The asylum procedure in Greece has undergone substantial reforms throughout 2016, many of which driven by the adoption of the EU-Turkey statement on 18 March 2016. The adoption of Law (L) 4375/2016 in April 2016 and its subsequent amendments in June 2016 have overhauled the procedure before the Asylum Service. Provisions of L 4375/2016 related inter alia to the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement were re-amended in March 2017, August 2017 and May 2018.
Following the July 2019 elections, the new government announced a more restrictive policy on migration and asylum, with a view to reduce the number of arrivals, increase the number of returns to Turkey and strengthen border control measures. As a result, national asylum legislation has been radically re-amended in November 2019. L. 4636/2019 (hereinafter International Protection Act/IPA), which was adopted on 1 November 2019 without any significant prior consultation, entered into force on 1 January 2020 and replaced the previous legislation on asylum and reception.
The IPA has been repeatedly and heavily criticised by national and international human rights bodies including the Greek Ombudsman, the Greek National Commission for Human Rights (GNCHR), UNHCR and several civil society organisations. It has been categorised inter alia as an attempt to lower protection standards and create unwarranted procedural and substantive hurdles for people seeking international protection. As noted by UNHCR, the new Law reduces safeguards for people seeking international protection and creates additional pressure on the overstretched capacity of administrative and judicial authorities. “The proposed changes will endanger people who need international protection[…] [the law] puts an excessive burden on asylum seekers and focuses on punitive measures. It introduces tough requirements that an asylum seeker could not reasonably be expected to fulfil” […] “As a result, asylum seekers may be easily excluded from the process without having their international protection needs adequately assessed. This may expose them to the risk of refoulement”.
Four months after the entry into force of the new law L.4636/2019 (IPA) on 1 January 2020, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum submitted on 10 April 2020, a bill entitled “Improvement of migration legislation”, aiming at speeding up asylum procedures and at “responding to practical challenges in the implementation of the law”. It was submitted for public consultation amid a public health crisis. The proposed amendment further weakens basic guarantees for persons in need of protection. Inter alia, the draft law increases the number of applications which can be rejected as manifestly unfounded and introduces a set of provisions that can lead to arbitrary detention of asylum seekers and third country nationals. The draft law has been adopted by the Parliament on 9 May 2020, despite concerns of human rights bodies, including the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and civil society organizations.
First instance procedure
Asylum applications are lodged before the Asylum Service. Thirteen Regional Asylum Offices and twelve Asylum Units were operational at the end of 2019. The Asylum Service is also competent for applying the Dublin procedure, with most requests and transfers concerning family reunification in other Member States. The Asylum Service may be assisted by European Asylum Support Office (EASO) staff in registration and interviews. Access to the asylum procedure still remains an issue of concern.
A fast-track border procedure is applied to applicants subject to the EU-Turkey statement, i.e. applicants arriving on the islands of Eastern Aegean islands after 20 March 2016, and takes place in the Reception and Identification Centres (RIC) where hotspots are established (Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kos) and before the RAO of Rhodes. Under the fast-track border procedure, inter alia, interviews may also be conducted by EASO staff and, in urgent cases, the Police and Armed Forces. Short deadlines are provided to applicants for most steps of the procedure. The concept of “safe third country” is applied within the framework of this procedure for applicants belonging to a nationality with a recognition rate over 25%, namely Syrians.
First instance decisions of the Asylum Service are appealed before the Independent Appeals Committees under the Appeals Authority. An appeal must be lodged within 30 days in the regular procedure, 20 days in the accelerated procedure, in case of an inadmissibility decision or where the applicant is detained, 15 days in the Dublin procedure, 7 days in the border procedure, and 10 days in the fast-track border procedure and 5 days in the case of a subsequent application.
The IPA has abolished the rule of automatic suspensive effect for certain appeals, in particular those concerning applications rejected in the accelerated procedure or dismissed as inadmissible under certain grounds. Moreover, the IPA re-modified the composition of the Appeals Authorities. The procedure before the Appeals Committees remains as a rule written. Significant gaps in the provision of free legal aid at second instance hinder in practice the effective access to an appeal.
By the end of 2019, an application for annulment could be filed before the Administrative Court of Appeals against a negative second instance decision within 60 days from the notification. According to the IPA said legal remedies are lodged before the First Instance Administrative Court of Athens or Thessaloniki within a deadline of 30 days. No automatic suspensive effect is provided.
 See inter alia GCR, Observation on the draft law on international protection, 23 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3cIFluD; Amnesty International, Το προτεινόμενο σχέδιο νόμου για το άσυλο υποβαθμίζει την προστασίας και τα δικαιώματα των προσφύγων και παραβιάζει τα διεθνή πρότυπα, 24 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3dWduqV, Refugee Support Aegean, RSA Comments on the International Protection Bill, 21 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2LCfJU7; Actionaid Greece et al, 15 civil society organisations call upon the Government to organise a substantial public consultation prior of voting the draft law on asylum, 31 October 2019, https://bit.ly/2Zf4tFe; Amnesty International et al., Joint press conference regarding the draft law on asylum, 30 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3bDUgVr.
 UNHCR, ‘UNHCR’s Intervention at the hearing for actors to the Standing Committee of Public Administration, Public Order and Justice of the Hellenic Parliament regarding the Draft Law on the Improvement of Migration Legislation’, 9 May 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3dJEB8H.
 Ibid; See also GCR, GCR’s comments on the draft law amending asylum legislation, 27 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2ywIMWa; RSA, Comments on the Reform of the International Protection Act, 23 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2WrMwQR .
 L. 4686/2020, Gov. Gazette A' 96 /12 May 2020; Amendments introduced by L. 4686/2020 in May 2020 are not included in the present report.