|Name in English||Number of staff||Ministry responsible||Is there any political interference possible by the responsible Minister with the decision-making in individual cases by the determining authority?|
|Asylum Service||Not available||Ministry on Migration and Asylum||No|
The Asylum Service is responsible for examining applications for international protection and competent to take decisions at first instance. The responsibility for the Asylum Service has shifted several times to different Ministries in 2019 and early 2020.
In July 2019, the Ministry for Migration Policy, which used to be responsible for the Asylum Service, was subsumed under the Ministry of Citizen Protection. The latter is primarily responsible for internal security, public order, natural disasters and border security. This institutional reform led to strong criticism from civil society organisations, who raised concerns with regard to the fact that asylum and migration would no longer be treated as a separate portfolio, as was the case under the previous Ministry of Migration Policy. The latter had been established in 2016 specifically with the aim to centralize all activities and policies on asylum and migration, which had been welcomed by several international actors. NGOs had further expressed their fear that allocating the responsibility for asylum to a Ministry primarily in charge of public order and security-related issues would contribute to stigmatize asylum seekers and thus reinforce racist behaviors against them.
However, on 15 January 2020, a new Ministry on Migration and Asylum was (re)established. The latter is since then responsible for the Asylum Service.
Staffing and capacity
PD 104/2012, as modified by L 4375/2016, provides for Regional Asylum Offices (RAO) to be set up in Attica, Thessaloniki, Thrace, Epirus, Thessaly, Western Greece, Crete, Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Rhodes. It is possible to establish more than one Regional Asylum Office per region by way of Ministerial Decision for the purpose of covering the needs of the Asylum Service.
At the end of 2020, the Asylum Service operated in 24 locations throughout the country, as at the end of 2019, compared to 23 locations at the end of 2018, 22 locations at the end of 2017 and 17 locations at the end of 2016. A new Autonomous Asylum Unit (AAU) in Nikaia, Attika Region started operating mid-November 2019.
12 RAO and 12 AAU were operational as of 31 December 2020:
|Operation of Regional Asylum Offices and Autonomous Asylum Units: 2020|
|Regional Asylum Office||Start of operation||Registrations 2020|
|Thrace (Alexandroupoli)||Jul 2013||1,141|
|Western Greece (Patra)||Jun 2014||610|
|Autonomous Asylum Unit||Start of operation||Registrations 2020|
|Fast-Track Syria (Attica)||Nov 2016||–|
|Applications from Pakistani nationals||Dec 2016||110|
|Applications from Albanian and Georgian nationals||Mar 2017||535|
|Beneficiaries of international protection||Jun 2017||–|
|Applications from custody||Jun 2017||403|
Source: Asylum Service 31 March 2021. See also, Ministry of Migration and Asylum, Asylum Service https://bit.ly/3fgdxBk Applications lodged in Attica include applications lodged before the AAU Fast-Track Syria.
The number of employees of the Asylum Service at the end of 2019, distributed across the Central Asylum Service, RAO and AAU, was 886, compared to 679 at the end of 2018 and 515 at the end of 2017. The total number of staff of the Asylum Service includes 318 permanent employees and employees on indefinite term contracts, 22 employees of other Public Sector Authorities on secondment and 546 staff members on fixed-term contracts. 200 officials were hired in 2019 all of which on fixed-term contracts. A further 220 employees on fixed-term contracts were expected to be recruited in the first semester of 2020. Such data are not available for 2020 despite the several requests addressed to the Asylum Service.
The short-term working status of almost two thirds of the total number of the employees of the Asylum Service staff, coupled with the precarious working environment for employees, arises concerns and may create problems in the operation of the Asylum Service.
In April 2016, the law introduced the possibility for the Asylum Service to be assisted by European Asylum Support Office (EASO) personnel “exceptionally” and “in case where third-country nationals or stateless persons arrive in large numbers”, within the framework of the Fast-Track Border Procedure. By a subsequent amendment in June 2016, national legislation explicitly provided the possibility for the asylum interview within that procedure to be conducted by an EASO caseworker. The IPA has maintained this option, and has inserted the possibility for fast-track border procedure and admissibility interviews to be conducted by personnel of the Hellenic Police or the Armed Forces in particularly urgent circumstances.
Since May 2018, Greek-speaking EASO personnel can also assist the Asylum Service in the Regular Procedure. The law provides that in case of urgent need, EASO personnel can carry out any administrative procedure needed for processing applications. EASO caseworkers have conducted interviews under the regular procedure since the end of August 2018.
Following the signature of the Seat Agreement for the Hosting of the EASO Operational Office in Greece on 28 January 2020, EASO announced that the Agency’s operations in Greece are expected to double in size to over 1,000 personnel in 2020. Within this increase, the operational presence on the Greek mainland will increase by four times the level of 2019, including personnel being permanently deployed to eight new locations in Thessaloniki and Ioannina to support the country’s regular asylum procedure. At the same time, the number of caseworkers will double on the islands (from approximately 100 to 200) and triple on the mainland (from approximately 30 to 100). EASO’s operations in Greece in 2020 will translate to a financial commitment of at least €36 million.
The agreement foresees that EASO staff will support the Greek Asylum Service, the national Dublin Unit, the Reception and Identification Service and the Appeals Authority. The personnel will include caseworkers, field support staff, reception staff, research officers for the Appeals Authority, interpreters and administrative staff. Moreover, on 12 May 2020, EASO and the Greek Government agreed to an amendment to the Greek Operating Plan, which allows for the Agency to facilitate the relocation of 1,600 unaccompanied children from Greece to participating Member States in the relocation scheme.
In 2020, EASO deployed 643 different experts in Greece. The large majority of them were caseworkers (263), followed by reception assistants (90), administrative assistants (55), operations assistants (51), registration assistants (43) and a series of other programme and support staff (e.g. security staff, coordination staff, legal officers, Dublin staff, info providers etc). As of 14 December 2020, there were still a total of 533 EASO experts present in Greece, out of which 191 were caseworkers, 83 reception assistants, 44 administrative assistants, 42 operations assistants and 29 registration assistants.
As regards previous involvement of the EASO personnel in the national asylum procedure in Greece, the European Ombudsman has highlighted that:
“In light of the Statement of the European Council of 23 April 2015 (Point P), in which the European Council commits to ‘deploy EASO teams in frontline Member States for joint processing of asylum applications, including registration and finger-printing’, EASO is being encouraged politically to act in a way which is, arguably, not in line with its existing statutory role. Article 2(6) of EASO’s founding Regulation (which should be read in the light of Recital 14 thereof, which speaks of “direct or indirect powers”) reads: ‘The Support Office shall have no powers in relation to the taking of decisions by Member States’ asylum authorities on individual applications for international protection’.”
No amendment of the EASO Regulation has taken place up until to the time of the writing.
 No relevant information has come to the attention of GCR as regards the first instance. Pressure on the Greek asylum system is reported from the European Commission in relation to the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, as for example to abolish the existing exemptions from the fast-track border procedure and to reduce the number of asylum seekers identified as vulnerable.
 Council of Europe, Decisions adopted by the Committee of Ministers – Compilation 2014-2017, available at: https://bit.ly/2kkwqcG, 269; European Commission, Commission Regulation of 10.2.2016 addressed to the Hellenic Republic on the urgent measures to be taken by Greece in view of the resumption of transfers under Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013, 10 February 2016, available at: https://bit.ly/2m1NGE0, para 13; Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Full text of the press statement delivered by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance M. Mutuma Ruteere on 8 May 2015 in Athens, Greece, 8 May 2015, available at: https://bit.ly/2m3f708.
 Article 1(3) L 4375/2016.
 Information provided by the Asylum Service, 17 February 2020; Information provided by the Asylum Service, 26 March 2019; Asylum Service, ‘The work of the Asylum Service in 2017’, 25 January 2018, available at: http://bit.ly/2BsCDGd.
 Ministerial Decision 14715, Gov. Gazette B’ 3264/01.09.2017 and Asylum Service Director Decision 28162 , Gov. Gazette Β’ 4265/21.11.2019.
 Information provided by the Asylum Service, 17 February 2020.
 Article 60(4)(b) L 4375/2016.
 Article 60(4)(b) L 4375/2016, as amended by Article 80(13) L 4399/2016.
 Articles 77(1) and 90(3)(b) IPA.
 Article 36(11) L 4375/2016, inserted by Article 28(7) L 4540/2018; Article 65(16) IPA.
 Information provided by EASO, 13 February 2019.
 Information provided by EASO, 26 February 2021.
 European Ombudsman, Decision in case 735/2017/MDC on the European Asylum Support Office’s’ (EASO) involvement in the decision-making process concerning admissibility of applications for international protection submitted in the Greek Hotspots, in particular shortcomings in admissibility interviews, available at: https://bit.ly/2XVUfXq, para 33. The Decision of the European Ombudsman refers to the EASO involvement in the fast-track border procedure, however this finding is also valid with regard to EASO involvement in the regular procedure.