Greek islands arrival guide: 6 things you need to know

Just arrived on one of the Greek islands? This post is for you.

If you recently came to a Greek island, you may have questions about what’s coming next and how to get the services you need.

We are working hard to expand the information we have available to people on the Greek islands, and we will publish lots more soon.

In the meantime, here is some information we hope will help you take your first steps in Greece.

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1. Emergency numbers

Know what number to call if you're in trouble.

In a medical emergency: Call 112

For an ambulance: Call 166

For the police: Call 100

2. Services available to you

If you are on Lesvos, you can check out the services available to refugees — like legal aid, internet services, programs for children, hospitals and more — on our Service Map.

If you are on another island, we haven't mapped the services near you yet, but we are working on it.

For legal aid on any island, you can contact Advocates Abroad.

Once we have listed more services on other islands, we'll let you know.

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3. Your right to seek asylum in Greece

No matter who you are or where you're from, you have the legal right to seek asylum in Greece.

If you apply for asylum in Greece and your application is successful, you will either be offered:

  • Refugee status (full asylum)
  • Subsidiary protection (partial asylum), which is protection for people who sought asylum but do not qualify for refugee status

What happens before you can apply

Here's what lawyers at the respected Greek organization Solidarity Now told us about the process you'll go through on the islands before you can seek asylum:

When you arrive on a Greek island, Frontex and the police will conduct a "nationality screening" and take your fingerprints. The police will record your identity and note that Greece was the first place you entered the European Union.

Next, the Reception and Identification Service will perform its "reception and identification procedure."

It will register your name, age, gender and anything that makes you especially "vulnerable," including any medical condition you may have. (That's because people who are part of vulnerable groups may get priority for certain services and procedures.)

During this registration process, you will probably undergo a medical screening and age verification procedure.

What else to know during this procedure

If you are under 18, it is important that you say so during this procedure. It's very hard to change your birthdate later.

If you ask to seek asylum, your claim will be sent to a Regional Asylum Office near you. The Asylum Office will schedule an appointment for you to begin the asylum application process.

If you have immediate family you want to join in another European country, it is important that you say so during this procedure. (If you are an adult, "immediate family" means your spouse or children under 18. If you are under 18, "immediate family" means your parents or siblings.)

We'll post more information about applying for asylum on the islands soon, but if you have questions about that process or anything else, you can always message us on Facebook and we'll try to find answers.

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4. Where you can expect to stay

At first you will stay in one of the formal sites — a “hotspot” or a camp.

Later, some people can move to an apartment or social housing if they meet certain criteria. Others stay in hotspots or camps for a long time — sometimes even years.

When you first arrive, you may be placed in detention right away, especially if you are a single male.

Screen-Shot-2017-12-05-at-10.29.55-1Photo: UNHCR/Alfredo D’Amato

5. Your right to cash assistance and health care

While you stay on a Greek island, you are eligible to receive cash assistance, except if you are in detention.

The amount you get depends on how many people are in your family and the food available to you at the place you're staying. Amounts range from €90 to €550 and are the same everywhere in Greece.

You also have the right to free primary health care, though getting it can be challenging sometimes. You can learn more about that in this Refugee.Info blog post.

GREECE_UNHCR_2017Photo: UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis

6. When you can be transferred to the mainland

Many people on the islands would like to be transferred to mainland Greece. If you are considered vulnerable or have been accepted to join family in another European country through Family Reunification, you may be transferred to the mainland.

How it works

The system for transferring people to the mainland can sometimes seem random or unfair.

When you arrive on the Greek islands, you are subject to a geographical restriction. That means you cannot leave the Greek island you are on without permission.

You will be subject to the restriction while you complete the registration process on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos or Kos and have your first interview with the Greek Asylum Service.

If you decide to leave your island before your geographical restriction is lifted, you will lose your right to accommodation, cash assistance and other services on the mainland. You will not be able to continue your asylum procedure there, either.

When your geographical restriction is lifted, you will be in line to be transferred to the mainland. However, you can't leave right away — you have to wait your turn to take an official transfer to the mainland.

If you are in a hotspot and your geographical restriction is lifted, you will get a written referral decision to a mainland site from the director of the Reception and Identification Service.

You will be offered organized transfer to your assigned mainland site. If you don’t appear at your assigned site within 15 days, you will lose your right to accommodation.

Important: It's important to take the organized transfer to the mainland. If you leave another way, you will lose your right to accommodation on the mainland, and you will have to reapply for cash assistance through the National Cash Hotline.

How long it takes

Waiting to be transferred to the mainland can take a long time. Transfers don't proceed in order of who arrived first — people who are considered part of a vulnerable group (for example, pregnant women and sick people) get priority.

Sometimes, the transfer process gets delayed. In October and November 2017, the process slowed down because camps on the mainland didn't have enough space for new people.

If you think you might have missed your turn, ask UNHCR staff to check.


Have more questions? Go ahead and message us on Facebook and we will reply ASAP.

Welcome to Greece.