According to PD 131/2006 transposing the Family Reunification Directive, as supplemented by PD 167/2008 and amended by PD 113/2013, only recognised refugees have the right to apply for reunification with family members who are third-country nationals, if they are in their home country or in another country outside the EU.
As per Article 13 PD 131/2006, “family members” include:
- Unmarried minor children;
- Unmarried adult children with serious health problems which render them incapable to support themselves;
- Parents, where the beneficiary solemnly declares that he or she has been living with them and taking care of them before leaving his or her country of origin, and that they no longer have other family members to care for and support them;
- Unmarried partners with whom the applicant has a stable relationship, which is proven mainly by the existence of a child or previous cohabitation, or any other appropriate means of proof.
- If the refugee is an unaccompanied minor, he or she has the right to be reunited with his or her parents if he or she does not have any other adult relatives in Greece.
If a recognised refugee requests reunification with his or her spouse and/or dependent children, within 3 months from the deliverance of the decision granting him or her refugee status, the documents required with the application are:
- A recent family status certificate, birth certificate or other document officially translated into Greek and certified by a competent Greek authority, proving the family bond and/or the age of family members; and
- A certified copy of the travel documents of the family members.
However, if the applicant cannot provide these certificates, the authorities take into consideration other appropriate evidence.
On the other hand, if the refugee is an adult and the application refers to his or her parents and/or the application is not filed within 3 months from recognition, apart from the documents mentioned above, further documentation is needed:
- Full Social Security Certificate, i.e. certificate from a public social security institution, proving the applicant’s full social security coverage; or
- Tax declaration proving the applicant’s fixed, regular and adequate annual personal income, which is not provided by the Greek social welfare system, and which amounts to no less than the annual income of an unskilled worker – in practice about €8,500 – plus 20% for the spouse and 15% for each parent and child with which he or she wishes to be reunited;
- A certified contract for the purchase of a residence, or a residence lease contract attested by the tax office, or other certified document proving that the applicant has sufficient accommodation to meet the accommodation needs of his or her family.
The Asylum Service has interpreted this article of P.D. 131/2006 in a pro-refugee light. Either a full social security certificate or tax declaration proving sufficient income is required (not both of them). On the contrary, the Aliens Police Directorate, i.e. in cases of recognized applicants under the “old procedure” (PD 114/2010) requires both certificates after the three months of recognition. Another difference is that Asylum Service starts counting the 3-month period from the deliverance of the recognition decision. On the contrary, for the Aliens Police Directorate this deadline starts from the issuance of this decision that in most of these cases took place more than 3 months before the deliverance of the decision. In practice, the Aliens Police Directorate is demanding from refugees to apply for family reunification before they even know that they are recognized as refugees.
The abovementioned additional documents are not required in case of an unaccompanied child recognised as refugee, applying for family reunification after the 3-month period after recognition.
If the application for family reunification is rejected, the applicants have 10 days to submit an appeal before the competent administrative authorities. It is worth mentioning that there is no provision for free legal aid for this appeal. In case the appeal is rejected, applicants have the right to lodge an Application for Annulment before the competent Administrative Court of First Instance. If the family members enter Greece, they must within a month upon their arrival to submit in person an application for the issuance of a residence permit.
In practice, the family reunification procedure is extremely lengthy and complicated. It lasts at least three years, and requires constant legal assistance and support. Specifically, the procedure includes, inter alia, communication and cooperation with the competent Greek Embassies, interviews with both the refugee and his/her family members, DNA testing where requested, as well as legal representation before the competent Administrative Court in case of rejection. It is worth mentioning that only urgent DNA tests are conducted, in violation of the Joint Ministerial Decision 47094/2018, due to the fact that there is no way for the required administrative fee to be paid since such electronic fee does not exist (“e-paravolo”).
In November 2019, GCR represented a recognised refugee before the First Instance Administrative Court of Athens. On 9 September 2020, the Court annulled the decision of the Hellenic Police rejecting the application for family reunification. More precisely, in 2012, the applicant had applied for asylum and in 2016 he had been granted refugee status in Greece due to his persecution for political reasons. In 2016, he submitted an application for family reunification with his three children and his wife at the Alien’s Department of Attica. Upon notification of a 1st instance rejection in 2018, he submitted an appeal, which was also rejected due to (a) the alleged lack of competence of the officer of the Greek Embassy who had ratified the documents proving his family link and (b) the alleged late submission of his application for family reunification. In the application for annulment it was argued that the rejection was not based neither on an individualized assessment, nor on a reasoned judgment. Moreover, it was argued that the three-month deadline had been calculated not from the notification of the recognition decision, but from the date of issuance of the decision. Thus, the deadline could not start before the applicant was even aware that he had been granted the refugee status. It was also argued that the aforementioned rejection was violating the relevant national and European laws on refugee family reunification, and international law on human rights. In light of the above, the Court annulled the decision of the Police and ordered the competent administrative authority to re-examine the application for family reunification. In December 2020, the latter accepted the application for family reunification. However, the family was still not reunited at the end of March 2021; the competent Greek Embassy seems unwilling to issue the reunification visas, and states that the visas will be issued when the “time is ripe”. As of March 2022, his family members were still not issued family reunification visas, and the competent Greek Embassy announced it would not examine the cases of the refugee children since they reached the age of majority during the ongoing court proceedings.
Refugees who apply for family reunification face serious obstacles which render the effective exercise of the right to family reunification impossible in practice. Lengthy procedures, administrative obstacles as regards the issuance of visas even in cases where the application for family reunification has been accepted, the requirement of documents which are difficult to obtain by refugees, and lack of information on the possibility of family reunification, the three-month deadline and the available remedies are reported among others.
