Greece: Suspension of protection grant and arbitrary detention after first-ever government appeal against positive asylum decision

Administrative Court of Athens

The Administrative Court of Appeal of Athens has accepted a request by the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy for a provisional order (προσωρινή διαταγή) to suspend a decision of the 3rd Independent Appeals Committee granting refugee status to a Turkish soldier, pending the outcome of judicial review proceedings (αίτηση ακύρωσης) against the decision. The order, issued on grounds of public interest to avoid risks of disruption of diplomatic relations with Turkey, follows the first-ever challenge of an Appeals Committee decision by the government before the court.


Appeal against the grant of refugee status by the Appeals Committee

The applicant, who is represented by the Greek Council for Refugees, was among a group of eight soldiers arriving in Greece via helicopter following the attempted coup d’état of 15 July 2016 in Turkey. Although their extradition to Turkey has been blocked by the Greek Supreme Court due to risks of ill-treatment, their asylum applications were rejected by the Asylum Service on grounds of commission of a “serious non-political crime” under the exclusion clauses of Article 1F of the Refugee Convention. According to the Asylum Service, the persons’ alleged participation in the attempted coup d’état constituted a “serious non-political crime” on the basis that the acts committed were disproportionate to the political aim pursued.

At second instance in the present case, the Appeals Committee noted that, beyond a general statement of the events of 15 July 2016, neither the extradition request by the Istanbul Prosecutor nor other documents in the case file contained evidence of the appellant’s participation in the attempted coup d’état, the killings of civilians or the attempted murder of the Turkish President. The Appeals Committee therefore found no ground for the applicability of exclusion clauses and recognised the person as a refugee.

The Greek government has rebuked critiques of political interference in the asylum procedure through its application for judicial review and suspension of the Appeals Committee decision. Statements by the Government Spokesperson, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, and the Alternate Minister of Justice, Dimitris Papangelopoulos, concur that the matter should be adjudicated by the Administrative Court of Appeals rather than an administrative authority, given the delicate legal issues involved. It should be recalled that a ruling of the Greek Council of State delivered on 22 September 2017 held that the Independent Appeals Committees fulfil the requisite guarantees of independence and impartiality to be classified as a “court or tribunal” in the terms of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive.


Arbitrary detention

Following the provisional order of the Administrative Court of Appeal of Athens, the grant of asylum was suspended and the Turkish official was requested to present himself to the Asylum Service in order to receive an asylum seeker’s card. Upon receipt of the card, he was arrested by police officers and placed under administrative detention on the ground that he represented a threat to public order and national security. The detention order was issued in violation of an unequivocal prohibition on detaining persons who apply for asylum at liberty under Article 46(2) of Law 4375/2016. The legality of the applicant’s detention is to be reviewed ex officio by the Administrative Court.


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