Blog post by Maureen Krösschell and Alexandra Kempf, part of the Amsterdam European Law Clinic Team 2022/2023

Since 2015, the European Commission has adopted a new approach to refugee policy: the hotspot approach. Building on the hotspot approach, the European Commission and Greece signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on a Joint Project for the establishment and operation of a Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centre. Since the signing of the MoU in December 2020, specific centres at the borders of Europe have been at the heart of the hotspot approach in Greece. Greece does not refer to these centres as Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centres like the European Commission, instead Greek law uses the term Closed Controlled Access Centres (CCAC) to refer to the same kind of centres. CCACs aim to register and identify asylum seekers, while also providing them with accommodation and material support. In 2021, the first CCAC was opened on the Greek island Samos, others followed. Currently, a new CCAC is under construction in Vastria on the Greek island of Lesvos. However, the highest administrative court in Greece has cancelled the permit for the construction of the camp due to environmental reasons. Therefore, the opening of the camp is currently debated. It is, however, not sufficient to only address environmental law in the current debate. Various human rights concerns have been raised by NGOs that need to be part of the legal discourse. One of these NGOs is Now You See Me, an NGO that defends the rights of refugees. At the request of Now You See Me, we (the Amsterdam European Law Clinic) have legally assessed the conformity of the conditions in the Vastria CCAC with human rights standards. This is the basis for our contribution to the Refugee Law Initiative Blog. Our contribution is divided into a mini-series consisting of three blog posts. Each blog post will delve into one human rights aspect. This blog post considers the isolation of asylum-seekers that will be placed in the Vastria CCAC and what this isolation means in relation to the right to liberty and detention. The other two blog posts will discuss the right to life and the right to education.

Will asylum-seekers be isolated in the Vastria CCAC?

The CCACs on the Greek islands have been criticised for being ‘prison-like’ referring to the 24/7 surveillance, barbed wire fences, limited access to essential services and their remote locations. In relation to the remoteness, the prospective Vastria CCAC stands out from CCACs on other islands, because it is the furthest away from the nearest town. The Vastria CCAC is located 30km far from Mytilene, the administrative, social, and cultural centre of Lesvos, while CCACs on other islands are situated between 6km and 15km from their respective island centres. Additionally, the Vastria CCAC is surrounded by a forest.

Asylum-seekers will be isolated while undergoing the registration and identification procedure in the Vastria CCAC as they are not allowed to leave the camp during that procedure, which can last up to 25 days according to Greek law. But also, after the registration and identification procedure, when asylum-seekers are allowed to leave the CCAC during the day, the distance to the centre of Lesvos and the location in the forest will lead to the isolation of asylum-seekers as it separates them from the world outside of the camp.

To elaborate, asylum-seekers will need to travel 30km to Mytilene to buy essentials or maintain social contact with people from outside the camp. 60 kilometres (to the city and back) is too far to walk not only for certain groups of people (children, elderly), but also for physically healthy people. The road to the city is now dirty and still unpaved, which makes it even more challenging. Additionally, it is not yet clear, whether a bus will run between Mytilene and the Vastria CCAC. Another issue is the curfew that is applied in CCACs. Currently the rule is that people living in a CCAC must be back at 9pm. This leaves them hardly any time to spend in Mytilene, considering how much time it costs them to go there and travel back again. These aspects contribute to a high level of isolation for the asylum seekers in the CCAC. Consequently, it would impact their everyday life greatly, as we already see in the CCAC Samos, which is not even that far from the island’s centre as the Vastria CCAC would be.

How is isolation related to the right to liberty and detention?

Considering that the isolation will have such an impact on the daily lives of asylum seekers in the Vastria CCAC, the question arises as to how this isolation can be assessed legally. In the following paragraphs, we will look at the asylum seekers’ isolation from the legal angle of detention. Our argument is that isolation is a factor that needs to be considered when assessing whether a situation amounts to detention.

Within human rights law, detention is relevant in the context of the right to liberty and security because the right to liberty and security entails the protection from unlawful detention. One fundamental human rights provision that guarantees the right to liberty and security is Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 5 ECHR states that detention must be “in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law”. Greek law does not provide for such a procedure in the context of CCACs, as it does not consider the placement of asylum-seekers in the CCAC as a form of detention. This means that if we conclude that the situation in the Vastria CCAC is a form of detention, the required legal ground in Greek law would be missing, rendering the detention unlawful and in violation with Article 5 ECHR.

