Identification

Greece

Country Report: Identification Last updated: 30/11/20

Author

Greek Council for Refugees Visit Website

The IPA, entered into force in January 2020, has made significant amendments to the definition of vulnerable persons and persons in need of special procedural guarantees (see below).

Before the entry into force of the IPA, Article 14(8) L 4375/2016 relating to reception and identification procedures offered principally to newcomers, the following groups were considered as vulnerable groups: unaccompanied minors; persons who have a disability or suffering from an incurable or serious illness; the elderly; women in pregnancy or having recently given birth; single parents with minor children; victims of torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence or exploitation; persons with a post-traumatic disorder, in particularly survivors and relatives of victims of ship-wrecks; victims of human trafficking. Some aspects of this definition, namely as regards persons with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been debated due to the Special Procedural Guarantees offered in the context of the Fast-Track Border Procedure.[1]

In the context of reception conditions, Article 20 L 4540/2018 indicatively introduces more categories of vulnerable applicants such as persons with mental disorders and victims of female genital mutilation. However, persons with PTSD are not expressly mentioned in this list. Article 23 L 4540/2018 has also amended the procedure for certifying persons subject to torture, rape or other serious forms of violence (see Use of Medical Reports).

According to L 4375/2016, whether an applicant is in need of special procedural guarantees is for the Asylum Service to assess “within a reasonable period of time after an application for international protection is made, or at any point of the procedure the relevant need arises, whether the applicant is in need of special procedural guarantees” which is in particular the case “when there are indications or claims that he or she is a victim of torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence.”

The number of asylum seekers registered by the Asylum Service as vulnerable in 2019 is as follows:

Vulnerable persons registered among asylum seekers: 2019

Category of vulnerability

Applicants

Pending end 2019

Unaccompanied children

3,330

4,084

Persons suffering from disability or a serious or incurable illness

2,294

2,847

Pregnant women / new mothers

1,341

1,697

Single parents with minor children

1,399

1,557

Victims of torture, rape or other serious forms of violence or exploitation

233

365

Elderly persons

228

258

Victims of human trafficking

15

0

Minors accompanied by members of extended family

63

93

Total

8,903

10,901

Source: Asylum Service, 17 February 2020. Overlap in some cases is due to applicants falling in multiple vulnerability categories. The numbers refer to cases classified under these categories at the time of registration and not to the number of cases in which the vulnerability arose on a later stage.

 

The number and type of decisions taken at first instance on cases by vulnerable applicants are as follows:

First instance decisions on applications by vulnerable persons: 2019

Category

Refugee status

Subsidiary protection

Rejection

Unaccompanied children

381

131

566

Persons suffering from disability or a serious or incurable illness

234

36

388

Pregnant women / new mothers

250

31

98

Single parents with minor children

169

25

41

Victims of torture, rape or other serious forms of violence or exploitation

118

4

19

Elderly persons

19

8

3

Victims of human trafficking

0

0

0

Minors accompanied by members of extended family

47

5

6

Source: Asylum Service, 17 February 2020.

 

The IPA has made significant amendments to the definition of vulnerable persons and persons in need of special procedural guarantees.

According to Articles 39(5)(d) and 58(1) IPA relating to reception and identification procedures and reception of asylum seekers the following groups are considered as vulnerable groups: children; unaccompanied children; direct relatives of victims of shipwrecks (parents and siblings); disabled persons; elderly; pregnant women; single parents with minor children; victims of trafficking; persons with serious illness; persons with cognitive or mental disability and victims of torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence such as victims of female genital mutilation. Persons with a post-traumatic disorder have been deleted as category of persons belonging to vulnerable groups.  

 

Screening of vulnerability

 

According to Article 39(5) of the new IPA, in the context of reception and identification procedures carried out by the RIS, “The Manager of [RIC] or the Unit, acting on a motivated proposal of the Head of the medical screening and psychosocial support unit shall refer persons belonging to vulnerable groups to the competent social support and protection institution. A copy of the medical screening and psychosocial support file shall be sent to the Head of the institution, as per case, where the person is being referred to or resides. In all cases the continuity of the medical treatment followed shall be ensured, where necessary.” [2]

 

Vulnerability identification on the islands

 

The identification of vulnerability of persons arriving on the islands takes place either by the RIS prior to the registration of the asylum application or during the asylum procedure in the context of the Fast-Track Border Procedure.

