Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

The European Approach to Hotspots in Greek Islands



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3 Minutes

Guest post by Antoine Guérin. Antoine is a doctoral student in public law at the University Jean Moulin Lyon 3, preparing a thesis on the transfer and sharing of responsibilities for the control of migratory flows in the European Union as provided for by the law of the Schengen area and the Dublin Regulation. This is the final installment of Border Criminologies themed week on 'The other sites of detention', organised my Marion Vannier.

While the term ‘hotspot’ was first coined in the field of Internet technologies, since 2015 it has been routinely used with regard to the way in which the European Union deals with migration. In this post, I demonstrate how the hotspot strategy in Greece is used to manage new arrivals. As a consequence of the EU-Turkey Statement, hotspots in Greece have become detention spaces, revealing important overlaps between this population management strategy and imprisonment.

Originally, the establishment of reception centres for asylum seekers on the territory of a Member State was funded by the European Union, but not fully coordinated by it. The opening of Greece’s First Reception Centre in 2013 was a Greek national response, admittedly under some pressure from the EU and its Member States, as well as two European Court decisions highlighting the serious deficiencies of the Greek asylum system (ECtHR, 2011; CJEU, 2011). According to Law 3907/2011 (Article 13), irregular migrants who were arrested trying to enter the country, were detained in these centres for identification purposes.

The hotspot approach was introduced in 2015 in the European Agenda on Migration. The European Commission presented hotspots as a solidarity measure that could offer a temporary measure for EU member states facing ‘specific and disproportionate migratory pressure,’ (European Commission, 2015). The deployment of hotspots —offered in theory to any member state but in practice always requested by Member States on the periphery of the EU—was originally intended to allow people to disembark in a secure environment, where they would be guaranteed a medical examination and information on immigration and asylum legislation (Italian Ministry of the Interior, 2016). Their initial objective was to  facilitate the relocation of asylum seekers and the return process of failed asylum seekers (European Commission, 2015). In Greece, hotspots on the islands essentially became centres for returns to Turkey after the signature of the EU-Turkey Statement in March 2016, transposed into Greek Law 4375/2016, which provided for the automatic detention of new arrivals for up to 25 days in Reception and Identification Centres (Article 14(2)), even if an asylum application had been initiated (Article 14(7)).

The increase in arrivals on the Greek islands and the limited capacity of hotspots made the objective of systematically detaining asylum seekers impossible to achieve. Automatic detention was, with the exception of the Reception and Identification Center of Fylakio (UNHCR, 2017), abandoned in favour of a geographical restriction prohibiting asylum seekers from leaving the island on which their application was lodged (Decision No. 10464/2017 of the Director of the Asylum Service on restriction of movement of applicants for international protection, renewed by Decision No. 1140/2019 of the Ministry of Citizen Protection). This geographical restriction, which in reality has become another form of detention, reveals key advantages for the state of the hotspot strategy. It allows the immobilisation of individuals without costs that would otherwise be allocated to the construction of new premises; it facilitates the return of rejected asylum seekers to Turkey; it prevents secondary movements on the mainland; it further allows the application of the fast-track procedure, reserved for applicants located at the border (Article 60(4) Greek Law 4375/2016).

Greek island hotspots, with their crowded camps and poor living conditions, have effectively become open-air prisons (ECRE, 2020). Following the passage of  Law 4636/2019, matters have been compounded by plans to construct additional closed centres in these sites.  Article 46(2) fully transposed the provisions of Article 8(3) of the EU Directive laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection by making it possible to detain individuals who apply for asylum at liberty; Article 46(5)(b) increased the duration of detention from 45 to 50 days, which can be further prolonged by 50-days duration decisions up to 18 months; Article 46(4) removed the recommendation of the Asylum Service prior to detention and abolished the ex officio judicial review of detention decisions.

The worrying increase in detention of asylum seekers in Greece could be attributed to the deeply unbalanced founding principle of the Schengen Area and the Dublin Regulation. In return for the free movement of its citizens within the Schengen Area, Greece is obliged, on behalf of all the other Member States, to ensure that asylum seekers on its soil cannot enjoy this freedom. Detention, in all its forms, conceived as a temporary and urgent measure is becoming a “key element” in the management of migration in the EU (European Commission, 2018). Despite is being costly, it serves the purpose of ensuring that the principle of responsibility transfer, which a majority of EU Member States erect as an intangible principle of the management of migratory flows in the EU, is not thwarted.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Guérin, A. (2021). The European Approach to Hotspots in Greek Islands. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2021/04/european-approach [date]

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