Athens and Thessaloniki.

In this context the decision for the immediate revocation of the Ministerial Decision allowing for the prolongation of detention beyond 18 months, the immediate release and referral to accommodation facilities of vulnerable groups, the release of asylum seekers as well as persons whose detention exceeds the six months, the immediate implementation of measures to substantially improve detention conditions, as well as the use of alternative measures to detention, is much welcomed by UNHCR as a move in the right direction.

UNHCR, as well as other international and national organizations and agencies, have repeatedly pointed out the serious problems relating to administrative detention in Greece, both regarding its enforcement as well as conditions, which fall far short of international minimum standards.

To date, rather than being an exception, detention was a standard practice, while there was no compliance with the necessary guarantees and procedures. Among the third country nationals who entered "pre-removal" centres, many are persons in need of international protection or people with specific needs. The extension of the period a person can be held in detention last year, in conjunction with the highly problematic conditions of detention, exacerbated further the situation.

UNHCR wishes to underline the necessity for concerted efforts for the rapid examination and processing of the asylum claims of persons in detention, as well as for the creation of new accommodation facilities for asylum seekers and unaccompanied children, since the currently existing ones are severely insufficient compared to the actual needs.

UNHCR remains at the disposal of the Greek authorities to assist in any effort towards improving the situation of administrative detention of third country nationals, and towards the search and application of alternative measures to detention.