Since the summer 2015 authorities on Lesvos Island are officially running the closed camp “Moria” as a so-called Reception and Identification Centre or Hot Spot in Greece. Until March 2016, four more Hot Spots were opened on the islands of the Aegean on Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros. These Hot Spots are designed as closed camps where the identification and registration of newcomers in Europe takes place first.
UPON ARRIVAL AFTER MARCH 2016: IN THE HOT SPOTS
What are reasons for being arrested and detained upon arrival?
You have been arrested and detained upon arrival for having entered the country unofficially and without papers, which, according to the law is illegal. Typically, you will be detained with the aims: 1. To examine if you have to be readmitted (forcibly returned) to Turkey, in case this is considered as “safe first/third country” for you, or 2. to be deported back to your country of origin. Any procedures concerning your arrest, identification, registration and return or asylum procedure at the borders will be proceeded according to the “fast track procedures for border areas”.
Where will/did they bring me upon arrest at the border and what for?
Upon detection and arrest by Greek officers, or sometimes also foreign officers cooperating with the European Border Control Agency FRONTEX , they might first ask you for your names and nationalities in order to write a list of arrested persons. Then you will be brought in most of the times directly to a Reception and Identification Center – RIC (namely a detention center for the newly arriving of a new type, called Hot Spot ) or, if not existent at the place of arrival, to a coastguard, borderguard or police station.
Since the summer 2015 authorities on Lesvos Island are officially running the closed camp “Moria” as a so-called Reception and Identification Centre or Hot Spot in Greece. Until March 2016, four more Hot Spots were opened on the islands of the Aegean on Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros. These Hot Spots are designed as closed camps where the identification and registration of newcomers in Europe takes place first. European Agencies such as the Border Control Agency FRONTEX, Europol and the European Asylum Service Office (EASO) have sent their experts to cooperate with the Greek authorities and directly control what happens along the external borders of the EU. The selection process separating newcomers in the two categories of A. asylum seekers and B. deportees, is part of a broader European migration policy, which aims to allow only a controlled flow of a few chosen people into the EU and to keep others out.
From its launch and up until today, the Hot Spot in Moria, but also the other four Hot Spots that opened later, were criticized by international organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for their inhumane living conditions. Riots and protests by refugees have taken place often in the first period after their opening but do continue until today as refugees are now almost six months trapped there. Conditions in all Hot Spots are similarly poor, thus violating international human rights standards. The centres are often overcrowded, thus, there are many protection problems for children and women who are often alone among all others. There is lack of basic provisions and hygiene standards, of adequate ways to identify and protect people with special needs, as well as of reliable information and legal aid. Moreover, those who are inside the Hot Spots for many months already are still waiting for their asylum procedures to start.
What is the procedure for the registration of my personal data?
In the Hot Spot a first registration of your first name, family name, age and nationality will be conducted by the police and a nationality screening will also be carried out by Frontex. Usually, this first registration will be completed within the first hours. You might be handed a registration paper by the police where you fill in your personal data. Your fingerprints will be taken if you are older than 14 years. The fingerprints will be registered in the European EURODAC computer system.
Is the nationality I register myself with always accepted only based on my declaration?
Many refugees cannot provide documents to prove their identity, age and nationality due to the conditions of war they escaped from. In most of the cases personal data is just registered based on your mere oral declaration. BUT if there are doubts, in some cases the European Border Police FRONTEX might make an additional estimation of your nationality and age in an interview that is usually conducted by a borderguard with the respective “expertise”. These officers come usually from other EU-member states and ask questions in English, that are translated to you by an interpreter. They might ask you different questions about your stated home country (flag, geography, culture, history, politics, etc.). Sometimes they also conduct more detailed interviews in order to learn something about smuggling networks.
Frontex can then propose their estimation of your nationality or age to the Reception and Identification Service. They then can accept Frontex’s suggestion or not. Usually they just accept the suggestion made by Frontex.
The registration of your nationality finalised by the Reception and Identification Service will be the one on your document. You can only appeal against it effectively with a lawyer and pieces of evidence, such as identity documents, birth certificates etc. Or you can demand a second nationality screening by Frontex, where you will be asked again to prove by your language / dialect as well as your knowledge of culture, geography and history that you belong to the nationality you claim to belong to. The age registered by the police in the first instance might get changed by the Reception and Identification Service.
Attention! Be sure to check the data the authorities are writing down during registration to secure that everything is written correctly.
