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Greece: UN concerned by detention conditions

Greece: UN experts on arbitrary detention concerned by detention conditions and limited access to legal assistance

Athens / Geneva, 31 January 2013 – At the end of its 11-day visit to Greece, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted that the time has come for an improvement of conditions of detention and for the effective implementation of recent positive legislative developments, including in the area of migration and asylum.

“In most detention facilities visited by the Working Group, the conditions fall far below international human rights standards, including in terms of severe overcrowding,” stressed Vladimir Tochilovsky, member of the Working Group.

The Working Group also found pre-trial and convicted detainees together in the same cell, as well as administrative detainees, including irregular migrants and asylum seekers, mixed in with criminal detainees, in violation of national and international standards.

“Detainees are being held for months in police holding cells and border guard stations, although these facilities were designed for a maximum stay of 24 hours,” Tochilovsky said. “This situation also affects the rights of pre-trial detainees to properly prepare their judicial defence as there are no adequate facilities for the communication of the detainees with their defence lawyers,” he added.

Concerning the right to free legal assistance, the Working Group found serious discrepancies between the legal requirements and the actual application of these safeguards. During its interviews with detainees, the Working Group found out that very few of them were aware of their right to free legal assistance and that, in numerous instances, the accused did not enjoy his or her right to legal assistance without payment.

The Working Group stresses that the non-application of alternatives to detention, the lack of effective judicial review as well as the excessive length of detention may render the detention of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers arbitrary. “The imprisonment of a migrant or an asylum seeker for up to 18 months, in conditions that are sometimes found to be even worse than in the regular prisons, could be considered as a punishment imposed on a person who has not committed any crime,” added Tochilovsky. “It appears to be a serious violation of the principle of proportionality which may render the deprivation of liberty arbitrary.”

On a positive note, Mr. Tochilovsky welcomed efforts made by the Greek authorities through the adoption of legislative reforms. He also commended the Greek authorities for the creation of the new Asylum Service Department independent from the police and for the establishment of the First Reception Service responsible for screening procedures. He welcomed the fact that the service would be under the control of civilian and specialized personnel.

In addition to Vladimir Tochilovsky (from Ukraine), the Working Group was represented during its visit by Mr. Mads Andenas (from Norway). The delegation met with high-level authorities from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the State. Meetings were also held with representatives of Bar Associations, civil society organizations and officials of United Nations agencies and international organizations. The Working Group visited various places of detention in Athens, the Aegean island of Samos, Alexandroupolis, Orestiada, Komotini, Soufli and Thessaloniki.

A comprehensive report of the visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council.

Check the full end-of-mission statement here.

The former Commission on Human Rights established the Working Group in 1991 to investigate allegations of arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Its mandate was extended in 1997 to cover the issue of the administrative custody of immigrants and asylum-seekers. The Human Rights Council extended the Working Group’s mandate for a further three-year period on 30 September 2010. Learn more, visit:

The other three members of the Working Group are El Hadji Malick Sow who is the Chair-Rapporteur (from Senegal), Shaheen Sardar Ali who is the Vice-Chair (from Pakistan) and Roberto Garretón (from Chile).

Database of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at:

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Greece:


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