Forced returns back to Greece

Forced returns back to Greece

Last update : January 2024

Forced returns to Greece are either carried out as illegal push backs (1), as readmissions (2) of undocumented protection seekers or of beneficiaries of international protection based on bilateral agreements (3), or returns of asylum seekers on the grounds of the Dublin III Regulation (4).

According to estimations, the highest numbers of forced returns to Greece are carried out to date as push backs by state authorities of the respective neighbouring countries in the North-West of Greece, such as Italy, Albania, FYROM / Macedonia and Bulgaria. They are similar to the unlawful returns carried out on the Greek-Turkish border by Greek authorities. There are no statistics available as such returns are not recorded due to their unofficial and illegal nature.

Second in numbers are currently readmissions of people holding a protection status from Greece, though numbers remain very low. It is unclear if and in which numbers undocumented protection seekers are returned through readmissions.

Dublin III returns of people first fingerprinted in Greece – non-asylum seekers and asylum seekers - have not been carried out throughout 2022 (by the time of this publication there were no statistics available for 2023 yet) and remained very low also in the years before. The situation as described here depicts the current state and the tendency of the last five years, but it may change based on policy decisions in Member States or on the EU level at any point in future.

While you may not be able to prevent an unlawful push back from a neighbouring country back to Greece you may prepare yourself to stop an official forced return based on bilateral agreements or the Dublin III Regulation. This information section thus focuses on “legal returns”. It first explains the different forms of forced returns in more detail and, then, offers some input on how you can prepare yourself and try to prevent being forcibly returned to Greece.


What are bilateral readmission agreements?

Readmission agreements are formal instruments of states for the cooperation between two (or more) countries involved in the forced return of the nationals of one country into the territory of the other. They usually include a direct commitment by signatory States to accept requests for the re-entry of individuals (nationals, but in most cases also third-country nationals or stateless persons who are not in any asylum procedure or hold already a protection status), and set out the specifics of the collaboration, such as time limits and the issuing of travel documents. There are also EU readmission agreements on a higher level, which outline legal options for the return of people residing irregularly in a country to their country of origin or to a country of transit. They operate alongside but take precedence over bilateral readmission agreements between individual EU Member States and non-EU countries.

Greece has signed 15 readmission agreements amongst others with Croatia, (1995), Bulgaria (1996), Italy (2000), Turkey (2001), Bosnia-Herzegovina (2007) and Serbia (2011).

Under which laws are beneficiaries of international protection (BIP) returned?

People who received an international protection status in Greece (no matter if they have received refugee status or subsidiary protection) can be deported back to Greece along the rules set by Article 6 of the European Returns Directive (2008/115/EC), when the authorities of the other EU country find out that this person already holds a residence permit and he/she yet applies again for asylum in the country of arrival. Then bilateral agreements are applied to readmit the person to Greece.

They will then first examine if the new asylum application is admissible (meaning if you could return to Greece and enjoy protection or not). The person affected can appeal in front of a court against an inadmissibility decision by the asylum service with the help of an experienced lawyer. In most countries the deadline to appeal consists of a few days or weeks. If the court rejects the appeal the authorities will most likely ask this person to leave the country by him/herself or even try to deport him/her back.

Attention! If you are affected by this kind of return risk, consult specialised lawyers and NGOs (see: in the European country, where you finally arrived to seek help for an appeal before a national court, or to see if there are any other ways to get a residence permit for you and avoid a return to Greece. Every case is different! (See also section: Beneficiaries of international protection)

Attention! Through your fingerprints, your asylum status from Greece will appear through the data stored in a European Union database called EURODAC (5), which is designed to identify recognised refugees, asylum seekers and people who have crossed borders without legal permission. EURODAC allows European countries to see where someone was first fingerprinted - this is considered the first country of arrival which is responsible for the claim for asylum - but there can be exceptions to this rule.

What are returns based on Dublin III Regulation?