 

Vulnerability identification by the RIS

 

Since mid-2017 until March 2019 medical screening and psycho-social assessment within the framework of reception and identification procedures had been undertaken by the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO), a public entity under the Ministry of Health. During this period, due to the fact that KEELPNO units at the RIC remained significantly understaffed (see Health Care), major delays occurred in the identification of the vulnerabilities of newly arrived persons in all of the islands. As noted by FRA:

“The time it takes to assess if a person is or is not vulnerable under Greek law varies considerably depending on the number of new arrivals, but also on the availability of professionals and interpreters. Insufficient number of doctors, psychologists (but also lack of space for them to have confidential interviews and examinations) as well as significant delays in recruiting interpreters limit the impact of these measures, leading to months of delays in some hotspots.”[3]

According to RSA-Pro Asyl “The Comprehensive Emergency Health Response to Refugee Crisis” aka PHILOS project was engineered in order to support Greece’s public health system structures that mostly undertook the burden of the refugee crisis as well as provide primary healthcare and mental health support services within camps in the mainland and Reception and Identification Centres (RICs) on the islands […]. From early on the project’s capacity in deploying personnel has been seriously hampered mostly by the unattractive compensation scheme KEELPNO was able to offer to doctors and nurses, as well as auxiliary staff due to financial as well as bureaucratic constraints. Throughout the implementation of the first phase of the project, KEELPNO made repeated efforts to hire more people while the dropout rate was also significant. Implementation suffered constant gaps with the project not managing to deploy the entire human resources planned”.[4]

KEELPNO was abolished by the L 4600/2019. Further EODY (National Public Health Organization) was established by the L 4633/2019 as the successor of KEELPNO.

The process though, by which vulnerability assessments were conducted remained indeed a source of serious concern in 2019. “NGOs working on the ground and human rights groups have raised concerns regarding the significant delays to vulnerability assessments due to a lack of staff and expertise”.[5]

UNHCR reported that “EODY’s medical teams remain understaffed across the islands widening the gap in the process of medical registration, vulnerability assessment as well as primary and mental healthcare”.[6]

In 2019 the average time between the arrival of the persons and the competition of the medical/psychosocial examination/ vulnerability assessment on the Aegean islands is as follows:

Location

Average time between the arrival of the person and the competition of the medical/psychosocial examination/ vulnerability assessment

RIC Lesvos

2-6 months

RIC Chios

1-8 months

RIC Samos

2-3 months

RIC Leros

3-4 months

RIC Kos

4 months

Information provided by the Ministry for Migration and Asylum, Special Secretariat for Reception, 6 February 2020.  

 

The time elapsing between arrival and competition of the medical/psychosocial examination/ vulnerability assessment depends on the availability of qualified staff. As noted by the Authorities “on Chios RIC there were no medical services for the identification of the vulnerability between January and April 2019 and in December 2019. In Leros RIC there was a gap during November and December 2019. In Lesvos, [there was a gap in the provision of services] between May and September 2019 […] In Samos, there was a gap between May and September 2019. During these periods there was a collaboration with local hospitals and the EODY units”.[7]

According to findings of the GCR, the delays and at times dysfunctional identification processes in 2019 resulted in a considerable number of asylum procedures being initiated without the applicants’ vulnerability having been assessed. In sum, this pointed to “a systematic failure in the identification and protection of vulnerable people particularly on the islands”.[8] In particular, UNHCR[9] commented on the persisting overcrowding noting that “Keeping people on the islands in these inadequate and insecure conditions is inhumane”, while the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights inter alia, concluded that “The situation of migrants, including asylum seekers, in the Greek Aegean islands has dramatically worsened over the past 12 months. Urgent measures are needed to address the desperate conditions in which thousands of human beings are living […] It is an explosive situation […] This no longer has anything to do with the reception of asylum seekers. This has become a struggle for survival. […] Praising the strength of the asylum seekers and the solidarity of humanitarian staff and local communities who are trying to bring some measure of dignity to the camps, the Commissioner calls on the Greek authorities to take urgent measures to meet the vital needs of all these people and safeguard their human rights. If not urgently and adequately addressed, these abysmal conditions, combined with existing tensions, risk leading to further tragic event”. [10]

Until now, “alarming reports indicate that vulnerabilities are often missed, with individuals going through the asylum procedure without having their vulnerability assessment completed first”.[11]

Lesvos: GCR has observed vulnerability assessments taking place between a period varying from a few days to 6 months from the arrival of the person depending on the availability of staff, including interpreters, and the number of arrivals. During a period from 20 May 2019 until 15 September 2019, the psychosocial division of RIS in Lesvos has halted its operation. Likewise, the medical division has halted its operation from time to time. However, even after falling back to normal operation the Division had to deal with a huge backlog of cases and newcomers still faced severe delays in being screened or had never been screened by the Psychosocial division whatsoever. Upon request, EODY (ex KEELPNO) accepted to reintroduce or assess cases in its Division for vulnerability assessment, when the individuals involved have been registered by EODY during the period that the psychosocial division of KEELPNO had halted its operation. Due to these shortcomings, a considerable number of newcomers and asylum seekers had never been (properly) assessed regarding potential vulnerabilities. As a result, undetected vulnerable asylum seekers had not been examined under the Regular Procedure the as Law provides, nor they did they have their geographical restriction lifted.

