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 their 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 recognised 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 recognised 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. The Asylum Service has decided that unaccompanied or separated children who are recognised refugees, under the age of 15 years old, and have applied for family reunification do not require a family reunification interview. Instead, a written memo has to be submitted before the Asylum Unit for Beneficiaries of International Protection (AUIPB). Despite the fact that P.D. 131/2006 does not include siblings as family members, the AUIPB, in cases of unaccompanied minors, is asking from the Director of the Asylum Service an ad hoc exception in order to issue a positive family reunification decision also for the refugee’s siblings. However, since neither P.D. 131/2006 nor art. 23 of the Asylum Code provides for the issuance of residence permits to the siblings of the refugee, it remains to be seen how this legal vacuum will be covered.
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 within 60 days from the deliverance of the negative decision. 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.as refugee family members
In practice, the family reunification procedure is extremely lengthy and complicated. It lasts years and requires constant legal assistance and support. Specifically, the procedure includes, inter alia, communication and cooperation with the competent Greek Consulates, interviews with both the refugee before the AUIPB and his/her family members before the Competent Consulate, DNA testing where requested, as well as legal representation before the competent Administrative Court in case of rejection of family reunification or negative family reunification visa decision. It is worth mentioning that since December 2019, no DNA tests have been 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”). Most importantly, 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 since January 2021, it is not competent to issue one- way- travel documents. Thus, family reunifications for stateless persons or asylum seekers in other countries are literally impossible. This is of outmost importance since P.D. 131/2006 requires the travel documents in order to issue family reunification decisions, while the International Committee of the Red Cross (the only viable solution for the issuance of travel documents) requires a positive family reunification decision in order to issue its Emergency Travel Document. Thus, the refugees are trapped in a vicious circle without alternative solutions. In 2022, the ICRC issued commitment letters for the issuance of an emergency travel document in two family reunification cases concerning refugee family members that were stateless persons and asylum seekers in third countries. Unfortunately, these letters had no effect in the outcome of those cases that have remained frozen for almost 4 years.
In light of the above shortcomings, for several years GCR has been representing a strategic litigation case of a refugee who has spent 12 years (since 2011) trying to bring his family to Greece through family reunification. However, his application for family reunification has been rejected in all instances twice. The first rejection was based on the lack of certified copies of official documents proving the family link with his family members that were asylum seekers in another third country at the time as well as the lack of travel documents of the latter. The Administrative First Instance Court of Athens annulled the first decision (ΔΠΑ 59/2018). Nevertheless, the Greek Administration has never complied with the abovementioned judicial decision in breach of the law and in 2019 rejected his application for family reunification once again on the grounds of a lack of travel documents and the fact that, according to the Greek Administration, there is no legal basis for the issuance of travel documents (laissez-passer). Thus, an application for annulment was submitted for the second time to the Administrative court of First Instance of Athens aimed at setting aside the negative decision. On 20 June 2022, the Court annulled the aforementioned decision and referred the case back to the competent administrative authority again in order to take a new legal decision. (See the decision below: ΔΠΑ861/2022).
In September 2022, the refugee was served a legal document by the Hellenic Police asking him whether his family members have travel documents. He was given 10 days to reply to this document in writing. In the meantime, his family members were recognised as refugees in the third country, but their travel documents had not been issued and it was doubtful if they would be issued in the future. In October 2022, a memo was submitted before the Aliens Department of the Hellenic Police. On the same day a commitment letter for the issuance of (Emergency Travel Documents) ETD for his family members by the International Committee of the Red Cross after the issuance of a positive family reunification decision was submitted to the afore-mentioned authority. Subsequently, in January 2023, a special letter was signed by the refugee for the issuance of the travel documents of his family members by the Authorities of the State that had recognised them as refugees. The travel documents were finally issued in February 2023. However, a decision is yet to be issued even though copies of the travel documents certified by a Greek Consulate were submitted.
