HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH Human Rights Watch Memorandum
December 2000

Urgent Concerns: Conditions Of Detention For Foreigners In Greece


The Greek Government should as a matter of urgency take measures to alleviate the extreme overcrowding and other appalling conditions of detention for foreigners held in police facilities in Greece. The United Nations (U.N.), Council of Europe (CoE), European Union (E.U.), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other intergovernmental bodies should ensure that Greece, as a member state complies fully with international and regional standards for the treatment of detainees.

Human Rights Watch conducted an eighteen day research mission to Greece in November 2000. The research team consisted of two lawyers and focused specifically on the human rights of migrants. On November 18, 2000, with the full cooperation of the Ministry of Public Order, the researchers visited the Attica General Police Directorate on Alexandras Avenue in Athens to monitor the conditions of detention for undocumented migrants held there in a special detention center for foreigners. They found not only severe overcrowding, but also that detainees are deprived of exercise time, fresh air, adequate amounts of food, proper access to counsel, and proper access to physicians. The researchers observed the general conditions of detention, interviewed detainees, and met with police administrators.1 This memorandum details the research findings of that visit and serious concerns about the general conditions of detention for all those detained, including asylum seekers.2 Human Rights Watch will publish a general report on migrants' human rights in the spring of 2001, but decided to issue this expedited statement to highlight the urgency of our concerns for detained foreigners, particularly for those at the Alexandras Avenue facility.

The Detainees

The men detained at the Alexandras Avenue facility-with two apparent exceptions- were foreigners detained for entering and/or living in Greece without valid travel documents or residence permits in violation of Greece's Aliens Act.3 They came from Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Burma, China, Congo, Egypt, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, India, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.4 Most were arrested by the police on the streets of Athens or other Greek cities and immediately placed in detention when they could not produce a valid passport, visa, other travel document, residence and/or work permit. Some detainees said they had been turned into the police by employers after they demanded back wages.5 There were no detainees under eighteen years of age or women at the Alexandras Avenue facility.

All of the detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch came to Greece by traveling on foot, by ship, or hidden in a vehicle. Many were smuggled into the country, paying high fees to brokers in their home countries who provided transportation to Greece and, in some cases, false travel documents.

The vast majority of the detainees had an administrative deportation order issued against them by the Ministry of Public Order that could not be executed immediately because their home countries could not provide required documentation in a timely manner or would not issue documents to them at all. Some of the detainees were stateless and had no home country that could issue the required documents. A number of detainees had applied for asylum and were waiting for a decision in the first instance or on appeal, or had already been rejected. Thus, the deportees and asylum seekers were being held in administrative detention. According to an information bulletin posted in the detention center, deportees could challenge their deportation order by lodging an appeal with the Ministry of Public Order up to three days after the order was issued.6 However, an appeal to the Ministry of Public Order regarding a deportation order did not suspend the order of deportation; that is, detainees remained subject to deportation at any time despite the lodging of an appeal.7 Due to serious problems in obtaining legal counsel (see section below on access to counsel), many detainees were not able to appeal their deportation orders and most were simply waiting to be deported.8 Some of the detainees had lodged a request with the Ministry of Public Order for a special type of release on humanitarian grounds that permitted them to leave the detention facility but required them to depart Greece within three months (see section below on arbitrary detention).

Police authorities insisted that the Alexandras Avenue facility was not a jail and that people were held there only temporarily while awaiting deportation. However, Human Rights Watch interviewed four detainees who said they had been detained for five, six, eight, and twelve months respectively. Numerous detainees had been at Alexandras Avenue for over five months. Those held at the Alexandras Avenue center and all foreigners held under similar circumstances in police facilities in Greece are in detention as defined by the U.N. Body of Principles for the Protection of all Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (Body of Principles). That is, they are persons deprived of their liberty without a conviction under Greece's penal code.

General Conditions of Detention


The detention facility for foreigners is in the Alexandras Avenue police station, the largest in Athens. Police officials gave Human Rights Watch unhindered access to the facility upon authorization from the Ministry of Public Order. Our researchers were not accompanied by police officers during the visit and were permitted access to all areas of the facility.9 Upon entering the facility, our researchers were immediately struck by the degree of overcrowding. Dirty mattresses lined the floors in the corridors and large groups of detainees were seated on them, crammed into individual rooms and milling about on the limited available floor space in hallways. According to police officials, the Alexandras Avenue facility currently houses approximately 150 men in a space designed for 80 detainees. It was impossible for Human Rights Watch to individually count the number of detainees, but based on the number who slept in each room-coupled with the number of detainees who lived in the corridors-the number 150 appeared quite low.

There were nineteen narrow rooms in two large blocks, each room approximately twelve square meters or 130 square feet, and a small cell in which a mentally disturbed detainee was held. According to police officials, each room should sleep four people. Numerous detainees actually live and sleep on the floors of the inner corridors of the blocks. As many as twelve detainees shared four single mattresses in the corridor of one section of the center. The mattresses were thin and narrow and clearly designed for a single person.