Chios: Since the Medical and Psychosocial Division of RIS remained significantly understaffed, major delays occurred throughout 2019 in the identification of vulnerabilities. No doctor was present in the RIC since August 2018 and thus the identification of vulnerabilities has been halted for a significant period of time or was done by two nurses. The President of KEELPNO who was visiting the island from time to time signed the relevant document, upon his visits. In April 2019 a doctor was hired and since June 2019 the medical screening was taking place but still with big delays. Concerning the psycho-social assessment, it was not offered to all newly arrived persons registered by the RIC, but only following a relevant request of the applicant or a referral by the competent RAO, or civil society organisations. Furthermore, the contracts of the employees of the psychosocial division of the RIS (i.e. social workers, psychologists, etc) expired in April 2019 (except one psychologist) and were renewed in the beginning of September 2019. As a result, psychologists and social workers of KEELPNO had to deal with a big backlog of cases requesting for psychosocial support and examination. Therefore, despite the relevant provision of the law, many third country nationals did not have access to psychosocial screening and support inside the RIC. As a result, vulnerable people were -in many cases- not identified as such and they were not referred in the Regular Procedure neither was the geographical restriction imposed to them lifted.

Samos: Shortcomings related to understaffing, temporary interruption of the operation of medical and/or psychosocial division of the RIC and delays mentioned above, apply also for Samos. The average period for a vulnerability assessment was 2-3 months[12]. However, due to lack of doctors GCR observed that in some cases the vulnerability assessments took place nine months after their arrival.  

Leros: The average period for vulnerability assessment by the psychosocial unit was about 4 months. Due to lack of interpreters and/or doctors, vulnerability assessments had been halted from time to time during 2019. This resulted in the problems and shortcomings underlined above. 

Kos: Shortcomings related to understaffing and delays mentioned above, also apply for the medical and psychosocial division of RIS in Kos. The average period in which the vulnerability assessments for the persons in special needs took place was 4 months.[13]

Beyond delays, the following issues exacerbate problems in the identification of vulnerabilities:

  • Provision of the vulnerability assessment upon request: Despite the relevant provision in national law which states that all newly arrived persons should be subject to reception and identification procedures, including medical screening and psychosocial assessment, during 2019 it has been reported that a psychosocial assessment is not offered to all newly arrived persons registered by the RIS. In fact, in some cases a relevant request of the applicant or a referral by the competent RAO, Health Unit SA (Ανώνυμη Εταιρεία Μονάδων Υγείας, AEMY), or civil society organisations needed to be made. This practice has been mainly observed during 2019 on Lesvos and Samos and Chios. As far as detainees are concerned, in Lesvos no person was detained unless a medical screening had been conducted. However, detainees did not have access to psychosocial screening. Similarly, in Kos detainees, who were detained upon arrival in the scope of the so called ‘Pilot Project’, had no access to medical and psychosocial screening.

 

  • “High”, “medium” and “no” vulnerability: As of the end of 2017 and early 2018, a new medical vulnerability template, entitled “Form for the medical and psychosocial evaluation of vulnerability”, has been adopted by KEELPNO.[14] This template introduces two levels of vulnerability: (A) Medium vulnerability, which could develop if no precautionary measures are introduced and (B) High vulnerability, when the occurrence of vulnerability is obvious and the continuation of the evaluation and the adoption of a care plan are recommended. Further referral is needed for immediate support. The classification of a case as “medium” or “high” vulnerability is decided by the medical unit (KEELPNO) of each RIC on the islands. Since September 2018 the vulnerability template has been further amended to set out three relevant indicators to be used by the medical unit of each RIC: “(A) High vulnerability”, “(B) Medium vulnerability” and “(C) No vulnerability”. 

 

Even if the distinction between “A” and “B” vulnerability concerns the medical terminology used and the support that the person should receive, in practice this vulnerability assessment procedure is used in a way which underestimates vulnerabilities classified as “B”, despite the fact that such a distinction is not provided by law. In practice it is only applicants who have been identified with a “A” vulnerability whose case is exempted from the Fast Track Border Procedure and the geographical limitation is lifted. Moreover, given the backlog of cases and the shortage of medical staff, further assessment of persons who have been identified with “B” vulnerabilities is particularly difficult. A considerable number of vulnerable applicants are not identified as such.

 

  • Lack of information on the outcome of the procedure: Since the end of 2018, applicants are not informed of the outcome of the vulnerability assessment and are not provided with a copy of the vulnerability assessment template. The RIS informs directly the Asylum Service of the outcome of the assessment. The applicant is informed only if he or she has been identified as having “high vulnerability”, in which case his or her geographical restriction will be lifted (see Freedom of Movement).

