Rules for the registration and lodging of applications
Part III of L 4375/201 – as modified by L 4399/2016 and L 4540/2018 – was in force until the end of 2019 and provided the rules relevant to the registration and lodging of applications for international protection. On 1 January 2020, it has been replaced with Article 65 IPA which transposes Article 6 of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive relating to access to the procedure.
As outlined below, Greek law refers to simple registration (απλή καταγραφή) to describe the notion of “registration” and full registration (πλήρης καταγραφή) to describe the notion of “lodging” of an application for international protection under the Directive.
Registration of applications for international protection (“Καταγραφή”)
Similarly, to the previous Article 36(1)(a) L 4375/2016, the new Article 65(1) IPA provides that any foreigner or stateless person has the right to “make” an application for international protection. In this case, the application is submitted before the competent receiving authorities, i.e. the Regional Asylum Offices (RAO), the Asylum Units (AAU) or Mobile Asylum Units of the Asylum Service, depending on their local jurisdiction, which shall immediately proceed with the “full registration” (πλήρης καταγραφή) of the application. Following a legislative reform in 2018, in case of urgent need, the Asylum Service may be supported by Greek-speaking personnel provided by EASO for the registration of applications. This is now also exclusively foreseen by the IPA.
Under the previous L. 4375/2016, where “for whatever reason” full registration was not possible, following a decision of the Director of the Asylum Service, the Asylum Service could conduct a “basic registration” (απλή καταγραφή) of the asylum seeker’s necessary details within 3 working days, and then proceeded to the full registration as soon as possible and by way of priority. The newly introduced IPA foresees that the time limit in which such a full registration should take place, should not exceed 15 days. More precisely, according to the IPA, where “for whatever reason” full registration is not possible, following a decision of the Director of the Asylum Service, the Asylum Service may conduct a “basic registration” (απλή καταγραφή) of the asylum seeker’s necessary details within 3 working days, and then proceed to the full registration by way of priority within a period not exceeding 15 working days from “basic registration”. In such a case, the applicant receives upon “basic registration” a document indicating his or her personal details and a photograph, to be replaced by the International Protection Applicant Card upon the lodging of the application.
According to the IPA, if the application is submitted before a non-competent authority, that authority is obliged to promptly notify the competent receiving authority and to refer the applicant thereto. However, in practice in order for an asylum application to be properly lodged, the applicant should lodge an application in person before the Asylum Service.
For third-country nationals willing to apply for asylum while in detention or under reception and identification procedures, the detention authority or RIS must register the intention to apply on an electronic network connected to the Asylum Service no later than within 3 working days under the IPA. This period was shortened by the IPA as the previous L. 4375/2016 foresaw that the registration by RIS of the intention to apply for international protection should take place within 6 working days, The previous L. 4375/2016 further foresaw the possibility to extend this time limit to 10 working days in cases where a large number of applications are submitted simultaneously and render registration particularly difficult. The IPA does not foresee this possibility however.
Moreover, according to the IPA, the lodging of the application with the Asylum Service must be carried out within 7 working days after the “basic registration” by the detention authority or the RIS. In order for the application to be fully registered, the detainee is transferred to the competent RAO or AAU.
Lodging of applications (“Κατάθεση”)
No time limit is set by law for lodging an asylum application. However, similarly to the previous Article 42 L 4375/2016, the new Article 78 IPA transposes Article 13 of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive that refers to applicants’ obligations and foresees that applicants are required to appear before competent authorities in person, without delay, in order to submit their application for international protection.
Applications must be lodged in person, except under force majeure conditions. According to the IPA, the lodging of the application must contain inter alia the personal details of the applicant and the full reasons for seeking international protection.
For those languages where a Skype line is available, an appointment through Skype should be fixed by the applicant before he or she can present him or herself before the Asylum Service in order to lodge an application.
As a general rule, the IPA in force since 1 January 2020 foresees that the asylum seeker’s card, which is provided to all persons who have fully registered i.e. lodged their application, is valid for 6 months, which can be renewed as long as the examination is pending. However, asylum seeker’s cards for applicants remaining on the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Leros, Kos and Rhodes subject to a “geographical limitation” is valid for 1 month, which can be also renewed.
