In this article, you will find information on how to travel from an island to the mainland and the process you need to follow. 


Who gets transferred?

If you arrive on the islands and apply for asylum, you might be imposed with a geographical restriction that prohibits you from leaving the island. This restriction will be written on your applicant’s smart card.

The geographical restriction can, as a rule, be lifted in the following cases:

The authority responsible for lifting geographical restrictions is the Reception and Identification Service (RIS), which has dedicated staff inside the Reception and Identification Centres (RICs) on the islands and the Closed Controlled Access Centers of the Islands. You can most commonly find them in the operating “transfer desks”. The time until such a decision on lifting geographical restriction is issued varies. Make sure to ask the responsible staff on site about the timeline.

If the geographical restriction is lifted, RIS staff can add you (and your family) to the list for transfers to the mainland. They will notify you once it is your turn to travel. Keep in mind that persons with urgent health issues are prioritized, while the size of the family and the availability of apartments on the mainland can influence the transfer. You should know that the time from the moment of registration in the transfer lists until the actual transfer varies and you will most probably be informed about it with very short notice (usually a day before).


Useful information

  • The Ministry of Migration and Asylum decides which mainland camp you will be assigned to.
  • They will inform you at least 24 hours before your transfer.
  • You must appear at your assigned site or lose access to camps and other accommodations across Greece. You may also lose access to other humanitarian services, including cash assistance.
  • When your transfer is organized by the Greek authorities (known as “organized transfers”), the regional Asylum Service and the agency that provides cash assistance in your new area should get advance notice of your arrival, so you should keep getting all the same services.

You cannot choose the camp or the city you will be transferred to.


Questions and answers

Can I refuse my transfer?

You can only refuse a transfer from an island to the mainland by providing a valid reason. Valid reasons are considered to be:

  • Serious health issues
  • Family unity (if a member of your close family is left behind)
  • Pending documents you are waiting to collect from the Asylum Service
  • The pending decision about who your guardian is (if you are under 18)

You can deny the transfer by approaching the transfer desk with documentation that proves you have one of the above reasons. The Ministry of Migration Policy examines and decides on your request.


Can I leave the island right after my geographical restriction is lifted?

You can leave the island at your own expense or wait for an official transfer to the mainland. These transfers are organized and conducted by the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum. Restrictions to transfers from the islands to the mainland have been imposed at times due to emergencies, such as COVID-19.

Even when your geographical restriction is lifted, if you leave the island on your own, you will lose access to camps, other accommodation across Greece and cash assistance. You will have to find accommodation and pay for it on the mainland. This happens because when you leave the island alone, the authorities assume you can afford to take care of yourself and pay for your housing and services. f you cannot afford to pay for accommodation, make sure to gather contact information of protection actors present in the place you are travelling to before your departure to guide you through the available services and steps to follow.


What happens with my asylum interview if I move to the mainland?

If your geographical restriction is lifted and you are moved to the mainland through an organized transfer, your asylum procedure does not get disrupted. You will receive a document from the Regional Asylum Office (RAO) of the island you are leaving from. You must approach the RAO closest to your new address to get a new interview date.


My geographical restriction has been lifted — what happens with my asylum interview if I move to the mainland on my own?

If your geographical restriction is lifted and you move from the islands to any place within Greece on your own, the Greek Asylum Service will not transfer your case to another office. You might have to return to the island where you applied for asylum and conduct your asylum interview there. You may address a legal NGO to check if you can apply to the Asylum Service to transfer your file to another office on the mainland.

It’s essential to inform the Greek Asylum Service about any change to your address or contact details so you can stay up-to-date on your case and ensure you don’t miss any appointments.


What happens if I leave the island before my geographical restriction has been lifted?

Authorities will consider you to have travelled and stayed illegally wherever you are in Greece. You will not be able to access accommodation, cash assistance or any other service. You will not be able to proceed with your asylum application. You will always risk getting detained and sent back to the island you left from during any police check. If you find yourself in this situation, contact a legal NGO to get information about the possible steps.

The Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum and UNHCR advise people who have left the islands while still under their geographical restriction to go back to the island where they applied for asylum at their own expense. However, legal NGOs highlight that, especially if you are a single man travelling alone, you face an extremely high risk of getting detained when you return to the island. We recommend you take the advice of a legal actor or a lawyer before you decide to leave the island under your geographical restriction.