The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights notes that these administrative obstacles result in a short number of beneficiaries of international protection being able to initiate a family reunification procedure. Moreover, the deficiencies in the family reunification procedure sometimes result in families trying to reunite through dangerous irregular routes.
In 2019, 266 applications for family reunification were submitted before the Asylum Service. The Asylum Service took 22 positive decisions, 2 partially positive decisions and 29 negative decisions. The Asylum Service due to the nature of this procedure cannot specify the time needed for a decision to be issued. This information was not provided by the Asylum Service for the year 2021. However, only one family member arrived in Greece from the old procedure.
In February 2018, in a case supported by GCR, the Administrative Court of Athens annulled a decision rejecting the application for family reunification submitted by a refugee before the Aliens Police Directorate of Attica. The Court found that the rejection of the application had been issued in breach of the relevant legal framework. In November 2019, the Aliens Police Directorate issued again a negative decision on the same case. Following this decision, in January 2019 GCR’s Legal Unit applied again for the annulment of this second negative Decision of the Aliens Police Directorate, before the Administrative Court of Athens. The Decision of the Court was still pending in April 2022.
A long awaited Joint Ministerial Decision was issued in August 2018 on the requirements regarding the issuance of visas for family members in the context of family reunification with refugees. Among other provisions, this Decision sets out a DNA test procedure in order to prove family links and foresees interviews of the family members by the competent Greek Consulate. The entire procedure is described in detail in the relevant handbook of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to the Ministerial Decision, the refugee must pay €120 per DNA sample but until today the electronic fee (e-paravolo) is not available and thus the payment of the fee is not possible. In addition, the DNA kit must be sent from the Forensic Science Department (Διεύθυνση Εγκληματολογικών Ερευνών) that will conduct the test, to the Greek Consulate in the diplomatic pouch of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is a procedure which can be proven lengthy. Moreover, there is no legal provision for family reunification where the refugee family members cannot issue travel documents, since the Greek Authorities continue to deny the issuance of laissez-passer for family reunifications and the Greek Ministry of foreign affairs has stated that it is not competent to issue one- way- travel documents. Thus, family reunifications for stateless persons are impossible in practice.
In November 2019, GCR supported the first case on a DNA test Procedure in Greece. Although an initial positive decision for family reunification was issued, a DNA test has been ordered due to the doubts on the family link expressed by the competent Greek Consulate. In this case, there was no Greek Embassy in the country of origin and the family members had to present themselves at the Greek Embassy appointed as competent for the issuance of the visas, located in another country. However, during the DNA test procedure the visas of the refugee his family members for that country expired. Hence, they had to stay in that country for more than three months, waiting for the procedure to be finalized. In February 2020 the visas were finally issued. However, the family members that arrived in Greece were not able to apply in person within one month upon their arrival, due to COVID-19 measures. The competent RAO made an exception due to force majeure and granted them residence permit as family members of a recognized refugee.
In June 2020 GCR lodged two applications for the annulment of negative decisions issued by the competent Greek Consulate against the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Competent Greek Consulate ignored the positive family reunification decision that had already been issued by the Asylum Service an decided to conduct a family reunification interview without the request of the Asylum Service, in violation of the Joint Ministerial Decision 47094/2018 for family reunifications. It further omitted to conduct a DNA test as requested by the beneficiary of international protection The court date for the two applications is set on April 2022.
Refugee family members who enter Greece after a successful family reunification cannot apply for the renewal of their residence permit if they reach the age of majority (18). P.D. 131/2006 provides for a special one-year residence permit until they reach the age of 21. However, they still need a valid residence permit in order to apply for the said one-year residence permit before the competent Decentralized Administration of their place of residence.
In December 2020, GCR represented two cases regarding that issue. The Headquarters of the Hellenic Police rejected the applications for renewal of the residence permit of four refugee family members who had entered Greece after positive family reunification decisions, on the grounds that “they reached the age of majority”. In the first case, the refugee family member was placed in administrative detention when he was invited to the Aliens Directorate of Attica and was released the same day, after he asked for international protection. In the second case, GCR has filed a complaint to the Greek Ombudsman In 2021, GCR represented a similar case: a 17.5-year-old-refugee arrived in Greece through family reunification and was issued a residence-permit valid for six months until the age of 18, in violation of art. 15 par.2 P.D.131/2006 that requires the residence permit to be valid for at a least a year. The Headquarters of the Hellenic Police denied to renew her residence permit until the age of 21, claiming that they had no competence to do so. GCR filed a complaint to the Greek Ombudsman for the above-mentioned case. Eventually, in March 2022, her residence permit was renewed by the Aliens Department of Attica. However, no relevant decision was issued.
There is no available data concerning the total number of applications for visas submitted before Greek Consulates following a positive family reunification decision during 2021.
 Article 14(1) PD 131/2006.
 Article 14(3) PD 131/2006, citing Article 14(1)(d).
 Article 14(3) PD 131/2006, citing Article 14(1)(d).
 Article 12 (1) P.D.131/2006.
 Article 46 (1) P.D. 18/1989.
 Article 15 (2) P.D. 131/2006.
 Administrative Court of 1st Instance of Athens, Decision 493/2020
 See e.g. Pro Asyl and Refugee Support Aegean, Rights and effective protection exist only on paper: The precarious existence of beneficiaries of international protection in Greece, 30 June 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2FkN0i9, 26-27.
 Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, 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, paras 68-69.
 Information provided by the Asylum Service, 17 February 2020.
 Information provided by the Asylum Service, 17 February 2020.
 Information provided by the Headquarters of the Hellenic Police, 25 February 2022
 JMD 47094/2018, Gov. Gazette B/3678/28.08.2018.
 Article 2 IPA.
 Article 11 (1) P.D. 131/2006.