Moreover, the IPA provides for a number of cases where the asylum seeker’s card can be valid for shorter periods. Thus the validity of the asylum seeker’s card can be set for a period:
- No longer than 3 months, in case that the applicant belongs to a nationality with a recognition rate lower than 35% in accordance with the official EU statistics and by taking into consideration the period for the issuance of a first instance decision expected;
- No longer than 30 days, in case that the communication of a decision or a transfer on the basis of the Dublin Regulation is imminent;
- No longer than 25 days, in case that the application is examined “under absolute priority”
- No longer than 30 days, in case that the application is examined “under priority”, under the accelerated procedure or under Art. 84 (inadmissible);
- No longer that 15 days, in case of application examined under the border procedure.
In total, the Asylum Service registered 77,287 asylum applications in 2019. Afghans were the largest group of applicants with 23,828 applications, followed by Syrians with 10,856 applications.
Role of EASO in registration
EASO deploys Registration Assistants to support the Greek Asylum Service in charge of registration across the territory. Registration Assistants are almost exclusively locally recruited interim staff, not least given that, in countries such as Greece, citizenship is required for access to the database managed by the police (Αλκυόνη) which is used by the Asylum Service. As of July 2019, registration support was provided in areas including Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kos, Athens, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Crete, Alexandroupoli, Fylakio, as well as pre-removal detention centres such as Paranesti.
In the first half of 2019, out of a total of 30,443 asylum applications lodged in Greece, 16,126 were lodged with the support of EASO. This means that more than half of the applications (53%) were lodged with the support of EASO during that period. Figures for the whole year 2019 were not available. However, given that EASO announced that the Agency’s operations in Greece are expected to double in size to over 1,000 personnel in 2020, it is likely that the latter will continue make a substantial contribution to the authorities’ efforts to register asylum applications.
Access to the procedure on the mainland
Access to the asylum procedure remains a structural and endemic problem in Greece. Difficulties with regard to access to the asylum procedure had already been observed since the start of the operation of the Asylum Service in 2013, in particular due to Asylum Service staff shortages and the non-operation of all RAO provided by law. A system for granting appointments for registration of asylum applications through Skype, in place since 2014, has not solved the problem.
The Ombudsman has constantly highlighted that accessing the asylum procedure through Skype is a “restrictive system, “which” appears to be in contrast with the principle of universal, continuous and unhindered access to the asylum procedure”. According to the Ombudsman, the Skype system has become part of the problem, rather than a technical solution.
The UN Committee Against Torture, in its concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of Greece (September 2019), highlighted the fact that access to asylum on the mainland remains problematic, largely due to difficulties in accessing the Skype-based appointment system in place for registration, which has limited capacity and availability for interpretation and recommended to the State party to “reinforce the capacity of the Asylum Service to substantively assess all individual applications for asylum or international protection”.
Without underestimating the number of applications lodged on the mainland in 2019 (37,708 applications out of a total of 77,287) access to asylum on the mainland continued to be problematic and intensified throughout 2019.
Since January 2019, the Skype line is available for 22 hours per week for access to the RAO in the Attica region. The detailed registration schedule through Skype is available on the Asylum Service’s website. Two staff members of the Asylum Service together with an interpreter are dealing with the operation of the Skype application system for six hours on a daily basis.
According to UNHCR (May 2019), persons on the mainland have to wait around 1-2 months to get through a Skype line, depending on the language, while actual full registration takes another 3-4 months on average in two of the main Asylum Offices, Attica and Thessaloniki. Longer delays can also occur depending on the language of the applicant, as far as GCR is aware.
Deficiencies in the Skype appointment system, stemming from limited capacity and availability of interpretation and barriers to applicants’ access to the internet, hinder the access of persons willing to apply for asylum to the procedure. Consequently, prospective asylum seekers frequently have to try multiple times, often over a period of several months, before they manage to get through the Skype line and to obtain appointment for the registration of their application, meanwhile facing the danger of a potential arrest and detention by the police. They are deprived of the assistance provided to asylum seekers, including reception conditions and in particular access to housing. Moreover, even if a Skype appointment is scheduled, in the meanwhile the applicant is not provided with any document in order to prove that he/she has already contacted the Asylum Service and he/she faces arrest and detention in view of removal.
GCR has encountered cases of applicants being detained during 2019 because they lacked legal documentation either due to the fact that they did not manage to get a skype appointment or that they did not possess any document proving that he/she had already fixed an appointment with the Asylum Service for registration through Skype, as such documents do not exist.
In Northern Greece, in the jurisdiction of Thessaloniki RAO, there is a pilot project that allows persons staying in camps to express their will to apply for asylum to the RIS present in the camp (instead of scheduling an appointment through Skype). Although this is undoubtedly an improvement compared to the Skype system, the waiting times remain extensive, ranging from 3 to 6 months or even more, as reported.
The average time between the moment of fixing an appointment for registration through Skype and full registration was 44 days in 2019.
Access to the procedure from administrative detention
Access to the asylum procedure for persons detained for the purpose of removal is highly problematic. The application of a detained person having expressed his or her will to apply for asylum is registered only after a certain period of time. The person remains detained between the expression of the intention to seek asylum and the registration of the application, by virtue of a removal order. He is deprived of any procedural guarantees provided to asylum seekers, despite the fact that according to Greek law, the person who expresses his/her intention to lodge an application for international protection is an asylum seeker. Since the waiting period between expression of intention and registration is not counted in the Duration of Detention, asylum seekers may be detained for a total period exceeding the maximum detention time limit for asylum seekers.
The time period between the expression of intention to apply for asylum and the registration varies depending the circumstances of each case, and in particular the capacity of the competent authority, the availability of interpretation, and the number of people willing to apply for asylum from detention.
In December 2019, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, “observed that many detainees either did not understand their right to apply for asylum and/or the procedure involved in doing so, with some individuals incorrectly believing that the process was initiated when they were fingerprinted. There is no established scheme for providing legal aid during the first instance asylum application, and interpretation was not consistently provided, with asylum seekers relying on second-hand information from fellow applicants. The Working Group was informed that no information is provided by the police to the detainees on their right to apply for international protection or the procedural stages; such information is only provided by non-government actors”.
Suspension of access to the Asylum Procedure on the basis of the Emergency Legislative Order (March 2020)
As mentioned in Reception and identification procedures on the islands, following the tension that erupted at the Greek-Turkish land borders at the end of February 2020, the Greek Authroties issued an Emergency Legislative Order (Πράξη Νομοθετικού Περιεχομένου/ΠΝΠ) on 2 March 2020 which suspends access to the asylum procedure for persons entering illegaly in the country during March 2020.  “The extremely urgent and unpredictable need to face the assymetrical threat against the security of the country” and the “the sovereign right[s]” of the country have been invoked in order to justify the issuance of the Order.
According to the Order:
“1. The lodging of the asylum application from persons who enter the county illegaly(sic) since the entry into force of the present Order is suspended. These persons are returned in their country of origin or transit without registration.
2. The provision of para. 1 is valid for (1) one month [until 31 March 2020]
3. With and act of the Ministerial Council the period set in para. 2 can be shortened.”
As stated by UNHCR on the same day of the issuance of the Emergency Legislative Order,
“[a]ll States have a right to control their borders and manage irregular movements, but at the same time should refrain from the use of excessive or disproportionate force and maintain systems for handling asylum requests in an orderly manner.
Neither the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees nor EU refugee law provides any legal basis for the suspension of the reception of asylum applications”.
Moreover the Greek National Commission for Human Rights (GNCHR), in a public statement issued on 5 March 2020, noted that :
“there are no clauses allowing for derogation from the application of the aforementioned provisions [the right to seek asylum and the prohibition of refoulement] in the event of an emergency situation, on grounds of national security, public health etc” and
“Call[ed] upon the Greek Government: […]to lift the decision to suspend the lodging of asylum applications as well as the decision to automatically return newcomers to the states of origin or transit, while providing for a legal access route to asylum in a coordinated manner”.
Respectively, in an open letter addressed to the Greek Government and the EU institutions, 152 civil society organisations urged
“the Greek Government to [w]ithdraw the illegal and unconstitutional Emergency Legislative Decree and to respect the obligations of the Greek State concerning the protection of human life and rescue at sea and at the land borders” and the European Commission “as the guardian of the Treaties, [to] protect the right to asylum as enshrined in EU law”.
On 12 March 2020, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson has stated: “Individuals in the European Union have the right to apply for asylum. This is in the treaty, this is in international law. This we can’t suspend”.
As a result of the Emergency Legislative Order, access to the asylum procedure for potential applicants who entered Greece in an irregular manner during March 2020 was suspended by law. In practice, this means that third country nationals who entered the Greek territory irregularly throughout March 2020, were arrested and a number of them were prosecuted due to the “illegal entry”. Depending on the decision of the Penal Court they either remained in (penal) custody or they were transferred to migration detention facilities where they are detained in view of removal without having access to asylum. In particular those arriving on the islands were transferred for detention in the mainland in two new detention facility operating since mid-March 2020, namely in Malakasa (Attica Region) and Serres (North Greece).
