Overview of the main changes since the previous report update

Greece

Author

Greek Council for Refugees

The report was previously updated in November 2015.

 

  • Greece received a total number of 173,450 sea arrivals in 2016,1 out of which 42.1% men, 21.1% women, 36.8% children). The majority of arrivals by sea in Greece in 2016 have been nationals of Syria (47%), Afghanistan (24%) and Iraq (15%).2 In 2017, a total 3,369 sea arrivals have been recorded up until 19 March 2017. Syrian nationals continue to be the largest group of newly arrived persons (39.8%).3


  • The gradual imposition of border restrictions on the Greek-FYROM border and the definitive closure of the Western Balkan route in March 2016 led to about 50,000 persons stranded in Greece. The Asylum Service registered 51,091 asylum applications in 2016, a fourfold increase from 2015 figures. In the third quarter of 2016, Greece had the largest number of asylum seekers per capita after Germany.4


  • 2016 was also marked by the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement of 18 March 2016. Serious concerns about the compatibility of the ΕU-Turkey statement with international and European law have been expressed inter alia by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Greek National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), as well as organisations active in the field of refugee law and human rights. Following a joint inquiry, the European Ombudsman stated that the political aspect of the statement, which the European Commission invoked, “does not absolve the Commission of its responsibility to ensure that its actions are in compliance with the EU’s fundamental rights commitments. The Ombudsman believes that the Commission should do more to demonstrate that its implementation of the agreement seeks to respect the EU’s fundamental rights commitments.”5 At the end of February 2017, the General Court of the European Union declared that “the EU-Turkey statement, as published by means of Press Release No 144/16, cannot be regarded as a measure adopted by the European Council, or, moreover, by any other institution, body, office or agency of the European Union, or as revealing the existence of such a measure that corresponds to the contested measure.”6


  • Substantial asylum reforms, many of which driven by the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, took place in 2016. L 4375/2016, adopted in April 2016 and transposing the recast Asylum Procedures Directive into Greek law, was subsequently amended in June 2016 and March 2017, while a draft law transposing the recast Reception Conditions Directive has not been adopted yet.


  • The impact of the EU-Turkey statement has been a de facto divide in the asylum procedures applied in Greece. Asylum seekers arriving after 20 March 2016 are subject to a fast-track border procedure and excluded from relocation in practice.


  • In January 2017, the Greek Supreme Court (Άρειος Πάγος) ruled against the extradition of eight Turkish service men on the basis that if returned to Turkey there is a real risk of being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment and the guarantees for a fair trial not to be respected.7

 

Asylum procedure

  • Registration: Coupled with persisting obstacles to accessing the asylum procedure due to the need for applicants to have a Skype appointment prior to appearing before the Asylum Service, the closure of the Western Balkan route and containment of about 50,000 persons in Greece led to significant pressure on the Asylum Service, exceeding its capacity and ability to register new asylum claims. From 8 June to 30 July 2016, a pre-registration exercise was launched in the mainland by the Asylum Service, and implemented with the help of UNHCR and EASO, leading to the “basic registration” of 27,592 applications which would later be fully registered (lodged). By the end of 2016, 12,905 of these applications had been fully registered. The launch of the EU-Turkey statement also led to a significant increase of persons willing to apply for asylum who arrived in Greece after 20 March 2016 on the Eastern Aegean islands. In practice, and as the lodging and examination of the applications was prioritised based on nationality (Syrians, followed by non-Syrian applicants belonging to a nationality with a recognition rate below or over 25%), an important number of persons willing to apply for asylum on the islands have not had effective access to asylum procedure, or have had access subject to undue delays exceeding 6 months for certain nationalities. This practice also raises serious concerns of conformity with the non-discrimination principle.


