According to Article 29 Asylum Code beneficiaries of international protection should enjoy the same rights as Greek citizens and receive the necessary social assistance, according to the terms applicable to Greek citizens. However, administrative and bureaucratic barriers, lack of state-organised actions in order to address their particular situation, non-effective implementation of the law, and the impact of economic crisis prevent international protection holders from the enjoyment of their rights, which in some cases may also constitute a violation of the of principle of equal treatment enshrined in L.3304/2005, transposing Directives 2000/43/EU and 2000/78/EU.
In 2022, 19,243 people were granted international protection at first instance(18,730 refugee status and 513 subsidiary protection), compared to 16,588 in 2021, down from 34,321 in 2020,17,355 in 2019, 15,192 in 2018 and 10,351 in 2017. As noted by UNHCR,
‘[t]here is a pressing need to support refugees to lead a normal life, go to school, get healthcare and earn a living. This requires key documents that allow access to services and national schemes, enable refugees to work and help their eventual integration in the host communities […] UNHCR advocates for refugees to be included in practice in the national social solidarity schemes, as for example the Social Solidarity Income and the Rental Allowance Scheme. While eligible, many are excluded because they cannot fulfil the technical requirements, as for example owning a house, or having a lease in their name’.
In any event, the impact of the financial crisis on the welfare system in Greece, the overall integration strategy and the Covid-19 pandemic should be also taken into consideration when assessing the ability of beneficiaries to live a dignified life in Greece.
Moreover, a number of measures restricting the access of recognised beneficiaries of international protection to social benefits and accommodation were announced in March 2020. As stated by the Minister for Migration and Asylum, “our aim is to grant asylum to those entitled within 2-3 months and from then on we cut any benefits and accommodation, as all this works as a pull factor […] Greece is cutting these benefits. Anyone after the recognition of the asylum status is responsible for himself”.
Indeed, an amendment to the asylum legislation in early March 2020 states that “after the issuance of the decision granting the status of international protection, material reception conditions in form of cash or in kind are interrupted. Said beneficiaries residing in accommodation facilities, including hotels and apartments have the obligation to leave them, in a 30-days period since the communication of the decision granting international protection”. Unaccompanied children have the legal obligation to leave the facilities within 30 days of reaching the age of majority. Special categories of beneficiaries for whom the provision of benefits or deadline to leave the facility is extended, and “in particular persons with a serious health condition”, may be foreseen by a ministerial Decision.
On 22 February 2022 the Ministry of Migration announced that from 16 April 2022, the number of places in the “ESTIA II” housing programme would be reduced to 10,000 from 27,000 in 2021, with a view to completing the programme by the end of 2022. This announcement also effects beneficiaries of international protection who must leave the accommodation within a month of their recognition.
According to the UNHCR data, beneficiaries of international protection, 8.86% of the respondents lived at an accommodation provided under the ESTIA II program, as the majority (41.25%) remained at the reception centres due to the lack of financial resources. Based on the data provided by the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum for the trimester of September-October-November 2022, 1,843 people were beneficiaries of the ESTIA II accommodation. Among them, 781 were recognised beneficiaries of international protection, while 42% were children. The closure of the ESTIA II program in December 2022 forced beneficiaries to leave their apartments and urban communities and move to camps in remote areas, increasing the number of self-accommodated people in Greece, as stated by UNICEF in the country office annual report 2022. A letter submitted by the European Parliament to the Commission on 16th November 2022, almost a month before the ESTIA II termination, stated that:
‘the end of the EU-funded ESTIA II program […] will lead to approximately 10,000 evictions […]. Consequently, vulnerable asylum seekers- including survivors of torture and persons with disabilities or severe illness- will lose their homes. They will have to live on the streets or in remote and freedom restricting camps with markedly worse living conditions and a lack of access to health, education, and special rehabilitation services.’
There is a serious information gap on the issue of the access of beneficiaries of international protection to housing. Recent research found that 18 out of 64 beneficiaries of international protection are homeless or in precarious housing conditions, 14 out of 64 are at an immediate risk of being homeless (living in ESTIA or camp after their recognition). A total of 32 out of 64, i.e. 50% of all beneficiaries of international protection live in precarious housing conditions
In general terms and according to the law beneficiaries of international protection have access to accommodation under the conditions and limitations applicable to third-country nationals residing legally in the country.