Attention! Don’t sign anything you don’t understand. Ask for translation in your language.
When can I say that I have special needs and am vulnerable? And when will this be first assessed and recorded?
The registration procedure continues with a visit of the socio-medical team of the Reception and Identification Service from the state, which is usually done by a co-operating NGO such as Praksis (Leros, Kos and Chios), MEDIN (Samos), Doctors of the World (Lesvos). They will conduct a basic health examination and ask you a few questions in order to identify major health problems like chronic diseases, disabilities and /or other factors that are considered to qualify you as vulnerable or not, i.e. visible vulnerabilities such are pregnancies, very young unaccompanied minors, families with newborns or single mothers of underage children. However, there are a few factors that cannot be visually immediately recognized as vulnerability, such as mental health problems, being a survivor of a shipwreck, a victim of torture or of other forms of violence and exploitation in your home country or on the journey to Europe. It is at this point that you need to report your vulnerability, that means to tell them if you have been a survivor of a shipwreck, a victim of torture or other forms of violence, or if you suffer from mental health problems. If you have any documented evidence, show the documents. Your registration will be administratively finalised by the Reception and Identification Service within some days or weeks (maximum of 25 days).
Attention! This procedure is not automatically carried out in all Hot Spots. You might be just offered to visit the Reception and Identification Service employees. Follow the offer in order to be sure your vulnerability is recorded from the beginning. This is very important because if you are vulnerable you should not be detained. Otherwise the Service will issue you an administrative document without seeing you.
Who are persons with special needs?
a. Unaccompanied minors,
b. handicapped/disabled persons or persons suffering an uncured or serious illness,
c. elderly persons,
d. pregnant women or women who have recently given birth,
e. single parent families with minor children,
f. victims of torture, rape or other kinds of psychological, physical or sexual assault or exploitation, persons with post traumatic syndromes, especially survivors or relatives of victims of shipwrecks,
g. victims of human slavery.
Attention! Report any severe health or mental problem, handicap or special condition such as of pregnancy, elderly or newborns immediately to the doctors, the authorities, organisations or persons helping you. Inform them about any medicine you need to take if you have any chronic health problems or any serious illness. Don’t wait to be asked.
Attention! The identification and recognition of vulnerability is according to law carried out by the Reception and Identification Services of the Greek authorities. Nevertheless, on some islands, EASO insists on a second assessment by their own experts in order for a full recognition of vulnerability. This means, that in most of the cases one has to wait for the asylum procedure to start with the first instance, in order to meet EASO experts and inform them.
Who is in danger to be readmitted to Turkey?
According to law, all nationalities can be readmitted to Turkey! There is no nationality that is protected per se. All persons can be readmitted if they do not express their wish to seek asylum in Greece. You can ask any police officer in the Hot Spot or the Reception and identification Service or any employee of the UN or EASO to register your wish to ask for asylum or to be referred to the responsible authorities to do so. If you ask for asylum you will enter asylum procedures on the island.
Practically, in September 2016, only Syrians are affected by the admissibility interviews, where Greek authorities with the help of EASO examine whether or not one can be returned to Turkey or allowed to stay in Greece and apply for asylum.
Attention! The situation can change at any point of time and other nationalities might get affected too by the admissibility procedure.
Attention! People from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Bangladesh and Pakistan – countries that are not considered typical refugee producing countries, if applying for asylum, they will be referred to fast track procedures on the island and in most cases are in danger to receive a very quick rejection. Attention! If you belong to these nationalities, you even might not be released after 25 days but either get transferred to other detention centres on the mainland in order to sign voluntary return agreements, to be subjected to deportation procedures, or to be readmitted to Turkey.
Who is excluded from the readmission procedure?
Persons who are identified and assessed as vulnerable are excluded from the readmission and the “border asylum procedure”. Persons who apply for family reunification with their close relatives in Europe are excluded from readmissions or detention as long as there are in the application procedure and the restriction of residence on the island of arrival should be lifted.
How long will I be detained?
In the First Reception Centre (FRC) Fylakio near the Greek-Turkish landborder and the Hot Spots on the Greek islands Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos you should not stay longer than 25 days. You will nevertheless usually afterwards get a restriction of movement on the island which does not permit you to move on the mainland or elsewhere.