  • Fast-track border procedure: One of the main modifications brought about by L 4375/2016 has been the establishment of an extremely truncated fast-track border procedure, applicable in exceptional cases. As underlined the fast-track procedure under derogation provisions in Law 4375/2016 does not provide adequate safeguards. In practice, fast-track border procedure applies to arrivals after 20 March 2016 and takes place in the Reception and Identification Centres (RIC) of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos. Under the fast-track border procedure, which does not apply to Dublin family cases and vulnerable cases, interviews are also conducted by EASO staff, while the entire procedure at first and second instance has to be completed within 14 days. The procedure has predominantly taken the form of an admissibility procedure to examine whether applications may be dismissed on the ground that Turkey is a “safe third country” or a “first country of asylum”; although these concepts already existed in Greek law, they have only been applied following the EU-Turkey statement. The admissibility procedure started being applied to Syrian nationals in April 2016 and was only applied to other nationalities with a rate over 25% (e.g. Afghans, Iraqis) since the beginning of 2017. In the meantime, for nationalities with a rate below 25%, the procedure entails an examination of the application on the merits without prior admissibility assessment as of July 2016. A Joint Action Plan of the EU Coordinator on the implementation of certain provisions of the EU-Turkey statement recommends that Dublin family reunification cases be included in the fast-track border procedure and vulnerable cases be examined under an admissibility procedure.


  • Appeals Committees reform: The composition of the Appeals Committees competent for examining appeals was modified by a June 2016 amendment to the April 2016 law, following reported EU pressure on Greece to respond to an overwhelming majority of decisions rebutting the presumption that Turkey is a “safe third country” or “first country of asylum” for asylum seekers. The June 2016 reform also deleted a previous possibility for the appellant to obtain an oral hearing before the Appeals Committees upon request. Applications for annulment have been submitted before the Council of State, invoking inter alia issues with regard to the constitutionality of the amendment. A recent reform in March 2017 enabled EASO staff to assist the Appeals Committees in the examination of appeals, despite criticism from civil society organisations.8 Since the operation of the (new) Appeals Committees on 21 July and until 31 December 2016, the recognition rate of international protection is no more than 0.4%. This may be an alarming finding as to the operation of an efficient and fair asylum procedure in Greece. Respectively, by 19 February 2017, 21 decisions on admissibility had been issued by the new Appeals Committees. As far as GCR is aware, all 21 decisions of the new Appeals Committees have confirmed the first-instance inadmissibility decision.


  • Relocation: Out of the target of 66,400 asylum seekers to be relocated from Greece under Council Decisions (EU) 2015/1523 and 2015/1601 in September 2015, 7,441 had effectively been transferred as of 15 January 2017.


  • Dublin: In December 2016, the European Commission issued a Recommendation in favour of the resumption of Dublin returns to Greece, regarding applicants who have entered EU through Greece from 15 March 2017 onwards or for whom Greece is responsible from 15 March 2017 onwards under other Dublin criteria, despite the fact that inter alia the execution of the M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece judgment of the European Court of Human Rights is still pending before the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. One month earlier, in November 2016, the ECtHR granted an interim measure twice with regard to two cases of Somali asylum seekers and ordered the Hungarian authorities to suspend their transfer to Greece based on the Dublin Regulation.9

 

Reception conditions

  • Reception capacity:  Despite the commitment of the Greek authorities to meet a target of 2,500 reception places dedicated to asylum seekers under the coordination of the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA) by the end of 2014, this number has not been reached to date. As of January 2017, a total 1,896 places were available in 64 reception facilities mainly run by NGOs, out of which 1,312 are dedicated to unaccompanied children. As of 13 January 2017, 1,312 unaccompanied children were accommodated in long-term and transit shelters, while 1,301 unaccompanied children were waiting for a place. Out of the unaccompanied children on the waitlist, 277 were in closed reception facilities (RIC) and 18 detained in police stations under “protective custody”. A number of 20,000 accommodation places were gradually made available under a UNHCR accommodation scheme dedicated initially to relocation candidates and since July 2016 extended also to Dublin family reunification candidates and applicants belonging to vulnerable groups


  • Temporary accommodation sites: A number of temporary accommodation places were created on the mainland in order to address the pressing needs created after the imposition of border restrictions. However, the majority of these places consists of encampments and the   conditions in temporary facilities on the mainland have been sharply criticised, as of the widely varying and often inadequate standards prevailing, both in terms of material conditions and security.


  • Reception of persons subject to the EU-Turkey statement: Severe overcrowding prevails in the hotspot facilities on the islands, as the current number of persons with an obligation to remain on the island due to the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement by far exceeds the hotspots’ capacity, but also the overall reception capacity of the islands. As reported, ‘Hotspot’ facilities on the islands are not only overcrowded but have substandard material conditions in terms of sanitation and hygiene, access to essential services such as health care, in particular for vulnerable groups. Security is insufficient, and tensions persist between different nationalities. A number of fatal accidents and suicide attempts are also reported. On 25 November 2016, a 66-year-old Iraqi woman and her 6-year-old grandchild died at Lesvos (Moria) Hotspot, when a bottle gas with which they were trying to cook inside their tent exploded.10 In Janyary 2017, three men died on Lesvos in the six days between 24 and 30 January. It is reported that “although there is no official statement on the cause of these deaths, they have been attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning from makeshift heating devices that refugees have been using to warm their freezing tents.” A 41-year-old Iraqi died on 25 January 2017 at the Hotspot of Samos. A series of suicide attempts have been reported in the same facilities from desperate people.

