Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Researching and Exposing Violence Inside Pre-Removal Detention Centres on Mainland Greece



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5 Minutes

Post by Andriani Fili, Researcher and Managing Editor at Border Criminologies. Her book on the Greek immigration detention system will come out this year with Routledge.

Greece has been detaining people under immigration powers since the beginning of the 1990s. Yet, we know very little about life inside the country’s immigration detention centres. While all eyes have been fixed on the emergency at Greece’s numerous border locations and island camps, like Moria, those who have been placed in pre-removal detention centres have been overlooked. The focus on ‘real refugees’, their abhorrent living conditions inside tent camps, and on the dramatic scenes on the beaches of Greek islands have obscured the experiences of these ‘unwanted migrants’.

What we do know about immigration detention in Greece, from the few academic accounts (see here, here, here, here and here), or from the numerous reports (see here, here, here, here, here, here and here) and monitoring visits (see here, here, here, here and here) is, however, deeply concerning.  Such material suggests that any detention centre at any time would show overcrowding so high that often detainees had to sleep in shifts. Most detention facilities had little ventilation, limited sanitation and poor hygiene. Detained persons often complained about the challenge of keeping themselves clean as soap and shampoo are either not provided or in limited quantities, making conditions in overcrowding situations dirty and malodorous. In many facilities, there was often only one functioning toilet and one shower, usually for more than 100 people. Due to poor maintenance, toilets were often blocked, and the sanitary facilities flooded with water, sewage and feces, which overflowed into the sleeping area of detainees.  People held under these conditions had limited access to the outdoors or to medical provision of any kind.

a fenced outdoor space
The outdoor space in Petrou Ralli PRDC

Matters do not stop there. Instead, research and investigations have uncovered extensive ill-treatment of detainees by law enforcement officials. If the authorities acknowledge this behavior at all, they tend to it as a means of restoring ‘order’ during fights between different nationalities and a few ‘harmless slaps.’ In their view, any ill-treatment they mete out, is for the detained person’s own benefit, i.e., to save them from someone else. Such claims, however, do not withstand scrutiny. Instead, evidence suggests that violence by the police in detention facilities has been routine, and systematic, including: slaps, punches, kicks and blows with batons and baseball bats, as well as electric shocks.

Recorded complaintscourt proceedings or videos of abuse which have received media attention do not reveal the extent of the problem. Human rights organisations and monitoring bodies have highlighted that migrants often feared they would be subjected to further ill-treatment if they submitted any complaints. When charges of abuse were investigated by the authorities, the procedures were marred by many flaws, including the lack of promptness and expeditiousness in carrying out investigations (e.g. see CPT reports herehere and here); compounded by the fact that there was no adequately resourced police inspectorate. Nor was there a credible, independent and effective police complaints mechanism, which might enable allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials being investigated thoroughly and, where appropriate, prosecuted rigorously. Despite the sheer number of allegations of abuse and their consistency, successive Greek governments have refused to acknowledge the scale and systematic nature of human rights violations by law enforcement officials and entrenched impunity. In fact, the Greek authorities have consistently argued that while there might be some isolated cases of abuse by ‘rogue’ police officers, most claims were simply fabricated ‘by the detainees in order for their time of detention until deportation to be shortened.’


Two new reports that come out today by Mobile Info Team and the Border Violence Monitoring Network, produced with the support of Border Criminologies, bring to light how immigration detention in Greece is systematically applied throughout all stages of asylum procedure, and violent. The reports draw on extensive research we have been doing since 2011 on the Greek immigration detention system and on the work of both organisations on reporting the violence of the border control system in the country. They further include research that a specialist team from the two organisations has been conducting, collecting testimonies from people across Greece who have been detained between 2020 and 2022. They undertook in-depth interviews with 50 respondents - including 46 who were held in PRDCs - including people from Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria and Türkiye, between the ages of 16 and 51 years old.

While most accounts about immigration detention focus on the borders, these two reports intentionally shift their focus to immigration detention in the mainland, facilities which have for many years been neglected. Several respondents also shared visual data regarding the detention centres that they were held in. Some of these photographs have been anonymously included throughout the reports to provide further evidence on detention conditions. These places of confinement have never been documented in such a way before, so these images are a rare account of what these facilities look like.

a dirty toilet


The testimonies and images across both reports paint a bleak picture.

  • 61% of respondents across PRDCs reported poor hygiene conditions, including reports that centres are dirty, harbouring mould and infestations of rodents and insects.
  • Access to medical care is a persistent problem across PRCDs, 80% of respondents reported either extremely limited access for urgent cases, or none whatsoever.
  • 70% of respondents indicated a critical lack of information and understanding of their cases and why they had been detained, with very limited access to legal aid or other support.
  • The quality of food reported across PRDCs was extremely low. Less than 20% of testimonies reported no food-related issues.
  • A staggering 65% of respondents indicated that they had been subjected to violence by authorities or witnessed violence by the authorities in detention, including verbal attacks, racist abuse, physical aggression, and psychological harm.
  • 15% of respondents specifically used the term ‘torture’ to describe their treatment and Over 25% people mentioned the use of violence as punishment.
  • Many testimonies mentioned punishment tactics in “dark rooms” or “other rooms” and 2 people described the use of Electric Discharge Weapons (EDWs) by the authorities in these rooms.

As one of BVMN’s respondents commented:

when I wanted to ask something about that we want this or this, their behaviour is so bad after that they send us in a dark room they torture us there, really bad things. In order to just be patient, be calm, don’t talk anymore and don’t ask anything.

Respondent 9, Afghanistan. Detained in Corinth PRDC.

The conditions reported and illustrated by the images testify to the everyday nature of violence and harmful practices against immigrants. These unlawful strategies, are not planned and implemented by a sole actor; rather they are a defining characteristic of the Greek detention system. In pooling their evidence and making it freely available, the two reports seek to establish opportunities for legal action to support advocacy and to advocate justice and accountability. It has never been timelier and more needed.

Note: Drawing on these interviews, we are currently building a database of human rights violations inside Greek immigration detention facilities, which will launch very soon. If you want to know more about it or want to contribute with a testimony, reach out to us.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

A. Fili. (2023) Researching and Exposing Violence Inside Pre-Removal Detention Centres on Mainland Greece. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2023/02/researching-and-exposing-violence-inside-pre-removal. Accessed on: 22/04/2024

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