According to UNHCR, 347 persons have arrived through the land borders in Evros region (Greek – Turkish land borders) and 2,207 persons arrived on the Greek islands during the month of March 2020.
GCR filed an application for annulment and an application for suspension against the said Emergency Legislative Order before the Council of State, along with a request of interim order due to the refusal of the authorities to register asylum applications of three Afghan women who entered Greece on 1 March 2020 from Evros and were subsequently deprived access to asylum. On 30 March 2020, the Council of State, partially accepted the request for interim order for 2 of these cases, and ordered the authorities to refrain from any forcible removal.
In April 2020, the suspension of access to asylum on the basis of the Emergency Legislative Order was lifted and persons who had entered Greece during March 2020 were allowed to access the asylum procedure. However, given that the Asylum Service was not operating at that time due to the COVID-19 measures, the registration of the applications was not feasible up until the resumption of the operation of the Asylum Service (18 May 2020). For those entered Greece during March 2020 and remained detained after the lift of the suspension of access to asylum on the basis of the Emergency Legislative Order, police authorities gradually recorded their will to apply for asylum, while the registration of the application took place following the resumption of the work of the Asylum Service on 18 May 2020.
Suspension of access to the Asylum Procedure due to the COVID-19 measures
Within the framework of the measures taken for the prevention of the spread of the COVID 19, since 13 March 2020 the Asylum Service and all RAO and AAU had suspended the reception of public, including the registration of new asylum applications. To this regards it should be mentioned that according to the Guidance of the EU Commission on the implementation of relevant EU provisions in the area of asylum during the COVID 19 prevention measures, issued in April 2020, “even if there are delays, the third-country nationals who apply for international protection must have their application registered by the authorities and be able to lodge them”. The suspension was valid up until 15 May 2020 and the Asylum Service resumed its operation on 18 May 2020. However, with the exception of persons under administrative detention, the registration of new asylum applications was not taking place by the end of May 2020.
 Articles 34(1)(id) and 36(1) L 4375/2016; Articles 63(d) and 65(1) IPA.
 Article 36(11) L 4375/2016, as amended by Article 28(7) L 4540/2018.
 Article 65(16) IPA.
 Article 36(1)(a) L 4375/2016 and Article 65(1) IPA.
 Article 36(1)(c) L 4375/2016 and Article 65(3) IPA.
 Article 36(1)(b) L 4375/2016.
 Article 65(2) IPA.
 Article 36(4) L 4375/2016 and Article 65(9) IPA.
 Article 65(7) IPA.
 Article 36(3) L 4375/2016.
 Article 36(5) L 4375/2016.
 Article 65(7) IPA.
 Article 36(3) L 4375/2016 and Article 65(7) IPA.
 Article 65(6) IPA.
 Article 78(3) IPA.
 Article 65(1) IPA.
 Article 60 (1) l. 4636/2019.
 Art 60 (2) L. 4636/2019.
 Information provided by the Asylum Service, 17 February 2020.
 See e.g. Greek Ombudsman, Special Report: Migration flows and refugee protection, April 2017.
 Information provided by the Asylum Service, 17 February 2020
 Information provided by the Asylum Service, 17 February 2020
 Global Detention Project & Greek Council for Refugees, Joint Submission to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in Preparation for its Mission to Greece in December 2019, Submitted in October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2TRYmna.
 Communication from the UNHCR (15.5.2019) in the M.S.S. and Rahimi groups v. Greece (Applications No.30696/09, 8687/08).
 Council of Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights, Time to immediately act and to address humanitarian and protection needs of people trapped between Turkey and Greece, 3 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/39Hm0sd.
 Emergency Legislative Order as of 2 March 2020, Gov. Gazette A/45/2 March 2020.
Emergency Legislative Order as of 2 March 2020, recitals 2 and 3.
 Art. 83 L. 3386/2005.
 Emergency Legislative Order as of 11 March 2020, Gov Gazette A’ 55/11.3.2020.
Emergency Legislative Order as of 11 March 2020, Gov Gazette A’ 55/11.3.2020.
 Communication from the Commission, COVID-19: Guidance on the implementation of relevant EU provisions in the area of asylum and return procedures and on resettlement, 17 April 2020, 2020/C 126/02.