New Old Challenges for Migrants on Greek Mainland

Temporary Refugee Camp in Pedion tou Areos, July 2015, Athens

After receiving 1 million migrants in 2015, Europe is expected to receive 3 million in 2016. In anticipation, the European Union (EU) has asked Greece to help screen out migrants who do not qualify for asylum.

Part of the EU’s request is that Greece is to open detention centers to hold economic migrants facing deportation. Officials argue this will prevent migrants from entering Europe before they are deported — allowing the EU to focus on processing asylum seekers fleeing war zones such as Syria.

Some worry the use of detention centers could be problematic. In early 2015, the new Syriza government began closing detention centers due to overcrowding and inadequate conditions.

A social worker explained conditions at detention centers: “Centers are under resourced and overcrowded. I once drove an urgently ill migrant to the hospital because the transport vehicle had no gas, and none of the staff wanted to pay for gas out of pocket.” –Female, 29, Athens

In the past, centers were used as a catchall where refugees and migrants found themselves side-by-side with migrants arrested for crimes. This poses a particular risk for unaccompanied minors housed in centers while their asylum requests are processed.

These kids are so vulnerable, they have no social network. The first people they meet in Greece are criminals. They know no one in Athens, and if they are released they rely on a criminal network for survival and social support.
— Female, 29, Social Worker, Athens

Despite concerns, the government has agreed to use detention centers once again. Greek Police announced migrants likely to be economic migrants, including Tunisians, Moroccans, and Algerians, are to be detained upon arrival. In December 2015, 150 Moroccan migrants were transferred to the Corinth center, which had decreased its population to 10 migrants.