If you have given your fingerprints to authorities in one European country, for example in Greece, or even have applied for asylum there and you don’t stay there but continue your journey to another European member state where you apply for asylum, you might get threatened to be deported back. This is based on the so-called Dublin III Regulation. Upon an asylum application your fingerprints are taken and entered in a European database called EURODAC. Any fingerprints you have given prior in a European member state will appear showing the date of your registration, if you applied for asylum or hold asylum status. It also shows your basic personal data such as name, family name, nationality and date of birth as registered upon fingerprinting / seeking asylum.

In the last period, Dublin returns were completely halted due to the refusal of the Greek state to take back Dublin returnees. In 2022 only a few European member states requested returns based on Dublin to Greece (take back requests 2022: Germany 8.737, Croatia 1.268, Belgium 445, Italy 374 and Sweden 144). All of them were rejected by the Greek state, which argued that due to the decrease in reception places it has currently no capacity to accept people back. Consequently, zero Dublin returns took place in the last year.

Despite the refusal of the Greek state to accept any Dublin returns, you may face a Dublin procedure, which will then create only a delay in your asylum procedure as there is no factual threat currently. Attention! If you have been fingerprinted in another European member state after leaving Greece and before reaching your current country of residence, you may be threatened by a Dublin return to that country. If this is the case for you, please also read the respective information in the respective country pages.

In general, when you are threatened with a “Dublin”-deportation to any EU country, this does not mean that you will be really deported. There are many people who have overcome the deportation threat and their asylum case has to be handled finally in the country they want to stay. The first step to your right to stay is to be well informed, prepared and organised and seek expert advice or even legal representation. Attention! Every case is different. As soon as you arrive in the country of your final destination, you should look for counselling and advice by people there who specialise in preventing Dublin-returns, who can assist with asylum procedures, and who can help you to go through all procedures in the best way possible.

Dublin Returns to Greece were halted for six years and specifically since January 2011 when the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decided in an individual case that Greece was violating the human rights of a refugee by detaining him under inhuman conditions and leaving him homeless. It also judged that Belgium violated his human rights by deporting him back to Greece (see: Following that decision, deportations to Greece were temporarily halted in most EU-countries, because hundreds of other “Greek” cases were expected to be judged in the same way.
Dublin Returns to Greece were resumed after a recommendation of the European Commission on 15th March 2017 but only to a limited degree.

The temporary stop of deportations to Greece was a result of the struggles of refugees and their supporters. Until today the main cause of the low number of returns is that on the one side many people are fighting in different ways individually against the deportation threats to Greece after arriving in their countries of destination and on the other side many courts in different European countries are doubting, that the situation in Greece is bearable for asylum seekers and refugees. Severe concerns that the conditions still breach the Human Rights of the persons deported there, continue to exist due to the tireless efforts of human rights lawyers and other supporters to document and denounce human rights violations within the country.

What happens if I am arrested inside an airport of another EU-country?

Airports are considered transit zones and as such before leaving the airport buildings / zones you are not considered to have arrived on the national territory of a country, so that special treaties / law can be applied here to return you back from where the authorities saw you arrive from Greece (or elsewhere) by plane. Within the procedures of such deportations re-entry bans can be put on you so that you may be arrested if you travel again to this country within the period this was forbidden.


What evidence about my situation in Greece is relevant to collect while I am still in Greece in order to later be able to prove that I shouldn’t be returned?

Collect any evidence about:

A. Anything bad / any human rights violations you personally suffered from while you are in Greece. This can be:

  • Illegal returns from Greece to Turkey
  • Illegal detention and / or bad detention conditions (overcrowding, mixed detention, under-aged adults or women with men for example), filthy and inadequate detention conditions, bad food, sleeping on the floor, no access to phones and lawyers, being sick without medical help, darkness and lack of lamps etc.
  • Bad living conditions (sleeping homeless, living in a tent, living without heating in the cold, no access to clean and adequate toilets and showers, bad food etc)
  • No access to the asylum service and / or lawyers for legal aid
  • Any form of abuse, ill-treatment (i.e. beatings) or even torture specifically by the authorities (i.e. police, soldiers, civil servants, coast guard etc.) and fascist/extremist/racist groups, but also by others

B. Any dangers or threats you faced in Greece:

  • If you have been abused in any way while in Greece and the perpetrator is still in the country, or threatening you through third persons present there
  • Due to protests you participated in: demonstrations, self-harm, hunger strikes.