In most of the cases, after that period of the first 25 days, you will be either ordered to stay inside the Hot Spot but with the permit to move freely on the island or you will be ordered to live in an open camp on the island of arrival while you will not be allowed to leave the island until the admissibility of your claim is granted or your asylum procedure is completed. Then you will be free to travel within Greece.
Attention! In a few cases, it is possible that you will be transferred after the 25 day period to a police station on the island or a detention centre on the mainland.
Which persons should not be detained at all according to law?
You should not be detained if you belong to the following groups:
• Vulnerable groups, especially unaccompanied minors
• Dublin III family reunification cases
• Cases that have been accepted as admissible
• Persons whose asylum application got completely registered after 25 days.
How do I apply for asylum?
First you have to state to any official of the guarding staff (police / borderguards) or the Reception and Identification Service, that you wish to apply for asylum. Then, in a second step, you will officially register your intention to apply for international protection before the Asylum Service. They will record your personal details and the basic facts concerning your reasons of escape, but your asylum claim will not be assessed at this stage. At this point, the Asylum Service will issue a decision suggesting your detention, because alternative measures cannot be applied and you are not a vulnerable person.
What happens next for Syrians?
After a few days or weeks, if you are Syrian, you will be asked to come to the admissibility interview , which is where authorities decide whether the Greek government is responsible for examining your claim for asylum, whether you could have applied for protection in Turkey, or whether you already had sufficient protection in Turkey before.
If the admissibility of your claim has not been examined within 25 days of detention, you will receive an asylum seeker’s card and you will be permitted to move freely on the island of arrival. Yet, the authorities have the legal option to keep you detained even during asylum seeking procedure for the reason of the danger to abscond, but this happens currently very rarely.
Attention! If you applied for asylum and are declared admissible, authorities can issue you an asylum seeker’s card without specification of residence and limitation of freedom of movement.
How to prepare for the admissibility interview?
The interview is currently conducted on all islands by EASO international experts in English with one interpreter. EASO makes a suggestion for the decision of your case to the Greek Asylum Service which is responsible to take the decision.
As this is the stage when most people have their claims rejected, it is vitally important for you to prepare for this. Consider that most interviews are carried out in a very standardised way, so you should make also an extra effort during the interview to explain in the best way possible the dangers you personally fear if being returned to Turkey.Explain why it is not safe for your there; why you fear deportation to Turkey and from there back to your country of origin; why you fear detention; why you are afraid to go back; why you could not stay longer in Turkey or as long as you stayed you had not the possibility to integrate (no dignified accommodation, no job, no access to the public health system); that you had not access to asylum procedures, were not allowed to registered asylum, or were not effectively protected.
Name any personal experiences of deportation on the Turkish borders to Iran, Iraq, Syria or detention in Turkey; any experiences of racist, police or other violent behaviour experienced in Turkey and any experience of deportation to your home country of you or people you know. If your reasons to escape from your home country are valid also in Turkey as you fear the same persons / organisations to put your life there in danger too, please explain this too.
What happens if I am not allowed to apply for asylum in Greece?
If you are not considered admissible, your application will be rejected. You will be notified with a document informing you about the decision. Then you have only 5 calendar days to appeal against it. The second instance procedure is decided by the Greek authorities. It is crucial to get legal aid to do this! Many refugees have succeeded in appealing against these decisions. You need to name reasons why you are not safe in Turkey and write them down in a form! If your appeal gets rejected, you will be deported to Turkey.
Attention: A recent change in the committees that decide on the appeals might bring new changes and it is not easy to foresee if the appeals will be in near future as successful as in the first three months of this procedure. At the same time the situation in Turkey has generally worsened, what gives more reasons to state that Turkey is not a so called “safe third country”. Nevertheless, readmissions were not halted.
What happens if I am considered admissible?
If you are considered admissible, you will be invited to the substantive asylum interview , where your individual reasons for applying for international protection will be examined. This interview will get conducted by the Asylum Service in Athens after a vague period of time, which cannot be defined currently as it varies from a few days to weeks and months. After you get the decision by which you are considered admissible, the restriction of staying on the island will be lifted. That means that you can then leave the island and go to Athens.
Attention: Seek legal advice from any NGO or a private lawyer to prepare yourself for the asylum interview in advance. Attention: This is the latest moment when you should state that you want to apply for family reunification or relocation or that you are a vulnerable case!
When will my asylum claim get registered and examined on the island?
The Hot Spots have opened and started functioning at different points in time. Also the Asylum Service and EASO have started their work on each island at a different point in time. This means that the situation is different on each island.
