The Corinth pre-removal centre was established as part of the Greek government’s plan to expand its detention system in 2012, together with Amygdaleza, Drama Paranesti and Xanthi. It is situated in a former military camp (in fact, when it opened there were still 100 conscripts there serving their military duties), one hour away from Athens, with a capacity for 1,536 people. Opposing the opening of such a facility in the area, the regional authorities took a clear stance from the beginning. They discontinued water supply to the centre and garbage collection, worsening living conditions, as corroborated by detention officers who worked there. Two years later, the Vice Mayor admitted 'We hear that conditions are not ideal and this is something that should be addressed by those who brought them here and host them, it's their responsibility. We have nothing to do with this'. Furthermore, its proximity to the town centre was not well-received either. 'The danger always lurks. After a riot, there is always the danger that some [detainees] could escape and take one of our kids hostage and blackmail him, to enter into our houses...' explained the Vice-Mayor. In other words, the centre was perceived as a locus of risk.
The camp is composed of eight two-storey buildings. Each building has two wings with four large dormitories each with a capacity of 12. When visited by a European delegation in 2012, the centre held almost 1,050 people, most of whom had been there for over a year in abhorrent conditions. Apparently those transferred to the centre were arrested in the wider region living in abandoned buildings and an old train station. As then Minister of Public Protection, Mr Dendias, confirmed 'It would be a threat to public health if these foreigners were free to roam the town and allowed to stay' in these facilities. Several problems were reported: total lack of medical services leading to the death of two Afghan detainees of untreated diseases in 2013, absence of procedural guarantees (people reported not being notified of detention decisions) exacerbated by limited access to legal aid and NGOs, as well as poor living conditions (overcrowding, two toilets for more than 70 people, poor food, no hygiene items offered). Uprisings, suicides and self-harm are not uncommon in this context. On 18 November 2012, a large revolt broke out in the Corinth centre. Almost 800 people protested against the duration and conditions of detention. The revolt ended brutally repressed by anti-riot police. Many detainees were injured, arrested and prosecuted, but most were later acquitted by the court.
On 24th August 2013, a man committed suicide by jumping from one of the buildings. In 2014 an advisory opinion of the Greek Legal Council allowed authorities to prolong detention beyond the 18-month limit until the detainee has consented to be returned. This led to yet another series of protests. ‘Today on 9.6.2014 we people detained in the detention centre of Corinth have started a hunger strike. We feel an immense pressure due to our unknown destinies. We protest against the illegal extension of the detention duration to more than 18 months!’ wrote the detainees in their statement. When the centre was visited at the end of June 2014 by a delegation of Greek lawyers, of 700 persons, 117 had been detained there for more than 18 months. They also reported two extremely vulnerable cases; a Bangladeshi national who had been detained for 19 months and had committed acts of self-harm but had not been attended to or released and Palestinian national who had swallowed razor blades had been transferred to the Petrou Ralli detention centre after a brief hospitalization.
When the leftist government came into power in the beginning of 2015 and amid announcements that all detention centres would be closed, the Corinth pre-removal centre was emptied. However, as has been documented, a number of developments led to the government resorting to detention once again. At the end of 2015, the Corinth facility was being used for the detention of nationals of North African countries, followed by Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals. When Aitima visited Corinth in the beginning of 2016 Moroccans and Algerians made up the majority of detainees, whereas a few months later the majority were Pakistani citizens.
Following its 2015 visit to the facility the CPT reported that there was no hot water, most of the showers did not work, people were not provided with any hygiene products, while there was an absolute lack of provision for activities. Detainees complained about the lack of information about their future and medical care. Despite the centre’s proximity to Athens, it was rarely visited by lawyers or other human rights organisations. People detained there depended on documents handed to them by the police in languages they did not understand (there are no interpreters at the facility). Compounding matters, since December 2014 there had been no regular presence of a doctor at the centre, forcing an untrained officer to be in charge of managing the detainees’ health care needs. In 2015 yet another hunger strike was underway at the centre.
In 2016 the situation did not fare any better. As Aitima reported, the cells and mattresses were dirty leading to the proliferation of skin diseases, exacerbated by the very limited provision of hygiene items. Due to the lack of staff, detainees claimed that they were allowed to go outside for only one hour a day but not every day. As for the lack of regime, there were still no recreational or educational activities offered on site. In relation to the provision of medical services, a doctor by KEELPNO visited the centre four times a week, while in the recent past MSF visited the centre twice a week and other NGOs offered psychological support. Notwithstanding many detainees report skin diseases, which are left unattended. In October 2016, detainees tried to escape from the centre and when they were caught from the police tried to protest against the conditions of their confinement by setting their mattresses on fire. In 2017 more than 800 people detained there decided to abstain from food.
Similar conditions were observed by the GCR in 2018. Over the course of 2018, 2,714 people had been detained in the centre, of whom 2,631 were asylum seekers. Despite this large proportion of asylum applicants, access to the asylum procedure for persons detained for the purpose of removal is highly problematic. The time period between the expression of intention to apply for asylum and the registration of the claim varies depending the circumstances of each case, and in particular the capacity of the competent authority, the availability of interpretation, and the number of people willing to apply for asylum from detention. For example, according to GCR’s experience, an average period of one to one and a half months was needed for the registration of applications by persons detained in Corinth. As of the end of 2018, AEMY provided the following services, 1 doctor, 5 nurses, 1 interpreter, 2 psychologists and 2 social workers. The centre has lately adopted the good practice of allowing people to use their mobile phones.
On 13 September 2019, a new refugee accommodation site (camp) was opened adjacent to the detention centre to hold refugees transferred from the islands. According to RSA, living conditions are squalid, the camp is far from essential services and there is a lack of activities on offer. This makes people housed there, similar to those detained right next to them, feel abandoned, not well informed about legal procedures and their rights and some have even reported they feel in danger.
In November 2020, the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, with a letter to UNHCR and the National Commission for Human Rights (see below), presented the situation of 21 Iraqi Kurdish refugees held in the detention centre under deplorable conditions. The men went on hunger strike from 16th to 21st November, 2020, to protest against their living situation and the lack of any information about their asylum cases. The letter urges the authorities to recognise their asylum claims as many were politically active in Iraq and immediately stop any deportation procedures that would put the men in question into danger.
[the above is constantly updated]