Greek Ombudsman: Number of people held while awaiting return to their countries rose 60% in 2017

The number of people held in Greece and awaiting return to their countries has risen by 60%, the Greek Ombudsman said on Monday when presenting a special report on returns in 2017.

The number of people being returned in 2017 did not rise more than 2% from 2016 (13,439 over 12,998), he said, while the majority (83%) were Albanian nationals. Voluntary returns also dropped, from 6,153 in 2016 to 5,657 in 2017.

Administrative custody at holding centers rose by 60% (2,598 individuals on November 1, compared to 1,583 the same date in 2016). The 2017 numbers are five times higher than those of 2015, when people held prior to returning totalled 500. Most were held at temporary holding centers, while 27% were held at police stations, Ombudsamn Andreas Pottakis said.

According to Pottakis, the main problems his office found included inadequate interpretation services (only 46%), placement in custody of individuals for undefined public safety reasons, and the lack of proper registration when entering the country. On the positive side, he said the use of handcuffs had dropped off, especially when carried out indisriminately.

He added that his office had been working closely with the EU’s border control service, Frontex, since 2017.

The day-long meeting on the report was attended by Hellenic Police deputy chief officers Achilleas Skandalis, head of the Foreigners and Border Protection Unit, who said that “we don’t want to keep people at police stations, but don’t have other detention facilities”. He said that 69 minors were held at police stations as of November 23, for reasons of protection.

Other problems in services those face in holding centers is lack of doctors, medical assistants, social workers, and especially lack of psychiatric specialists.

In a videotaped message, EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos spoke of revisions to the European laws for returns that would improve efficiency, time held, prevention of escapes and abuses, and of “a new border process through which individuals whose asylum application have been rejected will be directly placed under a simplified return process.”