New asylum system in Greece designed to deport, not protect, warns Greek Council for Refugees and Oxfam

New asylum system in Greece designed to deport, not protect, warns Greek Council for Refugees and Oxfam

Oxfam Ireland call on Irish Government to honour commitment made on unaccompanied minors

A briefing paper released by the Greek Council of Refugees (GCR) and Oxfam today, reveals how the newly reformed Greek asylum system is designed to deport people rather than offer them safety and protection. The joint report, Diminished, Derogated, Denied, shows that people who have fled violence and persecution have little chance of a fair asylum procedure, and how the new reforms make it possible to expose people to abuse and exploitation – including the detention of particularly vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women and people with disabilities.

Evelien van Roemburg, Oxfam’s Europe Migration Campaign Manager, said: “Greece’s new law is a blatant attack on Europe’s humanitarian commitment to protect people fleeing conflict and persecution. The European Union is complicit in this abuse, because for years it has been using Greece as a test ground for new migration policies. We are extremely worried that the EU will now use Greece’s asylum system as a blueprint for Europe’s upcoming asylum reform.

“While Greece has a sovereign right to manage its borders, it must protect the fundamental principle of non-refoulement. The EU and Greece have made a political choice to jeopardise the lives and futures of people it has a responsibility to protect.”

This situation is further aggravated by the inhumane living conditions in Greece’s refugee camps where people are now at risk of a devastating health crisis should COVID-19 hit. Moria camp, for example, is currently at six times its capacity and people have insufficient access to basic healthcare, clean toilets or handwashing facilities, while overcrowding makes social distancing - critical to prevent COVID-19 spreading - next to impossible.

Testimonies gathered by the Greek Council for Refugees expose the harrowing living conditions for people seeking asylum in Moria camp. Rawan*, from Afghanistan, came to Greece with her two children to seek safety in Europe. A single mother, and also a survivor of gender-based violence, Rawan was forced to live for six months in a tent, in the overspill area of the Moria camp, where basic facilities such as toilets are not always accessible.

Rawan, from Afghanistan said: “The situation in Moria was scary. During the pandemic, everybody was afraid that if the virus gets to us, then they will dig a mass grave to bury us. They only gave us two masks and soap. But how are we supposed to wash our hands without water? In the food line, it was so packed, we couldn’t keep a distance. We were not protected.”

The reformed asylum law effectively bars people who don’t have legal support from appealing a negative asylum decision. Deadlines have been shortened drastically and, in many cases, expire before people are even informed that their application for asylum was refused. People seeking asylum are only able to submit an appeal through a lawyer – but, on Lesbos, there is only one state-sponsored lawyer. The asylum system also makes it extremely difficult for people seeking asylum to have the authorities properly review the reasons why they have fled conflict or persecution in their home countries.

Spyros-Vlad Oikonomou, advocacy officer at GCR said: “When the Greek authorities refuse an asylum application, it does not necessarily mean people are not in need of international protection. It is often a consequence of the accelerated asylum procedure applied in the context of border procedures. Short deadlines increase the possibility of errors. In addition, people don’t have the time or a suitable environment that allows them to prepare for the asylum interview, in which they have to speak about the horrors from which they have fled.

“This puts people’s lives at risk.

“The Greek government must restore a fair asylum system, which fully respects human rights. The European Commission must review Greece’s asylum practices and assess their compliance with EU law.”

Oxfam and GCR call on the Greek government and the EU to immediately review the new Greek asylum law and give everyone seeking asylum in Greece access to a fair and effective asylum procedure. They also call on EU member states to honour the principle of solidarity underlying the very fabric of the EU, and share responsibility with Greece in protecting people fleeing persecution.

In March, Ireland joined a coalition of willing EU member states who agreed to take a portion of the 1,600 unaccompanied refugee children being held on the Greek Islands. Several countries have already relocated children to their respective states. Ireland, by fulfilling this commitment, can demonstrate an important first step to responsibility sharing and an immediate show of solidarity in these challenging and unprecedented times. The unaccompanied minors on the Greek Islands, children alone in the world, are in need of a safe place now more than ever.

Ends

Contact:

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 83 198 1869

Notes to editors:

* Names have been changed to protect identities.

  • Spokespeople are available in Athens, Lesbos and Brussels for interview
  • Full report: Diminished, Derogated, Denied
  • The Greek government also illegally suspended asylum applications for the month of March.
  • While the authorities sometimes decide within days on the asylum requests of people who arrived in 2020, those who have arrived in 2019 have to wait for months or even years for their first interview to take place. During this period, most are not allowed to leave the inhuman EU-sponsored camps on the Greek islands.
  • The Greek authorities are required to offer legal support to people seeking asylum in the appeals stage. This is to ensure that any mistakes in the first instance can be corrected and people entitled to international protection are not returned to potentially dangerous places. However, state-funded lawyers is very limited and in 2019, only 33% of appeals benefited from the state-funded legal support scheme. The majority of people are directed to NGO-funded lawyers, but NGOs have limited capacity and the restricted movement in the camps also prevents people from easily finding a lawyer at an NGO.
  • The European Commission will soon release a new Migration and Asylum Pact, which will lay out the direction for the EU and member states to reform the EU asylum system and the bloc’s migration policies. The new Pact will most likely suggest to use more development aid to curb migration, and it risks perpetuating the humanitarian catastrophe that has been unfolding in Greece over the past years.
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