As has been mentioned, there is limited accommodation for homeless people in Greece and no shelters are dedicated to recognised refugees or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection. There is no provision for financial support for living costs. In Athens, for example, there are only four shelters for homeless people, including Greek citizens and third-country nationals lawfully on the territory. At these shelters, beneficiaries of international protection can apply for accommodation, but it is extremely difficult to be admitted given that these shelters are always overcrowded and constantly receiving new applications for housing.
According to GCR’s experience, those in need of shelter who lack the financial resources to rent a house remain homeless or reside in abandoned houses or overcrowded apartments, which are on many occasions sublet.
Return of beneficiaries of international protection to Greece
Upon arrival at Athens International Airport, returnees are only provided with a police note (ενημερωτικο σημειωμα) written in Greek, directing them to the Regional Asylum Office of Attica.
Several courts in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium have halted returns of beneficiaries of international protection to Greece. However, courts in countries such as Switzerland and Norway have maintained the view that conditions for beneficiaries do not infringe the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment.
On 21 January 2021, the Higher Administrative Court (OVG) of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia has ruled that two beneficiaries of international protection in Greece, an Eritrean national and a Syrian national of Palestinian origin, cannot be sent back from Germany because of a ‘serious risk of inhumane and degrading treatment.’ The Court held that if the two refugees were returned to Greece they would face ‘extreme material hardship’, they would be unable to find accommodation in reception facilities or homeless shelters and would have difficulty accessing the labour market.
Moreover, on 19 April 2021, the Higher Administrative Court of the state of Lower Saxony ruled that two Syrian sisters who were recognised as refugees in Greece could be returned there because there was a serious risk that their most basic needs (“bed, bread, soap”) could not be met.
On 28 July 2021, the Council of State of the Netherlands published two rulings (202005934/1 and 202006295/1) concerning the return to Greece of Syrian nationals granted international protection in Greece. In both cases, after receiving international protection in Greece the applicants travelled to the Netherlands, where they applied again for protection. The Secretary of State declared their applications inadmissible as the applicants were already beneficiaries of protection in another Member State. The applicants unsuccessfully appealed against these decisions to the District Court of The Hague. The Council of State considered previous caselaw, which indicated difficulties in accessing accommodation, health care and employment but nevertheless, beneficiaries of international protection could be returned to Greece. However, due to new developments indicated by the Greek AIDA report including inter alia a significant decrease in the length of time that beneficiaries can remain in the reception for asylum applicants after obtaining their status and before finding independent accommodation, the Council of State found that in practice, Greece cannot ensure that beneficiaries of international protection will be able to meet their main basic needs. In that regard, it held that the Secretary of State failed to properly justify its reliance on the principle of interstate trust with respect to Greece. Additionally, it failed to justify its finding that the living conditions that beneficiaries of international protection face upon return to Greece do not reach the threshold of severity stipulated by the CJEU’s judgment in Ibrahim. The decision was annulled and remitted to the Secretary of State for reconsideration.
On16 November 2021, the Higher Administrative Court of Bremen made its decision in the case of a Syrian national in Germany who had international protection in Greece. The applicant arrived in Greece in 2017 and was granted international protection in March 2018. In March 2019, the applicant then travelled to Germany and claimed asylum. In May of that year, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees rejected his asylum claim as inadmissible on the basis of Section 29 of the Asylum Act and due to the fact that international protection had already been granted in Greece and the humanitarian conditions for beneficiaries of protection there did not reach a threshold of Article 3 ECHR. The applicant subsequently appealed this decision. The Court firstly noted that although the inadmissibility decision follows the domestic Asylum Act and Article 33 of the Asylum Procedures Directive, it is not compatible with EU law. The Bremen Court elaborated on this by explaining that Article 4 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU which prohibits any form of inhuman or degrading treatment is of a general and absolute nature. Therefore, this guarantee also applies after the conclusion of the asylum procedure and thereby prohibits a Member State rejecting an asylum application as inadmissible on the basis of international protection in another Member State, if the person concerned faces a serious risk of inhuman or degrading treatment in that Member State within the meaning of Article 4 CFR. The Court proceeded to explain that a high threshold needs to be reached for there to be an assumed violation of Article 4 CFR or Article 3 ECHR. In the case at hand, the Court found that on evaluation of the available evidence and current press reports it is to be assumed that on the applicant’s return to Greece he would not find dignified accommodation or be supported by Greece in a housing program. The Court furthermore held that although support from private third parties and NGOs must be taken into account, the applicant would not be able to rely on his own network or private services or support if he was to be returned, based on his lack of network in Greece and the limited support available. Additionally, the Court mentioned, the labour market, economic situation, language barriers and the high unemployment rate as important factors which determine the difficulty in which the applicant would find employment if returned to Greece. For these reasons, the Administrative Court annulled the decision of the Federal Office of Migration and Refugees and ordered that they continue the applicant’s asylum procedure and make a decision on the merits of his case.
