Since 2012, Greece has undergone a significant restructuring of its migration management system, focusing on curbing irregular migratory flows and boosting its asylum services. Migrants of Afghan origin are one of the main groups on the receiving end of these policies. The second highest nationality in irregular arrivals in Greece in the last five years, Afghans were termed ‘transit migrants’ from early on. This paper looks at Afghan migration to Greece and specifically the issue of asylum, both how it is understood and access to it. The study examines how Afghans perceive asylum and their chosen destinations, as well as how they responded to the policies in place in Greece during the period 2012–2014. The paper takes particular note of the policies of systematic detention and how it impacted access to asylum and returns, drawing from qualitative interviews and fieldwork in the framework of the IRMA project.