Due to the overcrowding, the average room sleeps between seven and twelve detainees. One series of rooms we viewed held nine, ten, twelve, eleven, eight and ten detainees respectively.10 Some mattresses were on frames but at least four were on the floors of most rooms. There is no floor space on which to walk when all the detainees are laying down. Detainees are forced to walk on each other's bedding to get to and from their mattresses during sleeping hours. During the day, mattresses are piled against a wall in some rooms to allow a passage for walking. Persons living in the hallways routinely tolerate other detainees walking across their bedding.

Detainees told Human Rights Watch-and prison officials subsequently confirmed-that approximately forty detainees had been deported the day before our visit. Thus, on November 17, 2000, approximately 190 detainees shared space designed for less than half that number.


The corridors in each of the blocks were dimly lit but there were no lights at all in any of the individual rooms. The corridor lights provided minimal light in the rooms after sunset,11 certainly not enough to read. Human Rights Watch researchers had to let their eyes adjust to the lack of light before they could even determine how many people were housed in a single room. The lights in the corridors and toilet/shower rooms were kept on twenty-four hours per day. Detainees living in the corridors complained that the constant light made it difficult to sleep. There was no natural light at all during the day in the inner corridors where these detainees stayed. Windows in the outer corridors provided some light in the individual rooms during the day.


Police officials claimed that "many people" were employed to clean the cells "every day" but Human Rights Watch found little evidence of regular cleaning. Despite best efforts by detainees, the cells and individual rooms of the detention center were filthy. The severe overcrowding in the center has led to unsanitary conditions that could pose a serious threat to the health of the detainees.

The center is roach infested and our researchers viewed roaches crawling on the walls, on the water fountain, and on the detainees as they spoke with us. Due to the lack of light in the individual rooms, roaches appeared on the walls in abundance. Detainees complained of finding roaches in their bedding and crawling on them, both during the day and at night.

Each of the two blocks had one room with three toilets, three showers, and three or four sinks. Detainees complained that, until recently, the toilets had been malfunctioning and they had to clean themselves after using the toilet with water from old soda bottles. In one of the blocks, only two of the three toilets was functioning. Each detainee was responsible for washing his own clothes. Piles of laundry litter the bathroom and lines of drying clothing ring the room. Detainees wash their laundry in the same basins used for personal hygiene such as tooth brushing. They must purchase soaps and toilet paper with their own money and many claimed that police officers selling these products charged them excessive amounts for them.

The mattresses were filthy and those in the hallways were particularly dirty because detainees routinely walked over them to get to and from the phone, the toilet or other rooms. Detainees must provide and launder their own sheets.


Detainees complained of insufficient amounts of food and that the type of food served was nutritionally deficient. Two meals-at midday and in the evening-are provided. Breakfast is not provided and detainees must purchase coffee and a morning meal from police officers out of their personal accounts.

Police authorities claimed that detainees were served the same food from the same cafeteria where the police ate. Detainees complained that the food was heavy in carbohydrates and that little protein or fresh produce was provided. Human Rights Watch was present during the serving of the evening meal. Each detainee was given a small container of what looked like rice or pasta with some type of green vegetable mixed in. While the food did not appear appetizing, it is unclear whether or not it was nutritionally deficient. The amount, however, was clearly insufficient for an adult male from 8:00 p.m. until 1:00 p.m. the following day when the next meal would be provided. Detainees without access to independent funds were at a serious disadvantage as they were unable to purchase a morning meal. One fountain (without cups) in each block provides tepid water for approximately seventy-five detainees. No other beverages are provided.

Health and Welfare

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that the conditions of detention in the Alexandras Avenue center have had and will continue to have an adverse affect on the physical and mental health of the detainees.

According to police authorities, detainees can make a simple oral request to see a physician due to a medical problem and an appointment with a doctor will be arranged by the police.12 Several detainees, however, complained to Human Rights Watch about health problems and claimed that, despite repeated requests to see a doctor, they were denied medical care. A twenty-five year old Pakistani detainee told Human Rights Watch that he was experiencing severe rectal bleeding and had repeatedly requested to see a physician. Numerous detainees confirmed that the man was, in fact, ill and had asked to see a doctor more than once-but his requests were ignored. A Palestinian man in his fifties had a blood disorder requiring medication. The detainee had been in the detention center for seven months and felt that the dosage for his medication needed to be adjusted because a serious side effect was his inability to keep food down. The police administered the medication but, according to the man, would not arrange an appointment with a physician. A Romanian detainee with a heart condition claimed that he had been requesting to see a doctor for one month but his requests were ignored. A Pakistani man whose three fingers were recently sliced off in a work accident was concerned about infection. He had been in the center for nearly one month and had seen a doctor only once despite repeated requests.

Our researchers observed two detainees in particular with obvious mental health problems. A Chinese man who had been detained for five months had ceased to speak and was withdrawn and listless. He sat in a corner of a bed and did not engage anyone. Other detainees told Human Rights Watch that he had "gone crazy" and "lost his mind." Another detainee from the Sudan had been physically separated from the rest of the population and placed in a smaller "cell" completely constructed of bars. This cell had constant light. The Sudanese detainee was labeled by other detainees as "aggressive" and responsible for starting fights. He appeared confused and agitated when speaking with Human Rights Watch. Both the Chinese and Sudanese detainees clearly required psychological support but were not receiving counseling of any sort.13 Numerous detainees noted that the lack of information about why or how long they would be detained, about family members, and about the status of their asylum claims often caused depression, frustration and anger.
Exercise, Education, Social Services

The detainees are not permitted to exercise outdoors or in an indoor facility nor do they have regular access to fresh air. Despite long periods of detention, they have no access at all to educational programs or social services.


One telephone is available for use by all the detainees in both blocks. They can use it at any time but must purchase their own phone card. The day that Human Rights Watch visited, the line for the phone was extremely long.

Access to Counsel

There is no state supported general legal aid scheme for the indigent in Greece,14 although asylum seekers can access free legal counsel if they know what organizations offer representation. Detainees awaiting deportation at the Alexandras Avenue detention facility must pay for their own legal counsel. Numerous detainees complained that they and their families could not afford the high costs of retaining legal counsel.

Human Rights Watch interviewed thirteen detainees who had applied for asylum. The Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) was providing free legal representation to some of these asylum seekers. According to UNHCR, however, "There is no system in place that would guarantee that all those in detention who seek asylum will be seen and assisted by GCR or any other non-profit organization."15 Thus, although lawyers from the GCR theoretically have access to asylum seekers in detention facilities, the detainees are not given any information about their right to seek asylum or the possibility of free legal counsel for the duration of the procedure. For example, the Information Bulletin for Foreigners/Aliens Being Detained for Deportation that is posted in the center does not include any information about seeking asylum or the provision of legal counsel for asylum seekers.16 Access to legal counsel for asylum seekers is thus a matter of chance; those who know about the GCR, can speak Greek or English (or have someone who does speak these languages intervene on their behalf), and can get access to a phone might have the possibility of representation.

The paucity of phones creates a considerable bar to maintaining regular contact with family members and legal counsel. It is nearly impossible to receive a phone call because the phone is in constant use. Therefore, lawyers and nongovernmental organizations working with detainees must appear in person to maintain contact. Moreover, one frustrated lawyer who represents both asylum seekers and undocumented migrants told Human Rights Watch that gaining access to her clients in detention centers often took her one-half of an entire day due to the bureaucracy.17 Although detainees can meet with their lawyers at any time, the facilities do not permit privacy. A small table with three chairs is positioned right outside one of the blocks next to the station where police guards sit-clearly within earshot of police guards.

Police Abuse

Detainees at the Alexandras Avenue facility did not, in general, complain about physical abuse by police officers in the course of daily life at the detention center. Physical abuse in the process of deportation, however, was reported to be more common. On November 10, 2000, Human Rights Watch interviewed Nimal Rathnayke, a Sri Lankan detainee at the Alexandras Avenue center, who reported that he had been badly beaten the night before when he resisted deportation. Rathnayke had been detained for eight months at the time that he and his wife, Gopalagae Priyanthika, were scheduled for deportation on November 9. Their asylum claim had been rejected both in the first instance and on appeal. Rathnayke had been held in detention during the course of the asylum procedure.

According to Rathnayke, the day the police attempted to deport him and his wife he was handcuffed with his hands behind his back. Rathnayke admitted that he verbally protested and physically resisted the officers trying to deport him. He told the police officers in the deportation office that he did not want to go back to Sri Lanka because he feared that he would be killed. Rathnayke's description of the beating that ensued coupled with the fresh physical injuries he exhibited, however, raise serious questions about the degree of force used to subdue him and his wife. Moreover, he said the beating continued long after he ceased to resist. According to Rathnayke, he and his wife were beaten in full view in the deportation office, the hallway outside, in the elevator, and in the car on the way to the airport:

They [the police] were dragging me on the floor. One man was beating me in the back and kicking me. He was kicking the back of my ankle, the inside bone is very painful, maybe broken. No one cares. All the building people came out [into the hallway]. No one stopped it. They put my face against the wall [demonstrates head being pushed into the wall] in the elevator and beat my head [demonstrates being punched from behind at the base of the neck]. The police pulled my wife by her hair and punched her with fists in the jaw on both sides. They put me in the lift to go down and beat, beat, beat. Three police. One beat, the other two did not. Hands, kicks. Then he [the police officer] has a cigarette break and starts again.18

Rathnayke had severe bruising on the back of his neck. He walked with a visible limp, his left leg was bruised and slightly scabbed, and he held his midsection indicating pain in his ribs. His wrists were bruised and cut. At the airport, he and his wife, still handcuffed, shouted loudly that they did not want to board the Saudi Airlines flight to Sri Lanka and airline officials refused to transport them. Rathnayke told Human Rights Watch that the beating continued in the car, in the elevator up to the deportation floor and as they took him back to his room. He was not resisting deportation at that time:

Kicking in the back and I fall down and then kicking in the back and falling down. Kicking me with big boots, stomping on my feet. [Indicates kicking in genital area.] Another officer asked why they were beating us. Beat me in the head and jaw with fists and had on gloves.19

Rathnayke said that he did not request medical care because he was afraid they would beat him again. His wife was transported to a detention center for women.20 According to Maria Kossida, Rathnayke's lawyer for his asylum claim:

Police abuse is common. When an arrested person doesn't cooperate or resists, then he is beaten...If a person continues to resist deportation, they won't beat him to death, but will try to get him to go home. They don't want him any longer."21

Arbitrary Detention

As noted above, many of the detainees at Alexandras Avenue have been held for over five months and some have been detained for up to a year. Detainees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan simply cannot be deported due to embargoes, internal conflicts, and/or the absence of diplomatic facilities in Greece. Some detainees are stateless. Detainees who cannot be deported are thus subjected to a form of indefinite detention.