In general, the admissibility interviews of Syrians have been first handled alongside with or followed shortly after by fast tracked asylum applications of people belonging to nationalities that are not considered to have a high recognition rate, such as people from Pakistan.
Severe delays until now have been recorded for the asylum cases of, amongst others, Afghans, Eritreans, Iranians, Palestinians and Iraqis, whose claims in the best case have just been registered.
In most of the cases, family reunification cases in general have been registered soon on all islands and they received appointments for the interviews in Athens for 2016 mainly.
Attention! You have to first register your intention to apply for international protection in Greece , otherwise you can be deported at any time. Attention! State from the beginning if you have close relatives in Europe with whom you want to be reunited at the place where they reside. Attention! Relocation is not carried out anymore from the islands!
Read more about the family reunification and the asylum interview in section III!
I am younger than 18 years and without my parents, what happens to me?
A minor is a child from 0-17 years. An unaccompanied minor is a child up to 17 years who is travelling alone – meaning not accompanied by his/her mother or father. Unaccompanied minors are excluded from the readmission program and are not in danger to be deported!
Upon arrival you will usually be registered by the First Reception Service in the closed camp. You have to declare your name, nationality and age. It is crucial to say here if you are travelling alone.
If the authorities doubt your age, according to the law, they can use medical methods to determine if you are younger than 18 or older. In such a case, you should be informed, in a language you understand, about the possibility to assess the age with a medical examination, as well as the method that will be used, the possible consequences of the result or of your refusal to undertake a medical examination. If the medical examination does not clearly with certainty that someone is an adult, he/she has to be treated as a minor.
You can appeal against the result of an age-assessment before the First Reception Service. You can also appeal before the administrative court against it with the help of a lawyer. If you have documents, proving your young age (such as your original passport or birth certificates, validated by your countries’ ministry or embassy), you can hand them to the authorities, the First Reception Service or (in case you apply for asylum or for family reunification) to the Asylum Service.
You should be then placed in a part of the camp where only minors are held and soonest possible you should be transferred to an adequate open shelter. As long as you are detained you are in so called “protective custody”.
Attention! Minors should not be detained! Only in exceptional cases they can be detained according to the law. However, in practice, minors are routinely detained in Greece in “protective custody”. If you are a registered unaccompanied minor, you might be detained until a place is found in a reception centre for unaccompanied minors, where you will be referred. This means practically that you might stay longer in detention than your adult or accompanied friends. Currently, minors have stayed in average 1-3 months in detention after arrival, awaiting an accommodation place in an open care centre. Some have been released earlier, others later from the Hot Spots. In most of the cases minors are nowadays allowed to join special activities for them outside of the Hot Spot on a weekly basis in order to have some time out of detention. This period might decrease or increase according to how many minors are waiting for a place in open reception centres like you, and according to how many minors arrive in Greece.
By end of September 2016 there existed 1,047 places in open reception centres for minors in Greece of which some are transit / temporary shelters and there are around 1,567 minors on the waiting list for such a shelter. The camps are located on the islands and on the mainland in different cities. The reception centres for unaccompanied minors are not detention centres! You will be free. The reception centres on the islands are open “transit” centres so you will be free in general but not allowed to move from the island until a permanent shelter is found for you. These centres have been created so that you won’t need to stay too long in detention until a place for you is found.
Attention! Minors who are not accompanied have to be taken care of by the Greek authorities. If you are a documented unaccompanied minor the Public Prosecutor is your temporary guardian. He/she is responsible for you in place of your family, which is currently not with you. However, unfortunately most minors never have personal contact to their guardians, and the guardians rarely know each child they are responsible for. A few minors – mostly the ones younger than 14 – get a legal guardian by the NGO Metadrasi.
Attention! Minors cannot be deported and only under very strict examination of their best interest they can do the voluntary return.
Attention: If you have close family members in another EU-country, such as father and mother, elder brother or sister, first degree uncle or aunt, you can ask for family reunification. In order not to delay the long lasting procedures, report as soon as you arrive in Greece that you want to be reunited with your relative. In the Hot Spots, registration of asylum and family reunification claims of minors tend to be severely delayed, often for some months. Nevertheless, its worth beginning the procedure as soon as possible.
