21st Mar 2018

Private security firms bid on Greek asylum centres

  • British firm G4S, the world's largest private security firm, is among bidders (Photo:

Private security firms are bidding to guard EU-funded migrant detention centres in Greece amid a report by Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), which says poor conditions in some of the facilities are causing disease.

Greek authorities received EU money to refurbish and renovate Fylakio Oresteiadas, a pre-removal detention centre located in a remote area near the Turkish border.

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Greece now wants to outsource its security, along with two other pre-removal centres in Corinth and Paranesti Dramas, to a private security firm for €14 million a year.

Fylakio was among others included in a scathing MSF report out on Tuesday (1 April).

Detained migrants and asylum seekers are suffering from medical problems caused or aggravated by poor conditions, the length of detention, and the lack of consistent or adequate medical assistance, it says.

“Most of the diseases I treat are connected to the detention circumstances. For example, it is too humid – I have seen patients who sleep on completely wet mattresses,” said one MSF doctor, cited in the report.

Michael Flynn, who runs the Global Detention Project at the Swiss-based Graduate Institute of International Studies, says outsourcing detention facilities to private security companies is a growing phenomenon.

“There should always be a concern when a state invites a for-profit contractor into the management structure of something like immigration-related detention,” he said.

Introducing private contractors shifts the policy focus away from the well-being of migrants to the bottom line of a company, he said.

“This is inevitable, this is just the nature of business,” he said.

The well-being of those detainees, according to the MSF report, is already being neglected despite the around €35 million Greece received last year from the EU’s return fund.

The money is supposed to help voluntary return and reintegration programmes but the bulk of the money is said to have gone to border control and detention centres.

At Fylakio, the EU co-financed expenses of operational costs like food, cleaning, hot water, clothing, medical supplies and heating.

EU home affairs spokesperson Michael Cercone, for his part, said in an email the commission is not aware of any EU funding earmarked for Greece in relation to security services for Fylakio.

He noted that member states are responsible for the money being spent correctly.

“EU money would be only paid if all the relevant conditions and obligations are fulfilled by the authorities of member states,” he said.

A commission-drafted implementation report on Fylakio is due out in March 2016.

Despite the extra money from Brussels, the detention centre still has problems.

“The biggest issue is that since May 2013 there is no daily presence of medical staff,” said a contact at the Greek Refugee Council.

“The infirmary room also hosts unaccompanied minors waiting for their transfer to children facilities. There are no beds, they are sleeping on dirty mattresses thrown on the floor,” noted the contact.

Scabies broke out at the facility at the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013.

The Fylakio centre at the time of the scabies outbreak had new washing machines purchased by the EU funds but they were not hooked up.

“They were never connected, the police did not have the money to pay someone to come and connect the washing machines,” Ioanna Kotsioni, at MSF in Greece, told this website.

Greek authorities then report back to the commission with invoices to prove the purchases. There is no follow-up by the commission.

"They [European Commission] should establish a mechanism of independent monitoring because these people are deprived of their liberty based on administrative decisions," she said.

Meanwhile, the multi-million euro contract has already attracted bids from over a half dozen firms.

Among them is G4S, the world’s largest private security firm, which has come under criticism for the treatment of detainees at its three UK-based asylum centres.

Mega Sprint Guard, JCB Security and Facility, and Swedish Systems Security are also in the bidding, among others.

The call for tenders closed in mid-January.

Legal groundwork

The legal groundwork to outsource the facilities was years in the making. Greek lawmakers amended its asylum service and reception laws in 2012.

The reformed legislation gave Greece’s minister of citizen’s protection the right to transfer the responsibility of guarding the centres from the Greek police directly to private security firms.

It built a 12.5 km razor wire fence along its land border with Turkey to keep people from crossing in.

Two years ago, it launched police operation “Xenios Zeus” aimed at rounding up migrants.

Police detained over 120,000 migrants between August 2012 and June 2013. Less than 6 percent had no residency permits.

Undocumented migrants are arrested and transferred to the centres where they can remain for up to 18 months.

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