Life on the inside: a detainee shows us around a prison for illegal immigrants

 An imprisoned illegal immigrant has managed to send us photos from inside his detention centre in Corinth, Greece. He told us about the conditions he and hundreds of other detained illegal immigrants live in.




An imprisoned illegal immigrant has managed to send us photos from inside his detention centre in Corinth, Greece. He told us about the conditions he and hundreds of other detained illegal immigrants live in.


Arrests of illegal immigrants have shot up since mid-2012 in Greece. In August, a police initiative called “Xenios Deus” led to the arrest of 7,000 immigrants in less than three days in Athens. Most of these immigrants come from Africa and Asia.


Following these arrests, Amnesty International condemned the conditions of the Greek detention centres for illegal immigrants. Some of those arrested were even kept in prison beyond the maximum allowed time. Regular Greek prisons are overflowing, so the government had to build thirty new detention centres in Athens, some of which were built on former military sites.


Since 2008, the European Convention on Human Rights has held that an immigrant that has gone through one country but was arrested in another will be sent back to the first country through which they entered Europe. Greece, however, is suffering from the relaxed attitude of its neighbour Turkey — which is not a European Union member — toward securing its common border. On average, 300 illegal immigrants arrive in Greece every day.


Photos from the detention centre's yard in Corinth. The centre is a former military camp.

“The detention center does not have hot water and the heating doesn’t work”

Adelphe (not his real name) is originally from Sub-Saharan Africa. He told us he fled his country last April due to ethnic conflicts and immigrated to Turkey and then Greece. He was arrested in Athens on December 20, 2012 in the apartment where he lived with eight other people, including several relatives.


The police arrived because they were looking for people who were selling counterfeit goods. We have nothing to do with that, but the police still asked to see our papers. Since our residence permits had expired, they handcuffed us as if we were criminals and took us away in police vans.


We were taken to the Immigration Ministry and then transferred to the prison in Aspropyrgos, in northern Athens, without trial. There were 20 of us in a 5 square metre cell and we couldn’t see any daylight. I am mildly diabetic, but they would not give me my medication. I began to have severe nausea and stomach pains, and I had to be brought to the hospital. The doctor decided that I needed to be kept somewhere else. I am now in a detention centre in Corinth, 80 kilometres west of Athens, but I am still not able to get any of the medication I need. My brother, cousin, and nephew are all still held in Aspropyrgos.



The prisoners are allowed two hours a day to get fresh air.


“We have means of entertaining ourselves”

We are between 150 and 200 undocumented men held here, in six buildings, on a former military site turned into a prison. There are 40 of us in total in my cell, which is about seven metres wide and 15 metres long. There is nothing in our cell, no means by which to entertain ourselves – no books, no television. We are just allowed to go outside twice a day to get some fresh air. There is a staggered system to ensure that prisoners are never all outside at the same time. But even outside, there is nothing to do. Some walk a bit or do some exercise, and we occasionally are allowed to have a ball to play some football.



“There is nearly nothing to eat […] but complaining is very difficult when you don’t speak Greek or English”


The centre has an agreement with a local caterer that gives his leftovers to the centre, but we still have nearly nothing to eat: small bowls of green beans, a bit of bread, and Greek foods that we, as foreigners, have a hard time digesting because we just aren’t used to this food. We need to queue up to drink water because there are only three sinks.


The toilets are very dirty and there are only four stalls and two showers for the forty people in the building. Sometimes I can only take one shower in a given week. It’s winter now, but there is no hot water and the heaters don’t work [Editor’s note: last October, Corinthians protested against the conditions in this detention centre.]. Complaining is very difficult when you don’t speak Greek or English. Some detainees try to act as interpreters, but the guards don’t listen to us and don’t care about our living conditions.


The sinks from which the prisoners drink and their showers.


“We’re treated like murderers, but our only crime is not having the right papers”


Here, there are many people from the Maghreb, India, Bangladesh, and Sub-Saharan Africa. They allow us to keep our cell phones to have a way of reaching our families, but we are not authorized to take pictures with them due to the presence of the police and military who come and go around our centre. Very frequently, fights break out between the detainees, and theft is a common problem. Some have been grievously injured in brawls that went awry.


This is no way to live. We are treated like murderers, when our only crime is not having the right papers. They tell us that they will keep us behind bars for 12 months [since October 2012, an asylum seeker can legally be kept in prison for a year in Greece]. Even when you ask for asylum and have the pink card [a form given following a request for asylum before a final decision is made], you can be arrested. After a year in here, what will become of me? I am very worried, especially given my deteriorating health.


Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).