Attention! In general, unaccompanied minors can stay in the European country best for suited their interests and well being, EVEN if they had applied for asylum before elsewhere. Only unaccompanied minors who got recognized and received asylum cannot re-apply elsewhere. This means unaccompanied minors are not sent back to the EU country they first entered and got fingerprinted, or where they even applied for asylum.
Attention! If you turn 18 soon and want to apply for family reunification you have to hurry up and register properly your claim before your birthday. Seek immediate support by and NGO or private lawyer.
Attention! If you are younger than 15 you cannot apply for asylum, family reunification or relocation before getting a legal guardian!
Attention! The Police Note (white paper) you get as unaccompanied minor is valid until concluding the 18 th year of age. BUT as soon as you leave the open care centre, where you are assigned, the organisation running the place has to report you as missing. Practically, this means for you that during a police control you might get arrested and the authorities might detain you again until they find a place in an open care centre where they can send you. Unaccompanied minors arrested this way in Athens region are usually held in Amygdaleza special holding centre for minors in Athens. Currently unaccompanied minors detected in Athens area, i.e. in one of the bigger camps such as Malakassa, are not detained!
Attention: If you have been first registered as adult for whatever reason and you want to change your age later, you should know that this is sometimes very difficult if your (young) age is not very obvious at first sight. If you have not been age-assessed yet by Reception and Identification Service, you can ask them for an age-assessment based on medical and psycho-social methods. Nevertheless, often authorities will ask you to hand in identification documents of proof, such as identity cards certified by embassies or ministries of your country or even passports. In any case, it is much easier to report your real age from the beginning.
What are the documents I will receive after arrest and registration and until the asylum application?
1. First you get a police registration paper.
2. After the registration you will be first issued a Limitation of Freedom Note by the Reception and Identification Service, that states that you will have to stay in the Hot Spot for a maximum of 25 days for the completion of your readmission.
3. Following the police registration and the latest after 25 days – theoretically only if you did not ask for asylum - you should receive a Police Note - a deportation and detention decision based on the aim to readmit you. Nevertheless, many times this is issued to all people independently of the fact that they applied for asylum or not.
4. If you applied for asylum until your claim gets completely registered, you should get the suspension of the deportation and detention decision Police Note based on the fact, that you have declared your will to apply for asylum. This Police Note might allow you alternative (shelter) measures so you don’t need to stay in the closed camp. But it usually restricts your movement to the island, if you do not belong to a vulnerable group that cannot get adequate reception conditions there or do not have a very urgent health issue, which makes a transfer to the mainland necessary. Attention! If you are a highly vulnerable person, independently of completing the 25 days of detention or not, and even if you did not apply for asylum, the authorities if not able to transfer you to an adequate open reception centre, can issue you a suspension of the deportation decision and you will be released with a police note of release.
5. Upon registration of your asylum application (or family reunification application) at the Asylum Services you will receive an Asylum Seeker’s Card. Normally this paper has a red stamp on it, stating the restriction of movement to the island of arrival. Attention! Vulnerable persons who cannot get adequate reception places / medical aid / protection on the island or family reunification cases should not have a restriction of movement.
Attention! Children travelling with their families, from 14 years old receive their own Police Notes. Those under 14 years are registered on the document of their mother or father.
Attention! If you registered more than 25 days ago and have not received this Police Note, go and ask for it at the First Reception Service or the police office. Do not leave the camp overnight until you have received a Police Note, which says that you are free to do so. Otherwise you will risk being classified as likely to abscond, which means you would then not be issued with the Police Note saying you are free to move around the island until you are called for your next interview.
Should I move to the mainland or not?
The ones among you who have no limitation of movement on the island, but who can move freely to the mainland, obviously face the serious problem that, in most cases, there is no place arranged for you where you could go to and stay until your procedures are completed. For this very serious reason, many of you have remained on the islands. However, if you are not planing to remain in Greece forever, try to take advantage of the opportunity and the freedom to move. On the mainland you can seek advise and help from all NGOs and activists / volunteers available, to find some shelter there. This way you will not conclude your asylum / family reunification procedure on the island, but, if possible, in Athens. Once you get all your claims and appeals rejected, you will not anymore be able to leave the island. BUT balance the reasons for staying against the ones for leaving. If, for example, you have health issues or are with many children, or if you have a strong asylum claim and high chances to get international protection, OR if your family reunification application is very likely to be succesful, and if you have found a fair midterm or longterm solution for shelter on the island and if you can imagine to build up a life there, staying on the island might be the better option for you.