Police authorities claim that it takes a great deal of time for the embassies or consulates of the detainees' home countries to respond to requests for documents so that their nationals can be deported. When queried as to what happens when a detainee cannot be deported under any circumstances in the foreseeable future, police officials responded that, "We are trying here to find a way. As soon as we can find this way, the man is free."22 Given the remote possibility of being able to deport detainees from the countries noted above, indefinite periods of detention can be expected to continue in the absence of reform. Rafat Baroud, a thirty-three year old stateless Palestinian man who had been in Greece for ten years (part of that time as a student) before being detained, told Human Rights Watch that he cannot be deported. He had been in detention for over four months and feared that he would be in detention indefinitely. He told us that he has offered to go anywhere: "I told them [the police] if there's any country that will take me, I will go."23

Police officials at the Alexandras Avenue detention center also noted that they can and do release some detainees with a verbal warning to leave Greece within three months. According to the police, the Ministry of Public Order makes the determinations for such releases with information on the detainee population provided by the detention facility.

Detention of Asylum Seekers

Numerous detainees told Human Rights Watch that they had applied for asylum and were awaiting a determination in the first instance or on appeal. UNHCR has expressed to the Greek authorities on various occasions its concern for detained asylum seekers. According to Maria Stavropoulou, UNHCR protection officer, "in the majority of cases, they were first arrested and detained and then they applied for asylum. The reasons for not having applied for asylum range from ignorance about the system, lack of interest in applying for asylum in Greece, to difficulties in getting registered as an asylum seeker with the police."24 (See section below on international standards governing the detention of asylum seekers.)

Official Response

The police authorities at Alexandras Avenue were extremely cooperative. They would not, however, acknowledge the appalling nature of conditions for detainees at the facility, nor did they adequately explain why such conditions existed or when improvements would be undertaken. With respect to the general conditions of detention detailed above, officials admitted that the facility was overcrowded but insisted that it was clean, detainees were provided with good food, and that medical care was provided. When Human Rights Watch detailed the conditions they found and noted that they violated Greece's international and regional obligations, officials responded that a new building was going to be built in about six months to house foreign detainees. When asked what could be done immediately, police authorities said, "It is too difficult to do something now. Only the Ministry [of Public Order] can."25

International and Regional Standards

Conditions of Detention

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Standard Minimum Rules) and the European Prison Rules serve as authoritative guides for states on how to comply with their international and regional obligations to protect the human rights of persons held in all forms of detention. Key provisions of both sets of rules require:

· Sleeping accommodations that meet basic requirements of health and hygiene including adequate sleep space, air, lighting, heat and ventilation. The European Prison Rules recommend individual cells or shared accommodation with reasonable space for each detainee and a separate bed and bedding for each detainee;

· Adequate bathing and shower installations;

· Proper maintenance and cleaning of all parts of a detention facility;

· Provision of toilet articles as necessary for health and cleanliness;

· Food of nutritional value adequate for health provided at normal times; drinking water available at all times;

· Access to medical and psychiatric care and psychological support services;

· Absolute prohibition against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

· Communication, both written and oral, with detainees in a language that they can understand;

· System for making complaints;

· Provision for regular exercise and access to natural light and fresh air;

· Provision of a library, educational programs, and access to necessary social services;

· Separation of detainees in separate facilities away from convicted felons.

    Moreover, the U.N. Body of Principles for the Protection of all Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (Body of Principles), adopted in 1988, state that detained individuals have the following basic rights:

· "Not to be kept in detention without being given an effective opportunity to be heard promptly by a judicial or other authority"; the right "at any time to take proceedings according to domestic law before a judicial or other authority to challenge the lawfulness of their detention," and the right to do so through proceedings that are "simple and expeditious and at no cost for detained persons without adequate means";

· To have the assistance of legal counsel, to have legal counsel assigned to him if he cannot afford his own lawyers, to receive reasonable help in obtaining counsel, to have adequate time and facilities to communicate with legal counsel, to be able to communicate in full confidentiality with legal counsel (interviews between a detained or imprisoned person and his legal counsel may be within sight, but not within the hearing, of a law enforcement official);

· To have an "adequate opportunity to communicate with the outside world";

· To be informed of disciplinary rules prevailing in a given detention center, to appeal any disciplinary action, and to make a request or complaint regarding treatment or detention conditions;

    · To make a request or complaint regarding treatment, in particular in case of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, to the authorities responsible for the administration of the place of detention and to higher authorities and, when necessary, to appropriate authorities vested with reviewing or remedial powers.