C. Any vulnerabilities applying to you, like for example:

  • being a lone minor (if you’re under 18 and without any family)
  • single mothers of minor children (under the age of 18)
  • Pregnant women
  • persons with serious illnesses
  • persons with mental and psychiatric disabilities (stress disorder, depression etc.)
  • disabled
  • elderly (above 65 years)
  • survivors of torture(6), rape(7) or other severe forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence(8) such as female genital mutilation (FGM)(9) or domestic violence(10)
  • direct relatives of those killed in shipwrecks (parents, siblings, children, spouses)
  • survivors of trafficking (when you have been forced, compelled or coerced to labour, services or commercial sex by a third person or group)

D. Any attempts you made to build a life in Greece, such as

  • trying to find a job or a house to rent
  • trying to get necessary medical treatments, therapy or medicine
  • trying to access state support and social welfare

What form can documentation have?

  • You can take photos of yourself / your family under the bad conditions you suffered from, showing injuries, showing yourself in long queues for food or before the asylum service, showing fences or security forces that hinder access to specific services. It would be good to note the date when the photo was taken somewhere.
  • Also you can record videos / films showing you / your family in the inadequate conditions or suffering specific conditions. Also here: try to remember the date, when the video was taken.
  • Save any medical and psychological documents and certificates on your condition.
  • Save any official documents you get from the authorities or the asylum service.
  • Save any certificates issued by NGOs about your condition and keep the contact cards / names of the persons servicing you there (name, family name, telephone number and email), so you can contact them at any point for further information / documentation even after leaving Greece.

Attention! You might not be able to estimate which documentation might be relevant, so keep copies of everything and then show all the documentation to your lawyer in the country of destination so he / she can sort out which ones to use. Better to have too much than too little. Attention! Take photos of all these pieces of evidence and keep them safe in your email or facebook account, so you will not lose them even if you lose your phone or your papers. Be careful who you share it with. Not everything should be published on your facebook page, but just stored so that you can use it in case you need it.
Attention! In some countries mobile phones are now regularly checked during the asylum application and data gets downloaded from the phone you present to the authorities. The aim is to find out if you lied about your country of origin for example. So have in mind that the phone you will carry with you will be controlled.
Attention! Always document yourself in these conditions, your own individual situation. You can also collect general materials on the situation in Greece but most importantly you need evidence about your own personal situation.

What do I need to do after arriving at my destination in order to protect myself from a forced return to Greece?

1. Build your own team!
Like in most other struggles, you can succeed to stop a deportation if you are able to build a team. For your team you need some experts: counsellors who have knowledge about Dublin-deportations and how to stop them, most probably also a lawyer, for sure contacts to good NGOs are helpful, maybe a good doctor and/or psychologist. And most importantly: friends who will support you and encourage you to not give up.

2. Contact support groups and look for counselling after arrival!
If you had to give fingerprints in Greece (or even got a positive asylum decision there), you should contact support groups in your country of arrival as soon as possible. In most countries and in most cases you will also need a lawyer. Seek advice from support groups or NGOs for contacts to good, experienced lawyers to prevent a deportation based on the Dublin III Regulation to Greece.