Before assessing the concrete situation in the Vastria CCAC, we need to clarify what circumstances qualify a situation as detention. In other words, what exactly is detention? There is a lot of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case law that helps answering this question. To determine whether a situation qualifies as detention, the ECtHR takes the concrete situation of an individual as the starting point and considers a whole range of factors that arise in a particular case, such as the type, duration, effects and manner of implementation of the measure in question. In standing case law, the ECtHR has specified these factors and considered the following aspects: confinement of a person in a particular restricted space for a not negligible length of time; the possibility to leave the restricted area; the degree of supervision and control over the person’s movement; and the extent of isolation and the availability of social contacts. This is where isolation comes into the picture: isolation is a factor that might contribute to a finding of detention. However, until now the ECtHR has considered the aspect of isolation only in a handful of cases. It is especially striking that isolation has not yet played a role in ECtHR cases that related to the question of detention in refugee camps. In respect to the CCACs on the Greek islands the aspect of isolation should be revisited and given significant importance when assessing whether asylum seekers will be detained there.

One of the few cases in which the ECtHR considered the isolation of the person concerned to determine whether the situation amounted to detention is the case of Guzzardi v Italy. Guzzardi v Italy is a case about Mr Guzzardi, who had been tried for criminal activity and sentenced to compulsory residence on a small island. Here, Mr Guzzardi was subjected to various restrictions that limited his freedom. The ECtHR had to decide whether the situation in which Mr Guzzardi lived amounted to detention. The Court found that Mr Guzzardi’s situation was a situation of detention, even though he was not held in a cell, which would be the ‘classic’ form of detention. The Court reasoned that even though the restrictions individually would not lead to a finding of detention, the combination of the restrictions did. To support their argument, the Court referred to Mr Guzzardi’s situation as resembling detention in an “open prison”. Some of the Court’s considerations relate to the level of isolation that Mr Guzzardi experienced. These will be compared to the situation of the asylum seekers in the Vastria CCAC in the following paragraph.

Could the isolation of the people in the Vastria CCAC amount to detention and therefore possibly interfere with their right to liberty?

In Guzzardi v Italy, the ECtHR considers the actual position of Mr. Guzzardi on the island by examining whether he could actually use the time, that he was allowed to leave his residence, to visit the villages on the island or go to the mainland. He received an order, issued by an Italian court, to not return to the residence later than 10 pm and not go out before 7 am. Additionally, he was restricted by an administrative order that did not allow him to visit the village on the island and he could not visit the mainland without permission and supervision. Consequently, he could not make any social contacts outside his near family, his fellow residents and the supervisory staff.

The situation in the CCAC is comparable to the Guzzardi v Italy case in different aspects. Namely, asylum seekers in the CCAC are generally not allowed to leave the island Lesvos, just as Mr Guzzardi was practically unable to leave the island where he lived. Additionally, due to the isolated location of the camp and the curfew it is highly unlikely that the asylum seekers will be able to engage in the social life on the island, which was a factor that added up to isolation in the Guzzardi v Italy case. For a final assessment of this aspect, it is important to know whether a bus will run between the CCAC and Mytilene because this could largely expand the actual options for asylum seekers to leave the camp and engage in the social life outside the camp. Some practical matters that are to be considered are whether the bus runs regularly, whether the capacity of the bus is sufficient and whether a bus ticket would be affordable for the asylum seekers; the CCAC on Samos, for example, has a bus connection to the town nearby, but the price of the ticket is a heavy financial burden for some. Information about a bus connection is currently not provided for by the Greek government.

Given the similarities between the Guzzardi v Italy case and the Vastria CCAC case at hand, the starting point to assess the level of isolation should be the actual ability to engage in life outside the residence, just as the ECtHR used this as a starting point in Guzzardi v Italy. This means that it is essential to obtain accurate information regarding the extent of isolation faced by asylum seekers to determine their actual ability, rather than just theoretical potential, to access nearby cities.


In conclusion, the isolated location of the Vastria CCAC is of crucial importance to the asylum seekers that will be placed there. The level of isolation is a factor that needs to be considered in the assessment of detention, as the Court has demonstrated in the Guzzardi case. We suggest, based on the information provided in this blogpost, that indeed the level of isolation that the asylum seekers will experience in the Vastria CCAC will contribute to a finding of detention. However, this is not the only factor that is important. Other factors, such as the level of restrictions that is placed upon asylum seekers, the time period that they stay in the CCAC and the extent to which they have a free choice, also need to be examined. If all these aspects, taken together, point towards a situation of detention, the Greek government would breach article 5 ECHR when placing asylum seekers in the Vastria CCAC, because there is no legal basis for this detention. Currently, it suffices to conclude that isolation plays a role in both the perception of being detained and the legal assessment of detention.   

The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Refugee Law Initiative. We welcome comments and contributions to this blog – please comment below and see here for contribution guidelines.