 

The RIS and the Asylum Service generally follow the assessment made by medical experts and the psychosocial unit of the KEELPNO/EODY. However, according to GCR observations from Samos and Chios during 2019, in some cases the Head of the RIC refers back to the medical unit or does not approve the vulnerability assessment of KEELPNO/ EODY, even though the Head of the RIC is not competent to do so.

 

Vulnerability identification in the asylum procedure

 

L 4375/2016, as amended in May 2018, provides that if the fast-track border procedure is applied, the competent RAO or AAU of the Asylum Service can refer the applicant to the medical and psychosocial unit of the RIC for vulnerability to be assessed at any point of the procedure.[15] Despite these provisions, the shortage of medical and psychosocial care can make it extremely complicated and sometimes impossible for people seeking asylum to be re-assessed during that process.[16] Following the medical and psychosocial assessment the medical psychosocial unit of the RIC informs the competent RAO or AAU of the Asylum Service.[17]

Accordingly, where vulnerability is not identified prior to the asylum procedure the initiation of a vulnerability assessment lies to a great extent at the discretion of the caseworker. As mentioned above, due to significant gaps in the provision of reception and identification procedures in 2019, owing to a significant understaffing of KEELPNO/EODY units, GCR has found that for a considerable number of applicants the asylum procedure was initiated without their medical and psychosocial assessment having been concluded.

As a result, indications of vulnerability have often surfaced during admissibility interviews conducted by EASO staff, who de facto play a crucial role in identifying and determining vulnerability and therefore the provision of Special Procedural Guarantees. As far as GCR is aware, however, since the end of 2018 EASO caseworkers did not proceed with the first instance interview in case the applicant had not undergone at least a medical assessment by the medical unit of RIS, among others for their own health and safety. In these cases, they postponed the interview.[18]

When vulnerability was not identified in the reception and identification procedure but during registration of the asylum application or the interview,

  • the EASO caseworker (in case the procedure was conducted by an EASO-caseworker), was required to refer the case to an EASO vulnerability expert, who drafted an opinion.
  • the Asylum Service caseworker (If the procedure was conducted by an Asylum Service caseworker), referred the case to the vulnerability identification procedures conducted by the RIS, or assessed the vulnerability by his or her own means.[19]  

Since July 2019, where vulnerability was only identified by the EASO Caseworker during the interview, no interruption was ordered. The caseworker would continue and complete the interview, and then transmit any information on vulnerability together with the rest of the file to the Asylum Service. Accordingly, EASO did no longer conduct vulnerability assessments and issue vulnerability opinions.[20]

In 2019, EASO made available 10 vulnerability experts on the islands.[21]

The vulnerability assessment and drafting of an opinion by an EASO vulnerability expert were not clearly set out in any provision of Greek law,[22] but by EASO’s internal Standard Operating Procedures, which as reported left the assessment of vulnerability to the discretion of the EASO staff.[23] It is not clear whether such assessments took into consideration the relevant provisions and safeguards under national law.[24]

In addition, the professional background and the level of expertise of EASO vulnerability experts deployed in Greece is not known, while concerns have been raised as to the feasibility of thorough investigations on asylum seekers’ vulnerabilities in the context of the Fast-Track Border Procedure and as to whether vulnerability indications and/or relevant allegations of the applicant are properly assessed.[25] As reported in the past, in some cases “strong indications of vulnerability have been ignored” in interviews conducted by EASO.[26] Moreover, the ECCHR also stated: “Concretely, EASO officers often stuck to a rigid questionnaire without giving the applicant room to elaborate on their personal history of harm or persecution. Interviews consisted of an overwhelming number of closed questions, the inappropriate use of suggestive questions, and were marked by a failure to ask follow-up concerning vulnerability. Moreover, EASO officers failed to give applicants the opportunity to clarify inconsistencies between their statements and information from other sources. Yet, these inconsistencies were systematically highlighted in EASO’s concluding remarks to refute the applicant’s account. In the most severe cases, the concluding remarks did not include crucial information on vulnerability expressly raised by the applicant”.[27]

Finally, the vulnerability expert has no direct access to the applicant. The vulnerability assessment only takes place on the basis of the documents on the file of the applicant.

 

Vulnerability identification in the mainland

 

In Attica region, depending on their nationality, vulnerable groups are referred either to the Municipality of Athens Centre for Reception and Solidarity in Frourarchion in cases where the competent RAO is the one of Athens, or in the RAOs of Alimos and Piraeus. In the rest of mainland vulnerable groups are registered by the RAO competent for the area they reside in. No further information was provided by the Asylum Service regarding how many asylum seekers were registered there.

However, obstacles to Registration through Skype in the mainland also affects vulnerable persons. As referrals of vulnerable persons to Frourarchion in order to be registered is taking place through NGOs or other entities, GCR is aware of cases of vulnerable applicants who before being supported by NGOs or other entities and referred to Frourarchion have repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to fix an appointment to register their application through Skype. Moreover, appointments for registration in Frourachion can be delayed due to capacity reasons.