The substandard conditions of detention in the Alexandras Avenue detention facility detailed above violate many of the requirements of both internationally and regionally recognized basic minimum standards for the treatment of detainees. Moreover, the Standard Minimum Rules is an authoritative set of guidelines for interpreting article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prohibiting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and ICCPR article 10 which states that "[a]ll persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person."26 Detainees at the Alexandras Avenue detention center are sometimes held there for many months-even up to one year-and some are held for indefinite periods.27 The long periods of detention in combination with the conditions endured by detainees-overcrowding; lack of adequate sleeping accommodations; no access to fresh air or exercise; a roach infested and dirty environment; food of questionable adequacy; questionable access to medical care;-raise serious concerns that these conditions may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Arbitrary Detention
It is a fundamental principle of human rights that no one should be arbitrarily placed in detention. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile" and article 9 of the ICCPR declares similarly that "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention [or] be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law." Detention is considered "arbitrary" if it is not authorized by law or in accordance with law. It is also arbitrary when it is random, capricious, or not accompanied by fair procedures for legal review.

Arbitrary detention has also been defined as not only contrary to law but as including elements of injustice and lack of predictability. Due to the growing phenomenon of indefinite detention of migrants and refugees, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recently developed criteria for determining whether or not the deprivation of liberty of migrants and asylum seekers is arbitrary. Principle Three mandates that a migrant or asylum seeker placed in custody "must be brought promptly before a judge or other authority" and Principle Seven requires that a "maximum period should be set by law and the custody may in no case be unlimited or of excessive length."28 Some migrant detainees in Alexandras Avenue cannot be deported because they are stateless, or because their own country or any third country will not accept them. Human Rights Watch maintains that when migrant detainees are held indefinitely and do not know when, if ever, they will be released, their detention becomes arbitrary even if the initial detention was carried out in accordance with the law.

Detention of Asylum Seekers

International standards state that those seeking asylum generally should not be detained. The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees define a "refugee" as a person who has fled his or her home country because of "a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion."

Article 31 of the Refugee Convention states that governments "shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened...enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence." The convention goes on to state that "[c]ontracting states shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary." The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' Guidelines on Applicable Criteria and Standards Relating to the Detention of Asylum Seekers (UNHCR Guidelines)29 clarify these provisions with regard to those who are seeking asylum by reaffirming the basic human right to seek and enjoy asylum and by stating as an explicit guideline that "[a]s a general rule, asylum seekers should not be detained." The UNHCR Guidelines also note that detention should not be used as a punitive or disciplinary measure, and that detention should not be used as a means of discouraging refugees from applying for asylum. Indeed, even if detention is not explicitly used to discourage asylum applicants but merely to discourage future immigration altogether-including asylum seekers-such a use of detention undermines the right of every person to seek asylum as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Although it is an accepted premise of international law that asylum seekers should not, in general, be detained, the Refugee Convention does permit states to detain asylum seekers in certain limited circumstances. Thus, "[i]n time of war or other grave and exceptional circumstances," states may take "provision[al] measures" to detain asylum seekers, "pending the determination that the person is in fact a refugee and that the continuance of such measures is necessary in the interests of national security." The UNHCR Guidelines further elaborate the instances in which asylum seekers may be detained: (I) to verify identity; (ii) to determine the elements on which the claim for refugee status or asylum is based; (iii) in cases where refugees or asylum seekers have destroyed their travel and/or identity documents or have used fraudulent documents in order to mislead the authorities of the State in which they intend to claim asylum; or (iv) to protect national security or public order. However, under the exception regarding the determination of the elements of a claim, the guidelines state that "[t]his exception...cannot be used to justify detention for the entire status determination procedure, or for an unlimited period of time." According to the Guidelines, any other reason for detaining asylum seekers, such as part of a policy to deter future asylum seekers, is contrary to principles of international law. The guidelines emphasize that "detention [should] only be imposed where it is necessary and reasonable to do so and without discrimination. It should be proportional to the ends to be achieved and for a minimal period."

As noted above, UNHCR has expressed its concerns about the detention of asylum seekers to the Greek government on more than one occasion. As well, the Ecumenical Refugee Program in Athens has brought similar concerns to the attention of the government.30

The general principle stands that asylum seekers should not be detained. Alternative, non-custodial monitoring mechanisms (e.g. reporting requirements) should be employed as a matter of first course. Detention should only be used under exceptional circumstances and when it is prescribed by national law in conformity with international standards. Moreover, detention should be applied strictly on a case-by-case basis with a thorough review of an individual asylum seeker's circumstances.


Government of Greece

Conditions of Detention

Measures should be taken immediately to reduce overcrowding at the Alexandras Avenue detention center and other detention facilities specifically designated for foreigners. The government cannot consider the construction of a new detention facility as an immediate measure;

    · Conditions of detention for foreigners should conform with international and regional standards, including the U.N. Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, U.N. Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention, and the European Prison Rules. In particular, at a minimum, each detainee should have reasonable sleeping space in an environment conducive to restful sleep, his/her own bed, and adequate bedding; three nutritious meals per day; a clean environment free from insects; adequate toilet/bath facilities and the provision of toiletries; access to reading lights at night and natural light during the day; effective access to medical care and psychological services; adequate means to contact and facilities to meet in confidence with legal counsel; one hour of exercise per day; and access to educational and social service programs;

    · Asylum seekers, in general, should not be detained. Exceptions to this general principle should be applied on a case-by-case basis only and as a matter of last resort. Asylum seekers must have a prompt and effective opportunity to challenge a detention order before a judicial or administrative body independent of the detaining authorities. Periodic reviews of continuing detention should be conducted and asylum seekers and their representatives should have the right to be present at such reviews;

    · Detention of those awaiting deportation must be subject to a maximum time limit, authorized by domestic law in conformity with the international law, in particular the prohibition against arbitrary detention;

    · Undocumented migrants must have a prompt and effective opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of both their detention and deportation order in a judicial proceeding or before another competent authority. Continued detention should be subject to periodic review;

    · Information bulletins detailing the rights of detainees to minimum standards of treatment and due process guarantees should be made available to every person in a language that he/she can understand. In cases of detainees who cannot read, this information should be presented orally in a language they can understand;

    · Detainees should be informed in a language they can understand of their right to seek asylum, the procedure for filing an asylum claim, and the contact numbers of appropriate agencies that provide free legal representation for the asylum procedure;

    · A complaints procedure regarding conditions of detention should be developed and implemented. All detainees should be informed of the existence of a complaints procedure in a language he/she understands. Detainees should have access to a judicial remedy for abuses suffered in detention (e.g. police abuse) that amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

    · Detainees should have access to legal counsel. Those who cannot afford counsel should be provided with counsel at no cost. Lawyers should have unhindered access to their clients in detention facilities;

    · Nongovernmental organizations that provide legal assistance and representatives from UNHCR should have unhindered access to all detention facilities for foreigners;

    · Migrants awaiting deportation and asylum seekers in detention should be housed in facilities separate from persons in custody for violations of Greece's penal laws;


    · Detention facilities for foreigners should be subject to inspection by a domestic authority independent of the Ministry of Public Order;

    · Independent nongovernmental organizations should be granted access to detention facilities in order to ensure that conditions therein comport with international and regional standards;

    · All past reports regarding monitoring visits by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (ECPT) should be made public, in particular the report of the ECPT's November 1999 visit during which the committee focused specifically on detention facilities for foreigners (including Alexandras Avenue). The government should implement immediately the ECPT's recommendations regarding detention conditions for foreigners and cooperate in full with the ECPT's planned follow-up visit in 2001;

    · Greece's report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture (CAT)-scheduled for review in April-May 2001-should include input from nongovernmental organizations; adequately reflect the conditions of detention for foreigners; answer criticism by international organizations, regional bodies, and nongovernmental organizations regarding detention conditions; and include concrete short, medium, and long term measures for the alleviation of detention conditions in violation of Greece's international and regional obligations. Greece should make every effort to submit the report on time;

    · Greece's report to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)-scheduled for review in January 2001-should detail the measures Greece has taken to combat discrimination against migrants and refugees in the administration of justice. The report should include input from nongovernmental organizations;

    · Greece should grant permission to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions to visit Greece in 2001 and inspect detention facilities for foreigners in recognition of the working group's extended mandate to cover the issue of administrative custody of migrants and asylum seekers.

United Nations

    · The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions should plan a site visit to Greece in 2001 in furtherance of its 1997 mandate expansion to include the administrative detention of migrants and asylum seekers;

    · The U.N. Committee Against Torture (CAT) should evaluate Greece's upcoming report (April-May 2001) in light of criticism from international and domestic nongovernmental organizations, and intergovernmental organizations at the regional level, that condemn the government for conditions of detention for foreigners in Greece. The CAT should urge the Greek government in its concluding observations to take short, medium, and long term measures to bring Greece into conformity with international standards regarding the treatment of foreign detainees;

    · The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) should evaluate Greece's report (scheduled for review in January 2001) with an eye toward discrimination against migrants and refugees in the administration of justice.

Council of Europe

    · The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (ECPT) should encourage the Greek government to publish all past reports of ECPT monitoring visits, in particular the November 1999 report on conditions of detention for foreigners. If the Greek government has not yet responded to the report of the November 1999 visit, the ECPT should demand an immediate response to its findings;

    · The ECPT's scheduled 2001 visit to Greece should include follow-up inspections of detention facilities for foreigners and an evaluation of the progress (or lack thereof) made by Greece in improving detention conditions since the ECPT's November 1999 visit.

European Union

· Discussions at the European Union level on migration and asylum within the Tampere framework-recently fortified by European Commission communications on "A Community Immigration Policy" and "Towards a Common Asylum Procedure" issued in November 2000-must take into consideration the negative side-effects of combating illegal migration. These effects-including member states' failure to comply with international and regional standards for the treatment of undocumented migrants in the administration of justice; the erosion and violations of the international refugee protection regime, as a result of restrictive immigration policies; racist and xenophobic discourse at the political level; and racist and xenophobic violence at the community level-must be addressed by the establishment of a concrete action plan by the E.U. to combat human rights violations against vulnerable migrant populations, refugees and asylum seekers.

· The European Council as a matter of urgency should commission a report on the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in detention throughout the European Union and make concrete recommendations to member states regarding their obligations under regional agreements to protect the human rights of vulnerable migrants.

Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE)

    · The OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), together with its advisory panel of experts on the prevention of torture, should develop guidelines on the conditions and length of detention of foreigners in OSCE member states;

    · The OSCE should include conditions of administrative detention of foreigners among the topics for its 2001 supplementary human dimension implementation meetings.


The research for this memorandum was conducted by Julia Hall, counsel in the Europe and Central Asia Division, and Julie Chadbourne, JD, LLM, consultant to the Europe and Central Asia Division. The memorandum was written by Julia Hall and edited by Rachel Denber, acting executive director of the Europe and Central Asia Division; Elizabeth Andersen, advocacy director for the Europe and Central Asia Division; Rachael Reilly, refugee policy program director; Michael McClintock, deputy program director; and Dinah PoKempner, general counsel. Technical assistance was provided by Rachel Bien, associate in the Europe and Central Asia Division. Greek translation was provided by Caroline Cunliffe.

Human Rights Watch would like to thank the following individuals and groups for their assistance with detention-related issues in Greece: Ecumenical Refugee Program, Andrea Gilbert, Greek Council for Refugees, Greek Helsinki Monitor, Maria Kossida, Nikos Koulouris, Office of the Greek Ombudsman, UNHCR Athens, and Youth Against Racism-Europe.

Human Rights Watch acknowledges the generous cooperation of the Ministry of Public Order of the Greek Government and police officials at the Alexandras Avenue detention center.

Many thanks, in particular, to the migrants and asylum seekers who spoke with Human Rights Watch in Greece.

1 The police officials included Colonel Metropolous, head of the division for foreigners in the Attica prefecture; Captain Kalianiotis, rotating officer in charge of personnel for the division; and Captain Matakia, in charge of the daily operations of the detention facility. When we refer to "police authorities" in this memorandum, it is to the collective responses of this group. Human Rights Watch acknowledges the full cooperation of the police authorities-including the provision of interpreters for meeting with officials-and in particular Nikolaos Tassiopoulos, Police Brigadier General, Ministry of Public Order, who granted us permission to visit detention facilities and made staff there available to us.

Human Rights Watch also visited the Piraeus Holding Centre for Aliens on November 9, 2000. We did not have access to cells but interviewed detainees. Detainees complained of serious overcrowding, malnutrition, poor hygiene, lack of access to medical care and regular exercise. We also spoke with detainees who had been held at the Menidi detention facility. They complained of severe overcrowding that resulted in detainees taking turns sleeping, one small meal per day, unsanitary conditions, and no access to medical care. A staff member at the Ecumenical Refugee Program in Athens described the conditions of detention she found at the Kolonos Police Station in Athens:

Bathroom use is restricted, there are no baths, detainees sleep on the ground, deportees are kept with the general population, there is no hot water, the police mistreat deportees-they are racist-and there is disease.

Human Rights Watch interview, Athens, November 7, 2000.

Several persons who had been held in more than one detention center for foreigners told Human Rights Watch that the conditions at Alexandras Avenue are the best in the detention regime. Local nongovernmental organizations and Greek lawyers concurred that conditions in other facilities were worse. See also, Amnesty International, Greece: Inhuman Conditions in Drapetsona, Athens, EUR 25/043/1998, 14 August 1998, which charged that the conditions of detention at Drapetsona, a detention center for foreigners, amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Law No. 1975/1991 is catch-all legislation dealing with foreigners in Greece. It is colloquially referred to as the "law on foreigners" and contains, among other things, the requirements of legal entry/exit, employment, expulsion, and determination of refugee status. A new bill dealing with immigration and the status of foreigners is currently under consideration by the Greek parliament.

Two Greeks were reportedly detained in this center. They did not speak with us but other detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were "criminals."

Afedh Bouzaeiene, a thirty-five year old Tunisian detainee, told Human Rights Watch that his employer withheld most of his wages from agricultural work since 1990. Bouzaeiene's employer told him that he would keep his wages for him until he returned to Tunisia. When he demanded his wages, the employer reported him as an undocumented migrant to the police. Bouzaeiene claimed that one police official was a member of his employer's family and that this relationship facilitated his entry into detention. A Pakistani detainee, Ahmad Shehu, worked as a seafarer. After two years without pay, he demanded his wages from his employer who called the police. Shehu ended up in Alexandras Avenue.

An Information Bulletin for Foreigners/Aliens Being Detained for Deportation is posted in the center and is available in the following languages: Albanian, Arabic, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, and Turkish. There is no information in the bulletin regarding interpretation for detainees who do not speak one of the languages listed above or who are not able to read. The Bulletin is reproduced in appendix I.

Human Rights Watch interview with a staff person at the Ecumenical Refugee Program, Athens, November 7, 2000.

Maria Kossida, a lawyer who represents deportees and asylum seekers, told Human Rights Watch that successfully challenging deportation orders is "a practical non-reality" and that, for many detainees, applying for asylum is the only option to deportation. Human Rights Watch interview, December 7, 2000. Susannah Verney, senior investigator with the Office of the Greek Ombudsman, concurred, stating that "nobody challenges the orders" due to practical considerations. Human Rights Watch interview, December 7, 2000.

Interpreters provided by the police were used only for meetings with police officials.

