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18 June 2020 – Greece

Refugee Rights Europe, “The Invisible Islands: Covid-19 Restrictions and the Future of Detention on Kos and Leros,” June 2020,
Refugee Rights Europe, “The Invisible Islands: Covid-19 Restrictions and the Future of Detention on Kos and Leros,” June 2020,

Although Greece lifted its lockdown measures in May, authorities have continued to impose movement restrictions upon migrants and refugees held in Reception and Identification Centres (RICs) on the Aegean islands as well as facilities on the country’s mainland. Initially extended until 10 May, lockdown measures for such facilities were later extended until 7 June—and now until 21 June. The continuation of lockdown measures in these facilities has been strongly condemned by NGOs and rights observers. Human Rights Watch stated on 12 June, “There have been no Covid-19 cases reported in the islands’ camps. And those on the mainland haven’t recorded any cases since April. Yet despite insufficient evidence to justify stronger restrictions in the camps than elsewhere in the country, these discriminatory lockdowns continue for all of them.” Some observers have warned that these lockdown measures may have an ulterior motive – to convert the reception sites into closed detention facilities, in line with the controversial International Protection Bill (Law 4636/2019), which entered into force on 1 January 2020.

Facilities on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Kos, and Leros have long been criticised for their overcrowding, poor material living conditions, and insufficient service provision. While rights groups and NGOs called for their decongestion at the start of the crisis, Greece instead opted to seal off the facilities (see 23 April update). Since mid-April, 3,000 people have reportedly been transferred out of the camps, but facilities remain severely overcrowded: As of 9 June, 31,203 people were registered as living in the camps, a number that far surpasses the 6,095 capacity of the facilities. According to the NGO Refugee Rights Europe, promised measures in RICs—including the establishment of special health units including medical clinics and isolation spaces—have not yet been implemented.

Since March, Greece has also been arbitrarily detaining newly arrived asylum seekers—including children, persons with disabilities, older persons, and pregnant women—in two mainland detention facilities (in Malakassa and Serres). Although authorities have presented their detention as a necessary health measure to avoid the spread of the virus, the facilities are reported to lack even basic health and sanitation provisions.

Several media outlets reported pushbacks at the country’s land and sea borders. According to a report by Der Spiegal, Report Mainz, and Lighthouse Reports, masked Greek coast guard officers were intercepting refugee boats and returning them to Turkey. The report provides video footage that appears to corroborate this claim. On 12 June, UNHCR urged Greece to immediately investigate the reports and stated, “Greece has the legitimate right to control its borders and manage irregular migration while respecting international human rights and refugee protection standards. Controls and practices must guarantee the rights of asylum seekers and they should not be turned away at Greece’s borders.”

Having suspended asylum procedures in March until 1 April after Turkey opened its western border to allow non-nationals to cross into the EU, Greece’s asylum system was again suspended through to 18 May. On 5 June however, HRW reported that asylum procedures had finally restarted.