Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Immigration Detention in Police Stations in Greece: A Persistent and Cruel Practice 


Filippos Kourakis


Time to read

4 Minutes

Guest post by Filippos Kourakis is an Associate Judge at the Court of First Instance in Nafplio, Greece (Division of Civil and Criminal Law), and a PhD student and visiting lecturer in Criminology at Panteion University. He is interested in immigration detention, tracing its genealogy to forms of extra-legal detention and exclusion of historically undesired populations. He has published both academic and literary work. 


Here, in this police station, I haven't seen the sun for three months’  

Since the early 1990s, Greece has had a distinctly hostile approach to dealing with irregular immigration. The practice of administrative detention of irregular immigrants in police detention centers has a long history in Greece and has been the subject of grave criticism by many stakeholders. Despite the clear prohibition of national law, the Greek State has been constantly degrading the living conditions of detention for irregular immigrants in police centres, bypassing the legal provisions and thus essentially treating them as social enemies

According to Article 66, paragraph 6 of Presidential Decree 141/1991, ‘the detention in police detention centers of defendants or convicts destined for a Penitentiary is not allowed, except for the time absolutely necessary before transfer and if direct transfer and delivery to the latter is not possible’. Despite this provision, the detention of irregular migrants in police facilities is a well-established and fully regularized procedure. According to official data from the Greek Police, at the end of 2022, there were 316 immigrants in administrative detention in police stations, with 35 of them being asylum seekers.  

In 2001, Greece faced its first condemnation by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for violating Article 3 in the Dougoz case, citing degrading conditions of detention in the police station of Drapetsona, marked by overcrowding, inadequate hygiene, a lack of mental health facilities, and excessively prolonged detention periods. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe closed the case in December 2009, deeming that Greece had implemented necessary measures to comply with the ECtHR judgments. These measures included ending the detention of immigrants at Alexandras Avenue Police Headquarters, renovating the Drapetsona Police Centre to provide improved short-term conditions, and establishing special reception centers for irregular immigrants with medical staff. 

Aspropyrgos Police Detention center in 2019 (source)
Aspropyrgos Police Detention center in 2019 (source

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited thirteen police departments in Attica and Evros in 2007, judging that the conditions were suitable only in three departments but solely for short detention periods. The remaining departments faced issues with natural and artificial lighting, ventilation, cleanliness, overcrowding, and a lack of courtyard space. In 2008, the CPT revisited several police departments. and emphasized that, despite the declared intentions of the Greek government to renovate the visited areas, no significant improvements had been made: detention conditions remained unacceptable, with overcrowding being the norm, exacerbating the already poor infrastructure and hygiene conditions. 

From 2008 to 2014, a Médecins Sans Frontières report disclosed that ‘an unknown number, possibly several thousand’, were held in inappropriate and degrading conditions in police stations across the country. According to the findings, migrant detainees faced limited access to sanitation facilities, spending most of the day locked in cells without direct access to toilets and bathrooms. In many cases, detainees were held for up to 17 months in facilities with minimal access to natural light and fresh air. Access to medical care relied on police officers making decisions about the urgency and referral to health facilities, as no medical staff were present in the police stations. 

Omonia Police Detention center in 2019 (source)
Omonia Police Detention center in 2019 (source

In this context, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has consistently ruled that the conditions of detention in police custody are unsuitable for prolonged periods, constituting inhuman and degrading treatment (see for example here, here and here). The ECtHR identified violations of Article 3 in February 2019 related to the ‘protective custody’ conditions for unaccompanied minors in police stations in Northern Greece. The court emphasized the negative impact of the absence of outdoor space, catering services, and communication amenities on detainees’ mental health. The ECtHR ruled in 2019 that the deprivation of liberty and unsuitable conditions for detainees, particularly unaccompanied minors, revealed violations of Article 5(1) ECHR. These judgments underscore the pressing need to improve detention conditions in Greek police facilities and uphold the human rights of detainees. Furthermore, it is evident that, despite institutional criticism and the binding nature of EctHR judgements, the Greek state is treating irregular immigrants in a vengeful way. 

The harsh conditions of immigration detention in police facilities resulted in an unprecedented decision from the Greek courts. In 2012, fifteen foreign detainees, arrested for illegal entry into the country, escaped from the Thesprotia Police Directorate's detention facilities in Igoumenitsa. The Igoumenitsa Single Municipal Court acquitted the defendants, citing an emergency situation that diminished the culpability of their actions. The court's rationale stated that the escape was unjust, and it was attributable to each perpetrator. However, the wretched and highly hazardous detention conditions endured by the accused prisoners were deemed a ‘state of exception’, which absolved the culpability of their actions. 

The court highlighted the lack of water supply in the detention center, the prevalence of infectious and non-communicable diseases among prisoners, the overcrowded conditions in a confined 15m2 area, accommodating over 30 individuals, the absence of beds, and the continuous confinement without any opportunity for outdoor activities, exercise, recreation, or self-recreation. The decision underscored that the detainees resorted to escape as a means to evade a grave and imminent health threat arising from the deplorable conditions they endured. Despite its great importance, the judgment did not serve as a precedent for similar cases, hopefully halting the obsessively hostile treatment of irregular immigrants. 

Reports from 2019 highlight persistent issues in police detention facilities, aggravated by their inappropriate use for long-term administrative detention—a practice that aligns with the generally violent treatment of irregular immigrants. The Greek Ombudsman emphasizes emerging problems, including organizational ambiguities, overlapping responsibilities, and deficiencies in protection measures for immigrants in police detention centers. The Athens Omonia Police Department serves as an exemplar of these issues, with responsibilities for detainees divided among different factors, hindering effective oversight and thus facilitating the continuation of treatment ‘imminent outsiders’.  

Subsequent reports by the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture echo these concerns, stressing the persistent unsuitability of police detention facilities for extended stays due to infrastructure limitations and organizational challenges. These reports draw attention to deficiencies in services such as bedding provision, access to personal hygiene items, and extremely limited possibilities for yard time, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive improvements in police detention conditions. They also emblematize the fact that social enemies do not have the right to humane conditions of confinement. 

Recent findings from the Greek Council for Refugees reveal that detainees in police stations lived in deplorable conditions—no access to outdoor areas, poor sanitary conditions, inadequate natural lighting, lack of clothing or hygiene products, insufficient food, and a lack of interpreters and medical services. Despite commitments from the Greek authorities to discontinue the practice of detaining third-country nationals in police stations, this promise has not been materialized. Police stations throughout Greece continue to be utilized for the prolonged detention of irregular migrants, affirming their regulation as ‘enemies of the state’


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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

F. Kourakis. (2024) Immigration Detention in Police Stations in Greece: A Persistent and Cruel Practice . Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2024/02/immigration-detention-police-stations-greece-persistent. Accessed on: 14/04/2024


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