In a 1993 report on its visit to the Alexandras Avenue facility, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (ECPT), stated that housing ten persons in one of the detention center's rooms would be "grossly excessive." Report to the Government of Greece Carried Out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT Report) from 14 to 26 March 1993, CPT/Inf (94) 20 [EN], 29 November 1994, para. 56. The report from the ECPT's visit to Greece in October/November 1999-focusing specifically on the conditions of detention for foreigners awaiting deportation-has not been made public by the Greek government.

Two long corridors abut the end of each individual room. The inner corridor serves as living space for overflow detainees who cannot fit into individual rooms. The outer corridor is a passageway that allows the police to see into the rooms through bars that comprise the outer wall of each room.

12 Human Rights Watch interview, November 18, 2000. The Information Bulletin for Foreigners/Aliens Being Detained for Deportation, posted in the center, states that detainees "have the right...[t]o request an examination, if you have a health problem, by a doctor provided by the police, but also, if you wish, by a doctor of your choice at your own expense." See appendix I.

General depression appeared to be pervasive throughout the detainee population. In addition to the two serious cases of apparent mental illness noted above, numerous detainees remained in bed during our visit; awake but listless.

Christodolous Tsakirellis, a volunteer lawyer for undocumented migrants, told Human Rights Watch that the Athens lawyers association-the equivalent of the local bar association-provides some pro bono representation but there is no legal aid. Human Rights Watch interview, Athens, November 3, 2000.

Human Rights Watch interview with Maria Stavropoulou, Protection Officer, UNHCR, Athens, November 16, 2000.

The Bulletin does not address all the rights of detainees but it appears to be the only piece of information to which detainees have access.

Human Rights Watch interview with Maria Kossida, Athens, November 15, 2000.

18 Human Rights Watch interview, Alexandras Avenue detention center, November 10, 2000. Human Rights Watch gained access to the detention center on this date upon the intervention of Anna Karamanou, MEP. Karamanou faxed an urgent letter upon our request to police authorities on the morning of November 10 seeking permission for Human Rights Watch to interview Nimal Rathnayke. Upon arrival our researchers were at first denied access (despite the authorities' acknowledgment of the Karamanou letter) and only after phoning the Ministry of Public Order was accessed granted.


Another Sri Lankan detainee witnessed some of the abuse upon Rathnayke's return to the detention center. He phoned a local nongovernmental organization, Youth Against Racism-Europe (YAR), seeking assistance. An activist with YAR contacted Human Rights Watch the evening the beating occurred, accompanied our researchers to the detention center the following day, and provided interpretation for exchanges between police officials and Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch interview, Athens, November 15, 2000.

Human Rights Watch interview, Alexandras Avenue detention center, Athens, November 18, 2000.


Human Rights Watch interview, Athens, November 16, 2000.

Human Rights Watch met with the Minister of Public Order Michalis Chrosochoidis on November 17, 2000, the day before permission was granted to visit Alexandras Avenue. He responded to our detention center concerns by stating that a new building would be "soon" be built.

26 According to Nigel Rodley, subsequently named U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture:

Although not every rule may constitute a legal obligation, it is reasonably clear that the Standard Minimum Rules can provide guidance in interpreting the general rule against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Thus, serious non-compliance with some rules or widespread non-compliance with some others may well result in a level of ill-treatment sufficient to constitute violation of the general rule. The SMR [Standard Minimum Rules] can provide similar guidance in interpreting the general requirement of Covenant article 10(1) of humane treatment and respect for human dignity..."

From Nigel Rodley, The Treatment of Prisoners Under International Law, (Oxford University Press: New York, 1987), p. 222. Greece has ratified the ICCPR and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The 1993 ECPT report on Greece noted that detainees had been held "in excess of one month, and a few had been there for over three months." The committee concluded that such a situation is not acceptable" as the "physical surroundings and regime are quite unsuitable for such lengthy stays." CPT, "1993 Report to the Government of Greece," fn. 10. The ECPT's Annual General Report of 1996 included a special section on foreign nationals detained under aliens legislation. The report concluded:

CPT delegations have found immigration detainees held in police stations for prolonged periods (for weeks and, in certain cases, months), subject to mediocre material conditions of detention, deprived of any form of activity and on occasion obliged to share cells with criminal suspects. Such a situation is indefensible. The CPT recognises that, in the very nature of things, immigration detainees may have to spend some time in an ordinary police detention facility. However, conditions in police stations will frequently-if not invariably-be inadequate for prolonged periods of detention. Consequently, the period of time spent by immigration detainees in such establishments should be kept to the absolute minimum.

7th General Report on the CPT's Activities Covering the Period 1 January to 31 December 1996, CPT/Inf (97) 10 [EN], 22 August 1997, para. 27.

28 United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, E/CN.4/2000/4, 28 December 1999, Annex II, Deliberation No.5 (Situation Regarding Immigrants and Asylum Seekers), page 26.

UNHCR, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' Guidelines on Applicable Criteria and Standards Relating to the Detention of Asylum Seekers (UNHCR Guidelines), available at, December 2000.

30 Human Rights Watch interview with Efthalia Pappa, Ecumenical Refugee Program, Athens, November 7, 2000.