 

Detention of asylum seekers

  • Automatic detention policy: Following a change of policy announced at the beginning of 2015, the numbers of detained people have been reduced significantly during 2015. The launch of the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement has had an important impact on detention, resulting in a significant toughening of detention policy and the establishment of blanket detention of all newly arrived third-country nationals after 20 March 2016, followed by the imposition of an obligation to remain on the island, known as “geographical restriction”.


  • Detention on “law-breaking conduct” grounds: A Police Circular issued on 18 June 2016 provided that third-country nationals residing on the islands with “law-breaking conduct” (παραβατική συμπεριφορά), will be transferred, on the basis of a decision of the local Director of the Police, approved by the Directorate of the Police, to pre-removal detention centers in the mainland where they will remain detained. Serious objections as raised as to whether in this case the administrative measure of immigration detention is used with a view to circumventing procedural safeguards established by criminal law. Moreover, GCR findings on-site do not confirm allegations of “law-breaking conduct” in the vast majority of the cases. A total 1,626 people had been transferred to mainland detention centres by the end of 2016.


  • Detention capacity: As announced by the Ministry of Migration Policy on 28 December 2016, and described in the Joint Action Plan on the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement on 8 December 2016, the construction of new detention centres on the island, in order to increase detention capacity, is planned to take place with EU support “as soon as possible”. In February 2017 a pre-removal detention facility was established on the island of Kos.

 

Content of international protection

  • Humanitarian status for old procedure backlog: Article 22 L 4375/2016 provides that appellants who have lodged their asylum applications up to five years before the entry into force of L 4375/2016 (3 April 2016), and their examination is pending before the Backlog Committees, shall be granted a two-years residence status on humanitarian grounds, which can be renewed. Appellants granted with residence status on humanitarian grounds have the right to ask within two months from the notification of the decision for their asylum application to be examined in view of fulfilling the requirements international protection. Under Article 22 L 4375/2016, a total 4,935 decisions granting humanitarian residence permits have been issued by the end of 2016.

  • 1. UNHCR, Operations portal: Mediterranean situation, available at: http://bit.ly/2o4LEyV.
  • 2. UNHCR, UNHCR Regional Bureau Europe: Weekly Report, 3 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2mUCqVM.
  • 3. UNHCR, Operations portal: Mediterranean situation, available at: http://bit.ly/2o4LEyV.
  • 4. Asylum Service, ‘The work of the Asylum Service in 2016’, 17 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2jFEqiW.
  • 5. European Ombudsman, Decision of the European Ombudsman in the joint inquiry into complaints 506-509-674-784-927-1381/2016/MHZ against the European Commission concerning a human rights impact assessment in the context of the EU-Turkey Agreement, avialable at: http://bit.ly/2ndlPyV.
  • 6. General Court of the European Union, Cases T-192/16, T-193/16 and T-257/16 NF, NG and NM v. European Council, Order of 28 February 2017, press release available at: http://bit.ly/2lWZPrr.
  • 7. Inter alia Supreme Court 140/2017; The Guardian, ‘Greek court turns down extradition request for eight Turkish officers’, 26 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2o9ktDF.
  • 8. Asylum Campaign, ‘Σχετικά με την προτεινόμενη τροπολογία στο Ν. 4375/2016’, 15 March 2017, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2n8ezAZ.
  • 9. ECtHR, M.S. v. Hungary, Application No 64194/16, 10 November 2016; ECtHR, H.J. v. Hungary, Application No 70984/16, 30 November 2016; Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Hungary: Update on Dublin Transfers, 14 December 2016, http://bit.ly/2omSwrF.
  • 10. GR.Euronews.com, ‘Λέσβος: Νεκροί 66χρονη πρόσφυγας και το εγγόνι της από έκρηξη στη Μόρια’, 25 November 2016, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2fXCROq.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti