Adequate support during the interview
According to article 67 (2) IPA, ‘[w]here applicants have been identified as applicants in need of special procedural guarantees, they shall be provided with adequate support in order to be in the position to benefit from the rights and comply with the obligations in the framework of the asylum procedure.
IPA provides examples of forms of adequate support that can be granted in the procedure. More specifically:
- The possibility of additional breaks during the personal interview;
- The possibility for the applicant to move during the interview if his or her health condition so requires;
- Leniency to minor inconsistencies and contradictions, to the extent that they relate to the applicant’s health condition.
National legislation expressively provides that each caseworker conducting an asylum interview shall be “trained in particular as of the special needs of women, children, and victims of violence and torture.”
The law also provides that, when a woman is being interviewed, the interviewer, as well as the interpreter, should also be female where this has been expressly requested by the applicant.
In practice, GCR is aware of cases where the vulnerability or particular circumstances of the applicant have not been taken into account or have not properly been assessed at first or/and second instance.
Examples include the following:
- In a case of a young woman, national of Cameroon, victim of sexual and gender-based violence and human trafficking, who fled her country of origin due to persecution because of her sexual orientation, the first instance decision was full of contradictions and her serious psychological and mental health problems were not taken into account by the caseworker, even though she had been already identified as “vulnerable” by RIS (victim of torture) and her case had been channeled to the regular procedure. She had also submitted certificates from both a psychiatrist and a psychologist. In fact, failing to properly evaluate her medical problems, it was stated that “she was not considered credible since the descriptions she gave were considered insufficiently detailed”. The case is still pending before the Appeals Committee.
- In a case of a young man, national of the Democratic Republic of Congo, suffering from serious mental health disorders, the Asylum Service as well as the Appeals Authority did not take into consideration the medical certificates that were submitted and the respective allegations of the applicant and considered him as non-credible concerning his persecution in his country of origin. Legal remedies were lodged before the competent Administrative Court; the application for suspension was accepted and the application for annulment is still pending.
- Where they have referred to Article 67 IPA, the Appeals Committees have found that the onus is on the applicant to specify which forms of “adequate support” are not available to him or her in the fast-track border procedure. In one case, concerning a victim of torture whose claim was not exempted from the fast-track border procedure, the Appeals Committee held that the duty to provide adequate support had been fulfilled insofar as the interviewer agreed to split the interview into two parts, upon request; Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was providing health care and psychological support to the applicant; the applicant was able to fully and clearly respond to the questions of the interviewer without any evident impact of their health condition on their answers; and the applicant was able to appeal the negative decision, with the assistance of a legal representative.
- In a case of a young man, national of Afghanistan, the interview before the RAO of Lesvos was conducted with him being treated as an adult, even though the age determination procedure was still ongoing. Meanwhile, it was proved that he was a minor. However, the caseworker did not take it into consideration and the 1st instance decision was issued. After an appeal was lodged against that decision, the Appeals Authority accepted that a violation of the procedure took place and invited the appellant, accompanied by a guardian/representative, for an interview. The decision is still pending.
- According to GCR’s experience, in several cases, when evaluating claims made by persons of a particular nationality – mainly Pakistani or Bangladeshi– the caseworkers and the Appeals Committee seem to discriminate and minors are not given the benefit of the doubt. All decisions rejecting minors’ claims have troubling similarities. Procedural deficits (absence of a guardian, of appropriate legal representation and legal aid during the process), as well as substantial deficits regarding the determination of refugee status (lack of any reference to the Best Interest of the Child or lack of assessment of the Best Interest, obvious lack of knowledge regarding forms of child persecution in general and in countries of origin in particular or the lack of a proper assessment of a minor’s credibility), make it almost impossible for unaccompanied minors undergoing the procedure themselves to qualify for international protection, with the sole exception of children of Syrian nationality. This is reflected in the official statistics provided by the Asylum Service. According to the data provided, during 2020 there were only 319 decisions granting refugee status to unaccompanied children and 61 granting subsidiary protection, whereas there were 965 rejecting decisions. There are still 4,249 pending decisions for UACs.
Exemption from special procedures
The IPA no longer provides for exemption of vulnerable persons from special procedures as a general rule (see Identification). Applicants in need of special procedural guarantees are only exempted from the Accelerated Procedure, the Border Procedure, and the Fast-Track Border Procedure where adequate support cannot be provided (see above). Nevertheless, L. 4686/2020 abolished the rule introduced by L.4636/2019 allowing for the standard processing of vulnerable cases through accelerated procedures.
According to the information provided by the Asylum Service, in 2020, 5,885 cases were exempted from the fast-track border procedure and were channeled into the regular procedure for reasons of vulnerability. However, the specific vulnerabilities presented by each case are not available.
In a 2020 case, the 4th Independent Appeals Committee found no basis to order exemption of an asylum-seeking victim of torture from the fast-track border procedure on the ground that the individual had suffered no procedural damage (δικονομική βλάβη) from the processing of his asylum claim under the truncated timeframes of the fast-track border procedure. To support its reasoning, the Appeals Committee held that the applicant was ultimately able to obtain legal representation and to lodge an appeal against the first instance rejection of his claim within the deadline.
Unaccompanied children below the age of 15, as well as unaccompanied children who are victims of trafficking, torture, rape, or other forms of serious psychological, physical and sexual violence, are always processed under the regular procedure. For those aged 15 or over who are not victims of trafficking, torture or violence, exemption from special procedures depends on the individual grounds applied by the authorities in each case:
|Exemption of unaccompanied children aged 15 or over from special procedures|
|Accelerated procedure||Border and fast-track border procedures|
|Claim unrelated to protection||√||Protection in another Member State||√|
|Safe country of origin||x||First country of asylum||√|
|False information or documents||√
|Safe third country||X|
|Destruction or disposal of documents||√||Subsequent application||X|
|Clearly unconvincing application||√||Application by dependant||√|
|Subsequent application||x||Claim unrelated to the protection||√|
|Application to frustrate return proceedings||√||Safe country of origin||X|
|Application not as soon as possible||√||False information or documents||X|
|Refusal to be fingerprinted under Eurodac||√||Destruction or disposal of documents||X|
|Threat to public order or national security||x||Clearly unconvincing claim||√|
|Refusal to be fingerprinted under national law||√||Application to frustrate return proceedings||√|
|Vulnerable person||√||Application not as soon as possible||√|
|Refusal to be fingerprinted under Eurodac||√|
|Threat to public order or national security||X|
|Refusal to be fingerprinted under national law||√|
As far as the Safe Third Country concept is concerned, the law specifies that unaccompanied children may only be subject to the border and fast-track border procedure where this is in line with their best interests.
Pressure on the Greek authorities to abolish the exemptions of vulnerable applicants from the fast-track border procedure and to “reduce the number of asylum seekers identified as vulnerable”, for the sake of the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement and the increase of returns to Turkey is already reported since late 2016. However, as underlined by inter alia Médecins Sans Frontières “far from being over-identified, vulnerable people are falling through the cracks and are not being adequately identified and cared for.”
Within this framework, L 4540/2018, transposing the recast Reception Conditions Directive, has omitted persons suffering from PTSD from the list of vulnerable applicants. Subsequently, following the 2019 and 2020 amendment, IPA has not included persons suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the list of vulnerable individuals.
Both definitions “vulnerable group” and “applicant in need of special procedural guarantees” were used by IPA before the amendment by L4686 in relation to other procedural guarantees such as the examination of applications by way of priority. Αlthough article 39(5)(d) IPA provided that applications of persons belonging to vulnerable groups were examined “under absolute priority”, this provision was abolished by L. 4686/2020.
The number of applications by vulnerable persons which were examined by priority until the entry into force of L.4686/2020 is not available. However, as stated in Regular Procedure: Personal Interview, GCR is aware of applications by persons officially recognized as vulnerable whose interview has been scheduled over one year after registration.
 Article 67(2) IPA.
 Article 77(12)(a) IPA.
 Article 77(5) IPA, as well as Administrative Court of Appeal of Athens, Decision 3043/2018, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2Jk1Bk6, which found that an applicant who has not requested an interpreter of the same gender for the interview cannot rely on this provision at a later stage.
 Decision on file with the author.
 Decisions on file with the author.
 14th Independent Appeals Committee, Decision 4334/2020, 9 April 2020: Information provided by RSA, 4 January 2021.
 Decisions on file with the author.
Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Children Cast Adrift: Exclusion and exploitation of unaccompanied minors (UAMs) in Greece (2019), available at: https://bit.ly/35b4jjn.
 Information provided from the Asylum Service, 31st March 2021.
 Articles 39(5)(d) and 72(3) IPA provide state that the determination of an applicant as vulnerable has the sole effect of triggering immediate care of particular reception. L 4375/2016, previously in force, expressly foresaw that applicants in need of special procedural guarantees and unaccompanied minors shall always be examined under the regular procedure.
 Article 67(3) IPA. This provision clarifies that, where the applicant falls within the cases where no appeals have no automatic suspensive effect, he or she must have access to interpretation services, legal assistance and at least one week to prepare the appeal (see also Border Procedure and Fast-Track Border Procedure).
 Article 60 L.4686/2020, provides for the repeal, among other provisions, of Article 83 para. 9(l) of L. 4636/2019
 Information provided by the Asylum Service, 31 March 2021.
 4th Independent Appeals Committee, Decision 12645/2020, 21 July 2020: Information provided by RSA, 4 January 2021.
 Article 75(7) IPA.
 Articles 83(10) and 90(4) IPA.
 Article 90(4)(d) IPA.
 European Commission, Joint Action Plan of the EU Coordinator on the implementation of certain provisions of the EU-Turkey Statement, Annex 1 to COM(2016) 792, 8 December 2016, paras 2 and 3; Human Rights Watch, ‘EU/Greece: Pressure to minimise numbers of migrants identified as vulnerable’, 1 June 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2qD2fQb; AIDA, The concept of vulnerability in European asylum procedures, September 2017, 17.
 MSF, A dramatic deterioration for asylum seekers on Lesvos, July 2017, 3.
 Article 20(1) L. 4540/2018.
 See also Articles 39(6)(c) and 83(7) IPA.
 Article 39(5)(d) L.4636/2019.
 Article 2(3) L. 4686/2020.
 Information provided by the Asylum Service, 31 March 2021