3. Take a lawyer and fight for your rights in front of a court!
Tell your lawyer or your supporters openly about your fingerprints/asylum status in Greece and ask specifically for support to protect you from a return to Greece. In some countries (for example in Germany) lawyers are very useful in the procedure. Usually they take money to support your case (this is not the case in all European countries, the best is to check first with a counselling service that is for free, what are usual fees for lawyers and which lawyers are recommended in your case). Even if you lack money, you can probably arrange to pay the lawyer in monthly rates with the social welfare money you get from the state where you seek asylum – it makes a lot of sense to invest this money. In other countries (for example France) lawyers work for free and/or are paid by the state. The moment when you receive a letter with a deportation order is the latest moment when YOU HAVE TO SEEK HELP of a lawyer IMMEDIATELY. There is only very little time (often only one week) for the lawyer to appeal before the court against your deportation. In the best case you would have already taken a lawyer in advance and you will be prepared to fight against your deportation. Don’t wait until the last moment! The chances to stop a deportation to Greece in front of a court are often given (for sure depending on the country and the place you finally are), because many judges know that the situation in Greece for refugees is very bad.
You can ask for good contacts for lawyers here:
For Germany it is also useful to check here: - Or you can ask Pro Asyl, Tel +49 (0)69-242 314 20 (Mo–Fr 10–12 [&] 14–16) or email

4. In case you have medical or psychological problems look for a good doctor and/or psychologist!
In order to appeal against your deportation, it is important to express your vulnerabilities and – if you have any - show evidence for why your living circumstances in the country they want to deport you to are so sub-standard that you cannot return. Vulnerable groups such as families with small children, sick persons, mentally ill, single mothers, survivors of violence, disabled or elderly etc. are more likely not to be deported. Prepare a good documentation of your vulnerability. Lawyers need documents to argue on your behalf, so start early to collect any written evidence by doctors, psychologists, social workers etc.

5. Mention family links if possible already in your first interview!
If you have any family members in the country where you are registered and where you want to stay, explain to your lawyer and the authorities why you rely on the help of your relatives or why they rely on you. This dependency can be another factor supporting your claim that you cannot be returned to Greece, for example, if you have your elderly mother who cannot take care of herself, or an underage relative with no other family members nearby etc. It is good to mention all sorts of family links – authorities can decide not to follow the deportation-procedure because of such family links.

6. Continue to fight against your deportation even if the court rejected your appeal!
There are many people who manage to prevent Dublin-deportations even after negative court decisions. There is a time limit for the deportation: from the moment the country becomes “responsible” for you and/or after a negative court-decision, the authorities have six months to carry out the deportation. After this time limit expires, the country of arrival will be responsible. So there are many people who managed to exceed this time limit:

a) they were (mentally or physically) sick to a degree that they could not travel (mental state: i.e. that you are a danger for yourself or others; physical state: i.e. heart disease),
b) they resisted against the deportation and it was too late for the authorities to book a next flight,
c) in some countries churches offer asylum and protect refugees who are under threat of deportation,
d) there can be decisions to transfer the responsibility to the country of arrival, if there is a political decision or will to do so. For all these steps you need a good network of friends around you to support you.

Attention! Sometimes, when there are many new asylum applications at once the asylum system including the registration system and the comparison of fingerprints is blocked. The resulting delays lead in some cases to the expiration of deadlines defined in law concerning the Dublin deportations so that a forced return based on fingerprints cannot be carried out anymore. The more time that passes by, the better for you. BUT your lawyer needs to check the time limits by him/herself. He/she needs your permission to look into your file.

Can I appeal against my return to Greece in front of a national court?

Individuals confronted with a forced return either based on readmission agreements, other bilateral agreements or the Dublin III Regulation can file a complaint to block being returned in front of the competent national courts of the country they reside.

Attention! It is specifically important for these court cases that you document what happened to you concerning difficulties to access the asylum, shelter as well as to adequate medical aid, but also any form of personal exposure to dangers such as (racist) attacks, violence or any form of exploitation! It is also important to document your attempts to build a life in Greece and how these were not successful due to the situation in Greece and lack of integration possibilities.

Good luck and a lot of strength for you for the future!
Freedom of Movement is everybody’s right!


(1) Push-backs along the borders of Greece were and are a continuous problem, also during the time when Dublin-deportations to Greece were halted. Italy is constantly sending people illegally back, who, hidden on ferries, try to cross from Patras or Igoumenitsa to the Italian ports. The Italian authorities refer to these returns as regular readmissions, meaning legal deportations that are carried out in the frame of a bilateral agreement between Italy and Greece, but human rights groups have denounced these returns as push-backs. Push-backs are illegal, as the authorities do not respect basic human rights concerning the right to seek protection but return people directly back without any legal guarantees.
Also from FYROM (usually simply called Macedonia) deportations are carried out illegally as push-backs. This also happens regularly from Serbia to Macedonia , from Hungary to Serbia , from Slovenia to Croatia , from Croatia to Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina etc. Most of these returns are illegal push-backs.
(2) Readmissions are carried out based on bilateral agreements between two countries and are official returns along national borders such as Italy-Greece, Albania-Greece, FYROM-Greece, Bulgaria-Greece. Sometimes people are readmitted from one country to the next which results in a so-called chain deportation. This chain-deportation effect from one country to the next, might in the end result in someone being returned from Hungary to Greece, but instead of a direct return (based on the Dublin Regulation) these returns occur step by step from one border to the next.
(3) Bilateral readmission agreements are made between two nations and can affect legal procedures to return irregular migrants.
(4) The Dublin III Regulation is an agreement between countries of the European Union. According to this agreement, it is only possible to apply for asylum in one EU member state. This is not a country of your own choice, but in most cases the country where the refugee first arrived and got fingerprinted. Therefore, in the past, when authorities found the Greek fingerprints of an adult or of accompanied children in their European database (called: “EURODAC”), or if they could confirm by other means that a person had first entered the EU through Greece, they usually tried to deport this person back there.
(5) Through EURODAC your fingerprint ist connected to information on when you got first fingerprinted in which European country. It includes information such as your personal data (name, family name, birthdate and nationality) as well as the date and place of your first asylum application in Europe, the date you got a refugee status (including the type of status) and dates of any further fingerprints and asylum procedures in other EU-countries. Not just EU countries are part of EURODAC, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland also have access. The UK can only see information in EURODAC from before 2021, when it left the EU.
(6) Torture according to law is when somebody working with the government, on it’s order or with it’s consent creates severe pain or suffering to you (whether physical or mental) and when this violence is meant to: a. obtain a confession, b. to punish you for something you (supposingly) did, c. to intimidate or coerce you or a third person, or d. for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.
(7) Rape is where you have sex without your consent. In Greece it is considered a crime. Anyone who penetrates you - in your vagina, anus or mouth - when you do not want, can be reported for rape. It does not matter that the person is your husband, partner, family member… In Greece marital rape is a crime considered a felony. if you do not want or if you agree because of force or fear, this is rape.
(8) Sexual violence includes rape, but also sexual acts that you did not consent to. If you have been forced or manipulated into doing anything sexual that you did not want to do, this is understood in Greece as a form of violence that is relevant to your claim for asylum.
(9) FGM is where a woman’s vagina is cut, usually when they are a baby or a young girl. It is sometimes called “cutting” or “circumcision”. In some cultures it is considered a normal practice but in Greece it is against the law and in your asylum claim it is considered a form of serious violence against women, so it is very important to mention if this has happened to you or for example you have a daughter(s) who are expected to undergo this. It is considered a continuous harm against women, connected to their unique characteristics.
(10) Violence you have suffered from your partner or your family members, behind closed doors in your home, is called “domestic violence” - it is just as serious as any other kind of violence and is illegal too. It is very important to understand that this is not considered normal or acceptable and it is very important to speak about in your claim for asylum. Violence can be physical, psychological, verbal and also financial, where the perpetrator deprives you of resources, opportunities, goods and services (they don’t allow you to work or they control your income).