The recent report by Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) entitled ‘People Deported to destitution’ reveals the dire situation people recognised as refugees by Greece face when returned from other European countries. According to statistics published by RSA on 13 October 2022, close to 100 refugees have been deported to Greece by European states in the first half of 2022 despite the evident risks they face upon return. The situation of beneficiaries of international protection in Greece raises critical questions regarding European countries’ compliance with their human rights obligations. In spring 2022, Germany decided to refrain from returning recognised refugees to Greece and to process their claims on the merits, apart from exceptional cases. The Netherlands recently followed suit with a similar policy in September 2022 refraining from returning recognised refugees to Greece. Moreover on 29 September 2022, the EC opened infringement procedures against Belgium, Germany, Greece and Spain for failing to comply with the Return Directive 2008/115/EC. The Commission sent a letter of formal notice to these four Member States concerning an incorrect transposition of certain provisions of the Return Directive, which establishes a common set of rules for the return of third-country nationals who do not fulfil the conditions for entry, stay or residence in a Member State, and called upon them to comply with the EU legislation. From that date onwards, the Member States have two months to respond to the arguments raised by the Commission and, in the absence of a satisfactory response, the Commission may decide to issue a reasoned opinion to the MS concerned.
 Reply of the Ministry to the Greek Parliament.
 Information provided by the Asylum Service, 31 March 2021 and 17 February 2020; Asylum Service, Statistical data, December 2018.
 UNHCR, Greece Fact Sheet, 1-31 January 2019.
 Article 114 L. 4636/2019, as amended by Article 111 L. 4674/2020. Said ministerial Decision, has been issued on 7 April 2020 (JMD No 13348, Gov. Gazzetta B’ 1190/7-4-2020).
 Information gathered through a joint questionnaire prepared by GCR, Diotima Centre and IRC, under the joint project “Do the human right thing–Raising our Voice for Refugee Rights”. The project is implemented under the Active citizens fund program, which is supported through a € 12m grant from Iceland, Liechtensteinand Norway as part of the EEA Grants 2014 -2021, and is operated in Greece by the Bodossaki Foundation in consortium with SolidarityNow. As of the time of writing, the data is based on a total of 188 questionnaires, out of which 64 were filled by beneficiaries of international protection residing in Greece.
 Article 31 Asylum Code.
 For further information see the 2022 updates of the respective country reports at: https://bit.ly/3OFfA4i. (Germany) Higher Administrative Court of North-Rhine Westphalia, Decision 11 A 1564/20.A, 21 January 2021, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3WCfeNM; Higher Administrative Court of Lower Saxony, 10 LB 245/20, 19 April 2021; Higher Administrative Court of Bremen, 1 LB 371/21, 16 November 2021, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3BWabhG; (Netherlands) Council of State, 202005934/1/V3, 28 July 2021, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/45I7aiH; (Belgium) Council of Alien Law Litigation, 259 385, 13 August 2021; Decision 261 291, 28 September 2021, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/45t5CZD.
 (Switzerland) Federal Administrative Court, Decision D-4359/2021, 8 October 2021, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3IEcLfM; (Norway) District Court of Oslo, Decision 21-063000TVI-TOSL/04, 1 November 2021.
 See also Infomigrants, ‘German court rules that refugees cannot be deported to Greece’, 27 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3n74jK4; ECRE, ‘Greece: Unknown NGO to Receive Substantial EU Funds, Government Admits Lead Contamination in Moria 2.0, German Court Suspends Returns’, 29 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3dCL8Vt; and OVG, ‘In Griechenland anerkannte Schutzberechtigte dürfen derzeit nicht rücküberstellt warden’, 26 January 2021, available in German at : https://bit.ly/3auaVgy.
 Higher Administrative Court of Niedersachsen, 19 April 2021, ‘In Griechenland anerkannte Flüchtlinge dürfen derzeit nicht dorthin rücküberstellt warden’, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3eopXWj.