Project title:

The politics of irregularity in the Greek deportation arena


Short description:

The Greek deportation field has been undergoing transformations since 2010, as part of a broader reformation of migration and asylum in the country and the adoption of pertinent EU policies. For many years the treatment of irregular migrants and asylum seekers was based on an extensive practice of prolonged administrative pre-removal detention and the employment of irregular expulsion practices. amygdaleza1In 2015 there was a shift in asylum and migration, highly affected both by a change in government and the “refugee crisis”. Finally, 2016 was marked by the EU-Turkey Agreement, setting the guidelines for the readmission of asylum seekers and the recognition of Turkey as a “safe third country”.

This project explores the implementation of deportation practices and the overall management of irregular migration in Greece. It aims to address the recent shifts in the Greek deportation arena and, in particular, it seeks to bring to the fore the viewpoints of diverse actors involved. Despite dominant imageries of ideal bureaucracy – as a system of absolute knowledge, control and governance of populations –bureaucracy on the ground is irregular and improvised. This project explores how state and non-state agents interpret and work within this irregularity.


Fieldwork has taken place in pre-removal and open reception centers, demonstrations and solidarity initiatives. It consisted of participant observation, interviews with police officers, NGO and IGO personnel, politicians, policy-makers, activists and volunteers. Research has been done on recording, registration, deportation and voluntary repatriation practices. Apart from Athens, part of the fieldwork was also conducted in Lesvos


Background information:


The Greek policy towards irregular migration and asylum is interrelated to the country’s strategic geographical location at the external borders of the EU. For many years, the Greek state has been criticized for its porous borders and/or a malfunctioning asylum system by EU bodies and Human Rights Organizations. Since 2010 Greece had been planning a set of measures directed to address challenges in the asylum system and to combat irregular migration. In line with the EU Directive, the Asylum and Return Law of 2011 (Law 3907/2011) initiated the reformation of the first reception, asylum and returns procedures, and formed the legal basis for migration and asylum policy in the following years.

Since 2012, in particular, the Greek policy has been grounded on the prevalent use of pre-removal administrative detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers as a deterrence and punitive measure, rather than merely as an effective practice towards returns. Thus the norm in the Greek deportation regime has been extended detention (Marouda, Saranti, Koutsouraki and Rossidi 2014); a practice that has been criticized as both insufficient in promoting effective returns and costly (Triandafyllidou, Angeli and Dimitriadi 2014, Dimitriadi and Triantafyllidou 2014). Until 2015, the Greek state broadly implemented the maximum 18-month period of detention, whereas, in March 2014, the State Legal Council endorsed the legality of “indefinite detention” beyond that period (State Legal Council Opinion 44/2014).

Numerous civil society reports have criticized the enforcement of practices such as “sweep operations” (Human Rights Watch 2014), the systematic and pervasive detention of asylum seekers in pre-removal centers (Campaign for Access to Asylum 2014, Greek Council for Refugees- European Council on Refugees and Exiles 2013a, 2013b, 2014, 2015a, 2015b), and the overall living condition in such facilities (Médecins Sans Frontières 2014), as well as the employment of highly controversial and irregular expulsion practices. Informal forced returns (“push-backs”) of third-country nationals at the Greek sea and land borders were extensively reported by the UNHCR and NGOs (Amnesty International 2013, Amnesty International 2014, ECRE 2014, FIDH, Migreurop & EMHRN 2014, Pro Asyl 2013). Moreover, according to the legal framework on asylum and returns, return procedures are subjected to a monitoring system that operates under the independent authority the Greek Ombudsman. In its annual reports, the Greek Ombudsman underlines shortcomings in the implemented practices (Greek Ombudsman 2014, 2015).


  • epanaproothisi-elliniko-detention-centerSHIFT IN MIGRATION POLICY AND THE “REFUGEE CRISIS”

In February 2015, a few weeks after the national elections that brought a new government coalition to power and following the deaths of immigrants detained in pre-removal centers and police stations, the Alternate Ministers of Migration Policy and Citizens’ Protection announced the end of systematic and prolonged detention of asylum-seekers and irregular migrants. Pre-removal detention period was to be no longer than six months and a large number of asylum seekers and irregular migrants were immediately released. At the same time, the government stated the closure of pre-removal facilities, a declaration that, however, was never materialized.

On the other hand, the year 2015 was marked by the “refugee crisis” and the huge increase in arrivals to Greece with approximately 856,723 recorded arrivals in the country’s sea borders, according to the UNHCR. During 2015, Greece was part of a dangerous passage for people who aimed to reach northern and central EU countries. The “refugee crisis” posed new challenges in the asylum and migration system of the country, as well as on the level of local responses and solidarity. At the same time, the Greek press and civil society organizations continued to report incidents of irregular and massive expulsions on the borders of the country throughout the year (Amnesty International 2015, Human Rights Watch 2015). Moreover, deportations continued to be performed: there were 20,868 returns of detainees executed by the Greek Police and the IOM (assisted voluntary return programs) in 2015, compared to 27,789 in the previous year.

Returns 2014-2015

diagram greeceSource: Greek Police (as cited in Greek Ombudsman 2015)

  • THE “DEAL”

The situation has changed drastically since the autumn of 2015 (after the closure of the “Balkan corridor”) and, especially, after March 2016 and the EU-Turkey Statement that is widely known as the “Deal” (European Council 2016). On 20 March 2016 an Agreement between EU and Turkey was put into effect, defining the readmission of all new arrivals to Turkey. The Agreement initiates a new period, recognizing Turkey as a “safe third country” and setting the ground for the immediate readmission of border-crossers. The Greek government itself is an avid supporter of the “Deal” and stresses its necessity as a deterrence measure.

The first readmissions, following the Agreement, took place from the islands of North-Eastern Aegean to Turkey on 4 April 2016. The UNHCR expressed its concerns over the violation of the principle of non-refoulment, whereas civil society organizations underlined the dangers that derive from massive deportations (Human Rights Watch 2016, Amnesty International 2016, MSF 2016).

Nevertheless, in spite of claiming to bring order to chaos, the actual workings of bureaucracy in the post-“Deal” era cause frustration and disarray in Greek hotpots (Kalir and Rozakou) where thousands of people remain stranded in the end of year 2016.