In addition to the above, in December 2022, with GCR’s assistance, one of the oldest and most difficult family reunification cases in Greece was completed after six years. A positive family reunification decision had been issued in 2016 for a refugee suffering from kidney failure and undergoing dialysis. The Greek Consulate, after 2.5 years of obstructiveness and based on an opinion of a law firm that cooperates with the Consulate, ruled that the family reunification documents were forged, because a part of them was handwritten. An independent law firm and the Municipality of the city that issued the documents conducted research into this matter and reached the conclusion that the documents were NOT forged. Despite GCR’s long correspondence with the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a DNA test was never conducted due to the unwillingness of the Greek Consulate. On February 2020, after the health condition of the refugee deteriorated, the refugee’s wife entered Greece with a tourist visa, applied for asylum and got recognised as a refugee in November 2022. In April 2022, the three-member Magistrate Court of Athens finally declared the refugee innocent of forgery. In July 2022, GCR filed a complaint to the Greek Ombudsman for the obstructiveness of the Greek Consulate. Afterwards, the Greek Consulate replied to the Ombudsman stating that appointments for the issuance of visas can NOT be requested by lawyers. In an attempt to make the procedure even harder, the Greek Consulate conducted several interviews with the family members that lasted almost a working day at a time. The family reunification visas were finally issued in December 2022 and the family members arrived in Greece.
Moreover, 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 individualised 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”. In March 2023, the Greek Ambassador demanded that the refugee’s family members provide the Embassy with a certified copy of the family reunification decision as proof of their identity even though the original family reunification decision was already in the family reunification file sent to the Embassy by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2020 and all family members hold passports as proof of their identity. Obtaining a certified copy of the family reunification decision was extremely difficult since the Headquarters of the Hellenic Police never serve the positive family reunification decisions to the refugee, instead the decisions are directly sent to the competent Greek Diplomatic Authorities. However, after filing of a reasoned application for service of the family reunification decision to the refugee and after numerous interventions, the family reunification decision was served in May 2023. As of May 2023 his family members had still not been issued family reunification visas.
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 certification of documents, 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 2022 data was not provided by the Asylum Service concerning family reunifications. However, 7 family reunification applications were submitted in the so called old- procedure of the Hellenic Police. Five (5) of them were rejected, one was accepted and one is still pending.
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. According to GCR’s experience even an urgent DNA test may last up to three months.
In November 2019, GCR supported the first and only so far 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 finalised. 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 recognised refugee. In March 2022 the family members obtained special refugee travel documents for the first time, since refugee family members are required to keep their national passports and can be issued special refugee travel documents only if the can not renew their national passports for objective reasons.
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 and 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 was set on April 2022. The court decisions are still pending.
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 Decentralised 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 , that declared itself competent and was once again renewed by the same Authority in November 2022 for a year. However, no relevant decision was issued both of the times. It is worth to be mentioned that the status of residence for refugee family members after the age of 21 remains to this day a legal vacuum, since article 11 P.D.131/2006 provides protection until the age of 21.
Data was not provided concerning the total number of applications for visas submitted before Greek Consulates following a positive family reunification decision during 2022. Nevertheless, the Greek Consulates in Yerevan-Armenia and Baghdad-Iraq informed the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs that during 2022 they did not handle any application for the issuance of family reunification visas. Only the Greek Consulate in Jerusalem provided data according to which 24 family reunification visas were issued by them in 2022. In addition, the Greek Consulate in Jerusalem noted that there is a delay in collecting the necessary supporting documents for the issuance of visas from the persons concerned and in locating them after the issuance of the positive decision on family reunification. In all family reunification cases handled by this Consulate the refugee family members were interviewed. However, as the majority of refugee family members reside in the Gaza Strip, there was a difficulty in moving them to East Jerusalem. Finally, the consulate in question pointed out that no DNA testing was conducted for the family reunification cases handled in 2022 as the testing can only carried out with the written consent of the person concerned, while the family link had already been proven with documents and through the interview. It is worth noting that the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs required data on family reunification from the Greek Embassies/Consulates in: Ankara, Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, Yerevan, Kinshasa, Nairobi, Rabat, Teheran, Erbil, Jerusalem, Cairo, Istanbul, Izmir and Jeddah. Nevertheless only the three above-mentioned Consulates provided data. Furthermore, the total number of refugee family members arriving to Greece through family reunification in enforcement of decisions issued by the Asylum Service was also not provided. No family members arrived to Greece through the “old procedure”.
 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, available at: https://bit.ly/3MziWTJ, 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.
 Information provided by the Headquarters of the Hellenic Police, 13 February 2023.
 JMD 47094/2018, Gov. Gazette B/3678/28.08.2018.
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Immigration Code Handbook, 2019, 123-127.
 Article 1 Asylum Code.
 Article 11 (1) P.D. 131/2006.
 Information provided by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 13 March 2023.
 Information provided by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 3 March 2023.
 Information provided by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 8 March 2023.
 Information provided by the Headquarters of the Hellenic Police, 13 February 2023.