In case that indications or claims as of past persecution or serious harm arise, the Asylum Service refers the applicant for a medical and/or psychosocial examination, which should be conducted free of charge and by specialised scientific personnel of the respective specialisation.[28] Otherwise, the applicant must be informed that he or she may be subject to such examinations at his or her own initiative and expenses. Any results and reports of such examinations must be taken into consideration by the Asylum Service (see Use of Medical Reports).[29] However, article 72(2) IPA provides that “Any results and reports of such examinations are deemed as justified by the Asylum Service where it is established that the applicant’s allegations of persecution or serious harm are likely to be well-founded”.

Currently, there are no public health structures specialised in identifying or assisting torture survivors in their rehabilitation process. As a result, it is for the NGOs running relative specialised programmes, to handle the identification and rehabilitation of victims of torture. This is rather problematic for reasons that concern the sustainability of the system, as NGOs’ relevant funding is often interrupted.

In Athens, torture survivors were referred for identification purposes to Metadrasi, whose service had been interrupted for a substantial period of time due to lack of funding.

 

Age assessment of unaccompanied children

 

Ministerial Decision 92490/2013 lays down the age assessment procedure in the context of reception and identification procedures. Moreover, Joint Ministerial Decision 1982/2016 provides for an age assessment procedure for persons seeking international protection before the Asylum Service,[30] as well as persons whose case is still pending before the authorities of the “old procedure”.[31] However, the scope of these decisions does not extend to age assessment of unaccompanied children under the responsibility of the Hellenic Police (see Detention of Vulnerable Applicants).

Age assessment by the RIS

Ministerial Decision 92490/2013 of the Minister of Health established for the first time in Greece an age assessment procedure applicable within the context of the (then) First Reception Service (FRS).[32]

According to MD 92490/2013, in case where there is specifically justified doubt as to the age of the third-country national, and the person may possibly be a minor, the person is referred to the medical control and psychosocial support team for an age assessment.

  1. Initially, the age assessment will be based on macroscopic features (i.e. physical appearance) such as height, weight, body mass index, voice and hair growth, following a clinical examination from a paediatrician, who will consider body-metric data. The paediatrician will justify his or her final estimation based on the aforementioned examination data and observations.

 

  1. In case the person’s age cannot be adequately determined through the examination of macroscopic features, an assessment by the psychologist and the social worker of the division will follow in order to evaluate the cognitive, behavioural and psychological development of the individual. The psychosocial divisions’ evaluation report will be submitted in writing. Wherever a paediatrician is not available or when the interdisciplinary staff cannot reach any firm conclusions, and only as a measure of last resort, the person will be referred to a public hospital for specialised medical examinations such as dental or wrist X-rays, which will be clearly explained to him or her as far as their aims and means are concerned.

The estimations and the assessment results are delivered to the Head of the medical and psychosocial unit, who recommends to the Head of the RIC the official registration of age, noting also the reasons and the evidence supporting the relevant conclusion. After the age assessment procedure is completed, the individual should be informed in a language he or she understands about the content of the age assessment decision, against which he or she has the right to appeal in accordance with the Code of Administrative Procedure. The appeal has to be submitted to the Secretariat of the RIC within 10 days from the notification of the decision on age assessment. In practice, the 10-day period may pose an insurmountable obstacle to receiving identification documents proving their age, as in many cases persons under an age assessment procedure remain restricted in the RIC. These appeals are in practice examined by the Central RIS. According to the data provided by the RIS, during 2019, 13 appeals were submitted against age assessment decisions and all of them were rejected.[33]

According to GCR findings, in practice, the age assessment of unaccompanied children is an extremely challenging process and the procedure prescribed is not followed in a significant number of cases, inter alia due to the lack of qualified staff. During 2019, the practice of not following the prescribed procedure persisted due to lack of specialized personnel.

In Lesvos, given the fact that there was no psychosocial unit in the National Public Health Organization (EODY, former KEELPNO – Centre of Disease Control and Prevention) for several months (May to September 2019), it is evident that all the age assessments that took place within that period have bypassed the procedure set by the law. There was a case in late 2019, where the RAO referred the applicant to the EODY for an age assessment. EODY answered that the macroscopic features indicate an adult and that an interview with the psychosocial unit is pending. However, the RAO issued a decision regarding adulthood without a prior examination from psychosocial unit and without following the procedure prescribed by the law. In the end, after the first rejecting decision, the applicant procured an original document from his country of origin, which proved that he was a minor. In general, if a minor is able to procure a document, proving his/her age, this document is submitted in the Asylum Service. However, the RAO does not assign a reference number to the document (which would verify the submission) and just forwards it to FRONTEX to authenticate it. If the document is authentic, the date of birth will be corrected. If not, the document is confiscated and destroyed and there is no appeal procedure.[34]

In Chios, GCR was aware that there were many problems with the age assessment and it was a challenging procedure. In Samos according to GCR’s findings, there had been cases where some of the applicants’ personal data, including the age, were registered incorrectly, either by mistake or due to errors in the interpretation by FRONTEX. The procedure for age assessment was slow and once a month, after scheduling an appointment, the applicant could be examined in the General Hospital of Samos in order for his age to be assessed. However, from May 2019 to November 2019, there was no psychologist in the General Hospital of Samos, therefore the procedure was suspended.

The age assessment procedure in the RIC of Fylakio is highly problematic. 

HumanRights360 reports that in the Fylakio RIC in Evros, the age assessment process continued to be challenging since almost all cases were referred for X-ray without any contact with the individual in question. Most of the time, the only criteria used in order to refer a child to the age assessment procedure was the personal and –in most cases- arbitrary decision of the Reception and Identification Service (RIS) officers, who determine age either by assessing the individual’s visual appearance in person or their registration photo. There is typically a large margin of doubt and in the majority of cases (more than 50%), the individual was not assessed to be a minor. The referral to the age assessment procedure occurred even in specific cases where the person held a copy or carried a picture of an original document on their phone that proved them to be underage. HumanRights360 filed an appeal against an age assessment decision, which deemed the applicant to be an adult, therefore he was referred to a pre-removal centre. After the person’s registration with the RAO of Fylakio, HumanRights360 presented his original birth certificate and succeeded in getting an order from the Prosecutor to transfer the child back to protective custody.[35]

Moreover, UNHCR has also observed gaps in the age registration procedure followed by the police and Frontex as well as in the referrals to the age assessment procedure, which is applied contrary to the provisions provided in Greek law. The latter foresees a step-by-step and holistic assessment by the medical and psychosocial support unit in the RIC defining the referral to the hospital as the last resort and only if the medical and psychosocial assessment of the RIS is not conclusive. However, in practice, the medical and psychosocial assessment in the scope of the RIS is skipped and a referral takes place directly to the hospital for an x-ray assessment, which usually concludes the age assessment procedure. Furthermore, issues of concern are the gaps in the age assessment procedures that result in instances of repeated age assessments requested by different actors, a practice that prolongs the stay of unaccompanied children in dire conditions in RICs.[36]

Age assessment in the asylum procedure

The IPA includes procedural safeguards and refers explicitly to the JMD 1982/2016 regarding the age assessment procedure. More specifically, Article 75(3) IPA provides that “The competent receiving authorities may, when in doubt, refer unaccompanied minors for age determination examinations according to the provisions of the Joint Ministerial Decision 1982/16.2.2016 (O.G. B’ 335). When such a referral for age determination examinations is considered necessary and throughout this procedure, attention shall be given to the respect of gender-related special characteristics and of cultural particularities.”

The provision also sets out guarantees during the procedure:

  1. A guardian for the child is appointed who shall undertake all necessary action in order to protect the rights and the best interests of the child, throughout the age determination procedure;
  2. Unaccompanied children are informed prior to the examination of their application and in a language which they understand, of the possibility and the procedures to determine their age, of the methods used therefore, the possible consequences of the results of the above mentioned age determination procedures for the examination of the application for international protection, as well as the consequences of their refusal to undergo this examination;
  3. Unaccompanied children or their guardians consent to carry out the procedure for the determination of the age of the children concerned;
  4. The decision to reject an application of an unaccompanied child who refused to undergo this age determination procedure shall not be based solely on that refusal; and
  5. Until the completion of the age determination procedure, the person who claims to be a minor shall be treated as such.

The law also states that “the year of birth can be modified after the age determination procedure under Article 75, unless during the interview it appears that the applicant who is registered as an adult is manifestly a minor; in such cases, a decision of the Head of the competent Receiving Authority, following a recommendation by the case-handler, shall suffice.”[37]

Regarding the age assessment procedure per se, the JMD 1982/2016 provides that:

  • In case of doubt during the asylum procedure, the competent officer informs the Head of the RAO, who shall issue a decision specifically justifying such doubt in order to refer the applicant to a public health institution or an entity regulated by the Ministry of Health, where a paediatrician and psychologist are employed and a social service operates;[38]

 

  • The age assessment is conducted with the following successive methods: based on the macroscopic characteristics, such as height, weight, body mass index, voice and hair growth, following a clinical examination from a paediatrician, who will consider body-metric data. The clinical examination must be carried out with due respect of the person's dignity, and take into account deviations and variations relating to cultural and racial elements and living conditions that may affect the individual's development. The paediatrician shall justify his or her final estimation based on the aforementioned examination data;[39]

 

  • In case the person’s age cannot be adequately determined through the examination of macroscopic features, following certification by the paediatrician, an assessment by the psychologist and the social worker of the structure of the entity will follow in order to evaluate the cognitive, behavioural and psychological development of the individual and a relevant report will be drafted by them. This procedure will take place in a language understood by the applicant, with the assistance of an interpreter, if needed.[40] If no psychologist is employed or there is no functioning social service in the public health institution, this assessment may be conducted by a psychologist and a social worker available from civil society organisations;[41]

 

  • Wherever a conclusion cannot be reached after the conduct of the above procedure, the following medical examinations will be conducted: left wrist and hand X-rays for the assessment of the skeletal mass, dental examination and panoramic dental X- rays.[42] The opinions and evaluation results are delivered to the Head of the RAO, who issues a relevant act to adopt their conclusions.[43]

 

The JMD was an anticipated legal instrument, filling the gap of dedicated age assessment procedures within the context of the Asylum Service and limiting the use of medical examinations to a last resort while prioritising alternative means of assessment. Multiple safeguards prescribed in both the Law, the IPA and JMD 1982/2016 regulate the context of the procedure sufficiently, while explicitly providing the possibility of remaining doubts and thus providing the applicant with the benefit of the doubt even after the conclusion of the procedure. However, the lack of an effective guardianship system also hinders the enjoyment of procedural rights guaranteed by national legislation (see Legal Representation of Unaccompanied Children).

In practice, the lack of qualified staff within the reception and identification procedure and shortcomings in the age assessment procedure in the RIC undoubtedly have spill-over effect on the asylum procedure, as the issuance of an age determination act by the RIS precedes the registration of the asylum application with the Asylum Service. While registration of date of birth by the Hellenic Police could be corrected by merely stating the correct date before the Asylum Service, this is not the case for individuals whose age has been wrongly assessed by the RIS. In this case, in order for the personal data e.g. age of the person to be corrected, the original travel document, or identity card should be submitted. Additionally, a birth certificate or family status can be submitted, however, these two documents require an “apostille” stamp,[44] which in practice is not always possible for an asylum seeker to obtain. In practice though, in a few cases the employees in the RAOs proceed to the correction of the age of the person, based on documents without “apostille”. Alternatively, according to the law, the caseworker of the Asylum Service can refer the applicant to the age assessment determination procedure in case that reasonable drought exists as to his or her age.[45] In this case, referral to the age assessment procedure largely lies at the discretion of the Asylum Service caseworker.

The number of age assessments conducted within the framework of the asylum procedure in 2019 is not available.   

In light of the persisting gaps on the child protection in Greece, including the lack of effective guardianship, lack of qualified staff for age assessment procedures, inconsistencies in the procedure followed and the lack of any legal framework governing the age assessments conducted by the Police (see Detention of Vulnerable Applicants) the 2017 findings of the Ombudsman are still valid: “The verification of age appears to still be based mainly on the medical assessment carried out at the hospitals, according to a standard method that includes x-ray and dental examination, while the clinical assessment of the anthropometric figures and the psychosocial assessment is either absent or limited. This makes more difficult the further verification of the scientific correctness of the assessment.”[46]

Moreover, in the past the Ombudsman had expressed serious doubts as to the proper and systematic implementation of the age assessment procedures provided by both ministerial decisions and the implementation of a reliable system.[47] On 30 August 2018 the Greek Ombudsman had sent a letter to the Director of the Asylum Service on issues that hinder access to the asylum procedure for the unaccompanied minors as well as other issues, such as delays, erroneous implementation of the age assessment procedure etc. This document remained answered, thus the Ombudsman sent a kind reminder on 30 September 2019, emphasizing that age assessments based on diagnostic examinations (such a wrist X-ray scan) should not be accepted given the fact that the accuracy of these exams is questionable.



[1] See General Commission of Administrative Courts, ‘Proposals regarding the acceleration of the asylum procedure’, 14 November 2017, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2rYpmpk; ECRE, ‘Greek judges recommend legal restrictions to accelerate procedure on the islands’, 24 November 2017, http://bit.ly/2hRblC3.

[2] Until the end of 2019 Article 14(8) L 4375/2016 was applicable. It provided that “Law 4375/2016 (applicable until the end of 2019) provided that: “The Manager of [RIC] or the Unit, acting on a proposal of the Head of the medical screening and psychosocial support unit shall refer persons belonging to vulnerable groups to the competent social support and protection institution. A copy of the medical screening and psychosocial support file shall be sent to the Head of the Open Temporary Reception or Accommodation Structure or competent social support and protection institution, as per case, where the person is being referred to. In all cases the continuity of the medical treatment followed shall be ensured, where necessary.”

[3] FRA, Update of the 2016 FRA Opinion on fundamental rights in the hotspots set up in Greece and Italy, 4 March 2019, 46-47. 

[4] RSA-PRO ASYL, STRUCTURAL FAILURE: Why Greece’s reception system failed to provide durable solutions, June 2019, Response by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) to the Observations of the Greek Government on the Merits of Collective Complaint 173/2018, November 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2YdqNie.

[5] No end in sight, The mistreatment of asylum seekers in Greece, August 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2y52GaH.

[6]  UNHCR, Factsheet: Greece, 1 -31 August 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3cTpokL.

[7] Information provided by the Ministry for Migration and Asylum, Special Secretariat for Reception, 6 February 2020. 

[8]  Council of Europe, Report of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Dunja Mijatović following her visit to Greece from 25 to 29 June 2018, CommDH(2018)24, 6 November 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2IwG4EG, para 46. 

[9] UNHCR, Greece must act to end dangerous overcrowding in island reception centres, EU support crucial, 1 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2W86Lmz.

[10]  Council of Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights, Greece must urgently transfer asylum seekers from the Aegean islands and improve living conditions in reception facilities, 31 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2SdBgpM; Response by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) to the Observations of the Greek Government on the Merits of Collective Complaint 173/2018, November 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3bN30cW.

[11] No end in sight, The mistreatment of asylum seekers in Greece, August 2019.

[12]  Information provided by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, 7 February 2020.

[13] Information provided by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, 7 February 2020.

[14]  European Commission, Progress report on the Joint Action Plan on the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, Annex 2, COM(2017) 669, 15 November 2017.

[15] Article 53 L 4375/2016, as amended by Article 28(10) L 4540/2018, see also Article 72(3) IPA.

[16]  Oxfam, Vulnerable and abandoned, January 2019.

[17] Article 53 L 4375/2016, as amended by Article 28(10) L 4540/2018, see also Article 72(3) IPA.

[18]  See also FRA, Update of the 2016 FRA Opinion on fundamental rights in the hotspots set up in Greece and Italy, 4 March 2019, 26. 

[19]  See Article 72(3) IPA 

[20] ECRE, The role of EASO operations in National Asylum Systems, November 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2Yb9OwQ. Information provided by the Asylum Service, 17 February 2020.

[21] Information provided by the Asylum Service, 17 February 2020.

[22]  Article 60(4)(b) L 4375/2016 provides that EASO staff may conduct a personal interview, but does not mention vulnerability assessments, see also 90(3)(b) IPA.

[23]  Greens/EFA, The EU-Turkey Statement and the Greek Hotspots: A failed European Pilot Project in Refugee Policy, June 2018, 19.

[24] Article 14(8) L 4375/2016.

[25] AIDA, The concept of vulnerability in European asylum procedures, September 2017, 30; ECCHR, Case report Greece: EASO’s influence on inadmissibility decisions exceeds the Agency’s competence and disregards fundamental rights, April 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2uhlhZF.

[26] AIDA, The concept of vulnerability in European asylum procedures, September 2017, 30; Ombudsman, Migration flows and refugee protection: Administrative challenges and human rights, Special Report 2017, 31.

[27] European Centre for Constitutional an Human Rights, EASO’s involvement in Greek Hotspots exceeds the agency’s competence and disregards fundamental rights, April 2019, available at:  https://bit.ly/2VILjFL.

[28] Article 52 L 4375/2016, see also 72(1) IPA.

[29]  Article 53 L 4375/2016.

[30]  Joint Ministerial Decision 1982/2016, Gov. Gazette B’335/16-2-2016.

[31]  Article 22(A)11 JMD 1982/2016, citing Article 34(1) PD 113/2013 and Article 12(4) PD 114/2010.

[32] Ministerial Decision n. Y1.Γ.Π.οικ. 92490/2013 “Programme for medical examination, psychosocial diagnosis and support and referral of entering without legal documentation third country nationals, in first reception facilities”.

[33] Information provided from the RIS, 11 February 2020.

[34]  Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Children Cast Adrift: Exclusion and exploitation of unaccompanied minors (UAMs) in Greece (2019), available at: https://bit.ly/2yR9clg.

[35] Humanrights360, No end in sight – The mistreatment of asylum seekers in Greece, (2019), available at: https://bit.ly/2YauWmY.

[36]  Submission by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the case of International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) v. Greece (Complaint No. 173/2018) before the European Committee of Social Rights.

[37] Article 79(4) IPA.

[38]  Article 2 JMD 1982/2016.

[39]  Article 3 JMD 1982/2016.

[40]  Article 4 JMD 1982/2016.

[41]  Article 5 JMD 1982/2016.

[42] Article 6 JMD 1982/2016.

[43]  Article 7 JMD 1982/2016.

[44] Decision of the Director of the Asylum Service No 3153, Gov. Gazette Β’ 310/02.02.2018. 

[45]   Article 75(3) IPA.

[46]  Ombudsman, Migration flows and refugee protection: Administrative challenges and human rights, Special Report 2017, 25-25 and 75.

[47] Ibid, 25.

 

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation