Overview of the main changes since the previous report update

Greece

Country Report: Overview of the main changes since the previous report update Last updated: 10/06/21

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Greek Council for Refugees Visit Website

The report was previously updated in June 2021.

 

Asylum procedure

 

  • Number of Arrivals: In 2021, a total of 9,157 refugees and migrants arrived in Greece. This marks a decrease of 31.7% compared to 2020 (15,696).[1] Out of them, 4,331 persons arrived by sea (compared to 9,714 in 2020); most of new arrivals came from Afghanistan (20.2%), Somalia (19.9%) and Palestine (15.3%). Approximately half were women (18.8%) and children (28.5%), while 52.7% were adult men.[2] Moreover, 4,826 persons arrived in Greece through the Greek-Turkish land border of Evros in 2021, compared to a total of 5,982 in 2020.[3] The registered number entries in 2021 may however under-represent the number of people actually attempting to access Greek territory, given that cases of alleged pushbacks at the Greek-Turkish land borders and at the Aegean Sea have been systematically reported in 2021.
  • Push-back practices: An increasing number of allegations of pushbacks continued to be reported during 2021 and have been largely criticised inter alia by UNHCR, IOM, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, the Council of Europe Commissioner, the Greek Ombudsperson and civil society organisations. Several reports indicate that they have become a “standard practice”, including violent border practices, arbitrary detention and even deaths at borders. The Greek Government remains opposed to the development of an independent border monitoring mechanism and no effective investigation has been conducted up until today on repeated push backs allegations.[4]
  • Key asylum statistics: The Asylum Service received 28,320 asylum applications in 2021 (marking a 30.71% decrease compared to 2020), mainly from applicants from Afghanistan (4,618 applications representing 16% of all applications) followed by applicants from Pakistan (4,273 applications, 15% of all applications), Syria (3,870 applications, 13.66% of all applications), Bangladesh (2,731 applications, 9.64% of all applications), Turkey (1,923 applications, 6.8% of all applications), Iraq (1,622 applications, 5.7% of all applications) and Somalia (1,541 applications, 5.44% of all applications) The recognition rate on the merits at first instance was 60% as was the case in 2020. However, a significant number of applicants have not been provided with access to an in merits examination and their applications have been examined under the safe third country concept, following the issuance of the Joint Ministerial Decision designated Turkey as a safe third country for applicants from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Bangladesh. The backlog of pending applications was of 31,787 at the end of 2021, which marked a decrease compared to the 57,347 cases pending at the end of 2020.
  • Access to the asylum procedure:Access to asylum on the mainland continued to be a serious matter of concern throughout 2021. The ineffectiveness of the access to the procedure through Skype was reiterated by the Greek Ombudsman in January 2021.[5]  A Circular issued by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum on 24 November 2021 has further exacerbated difficulties in accessing the procedure on the mainland as it foresees that applications will only be received in ‘designated locations’ ; i.e. they can no longer be lodged in the existing offices/units of the Asylum Service on the mainland unless the applicant has been subject to reception and identification procedures. These sites/locations have not been defined yet and there has therefore been no access to asylum for the majority of people on mainland Greece since 24 November 2021. There are also concerns that the procedure will lead to a generalised use of de facto detention as the Circular foresees that a restriction of liberty within the premises of a reception and identification centre (de facto detention measure), is also applicable to those transferred to the designated locations in order to lodge an asylum application. Access to the asylum procedure for persons detained in pre-removal centres remains also a matter of concern.
  • Subsequent applications: Following a legislative change introduced in September 2021 and further clarified by a Joint Ministerial Decision in December 2021, each subsequent application after the first one is subject to a fee amounting to EUR 100 per applicant and, in case of families, to a EUR 100 fee per family member.[6] Greece is the only EU Member State which applies a fee to lodge a subsequent application,[7] thereby raising concerns on the access to the asylum procedure as stated by the EU Commissioner Johansson herself”.[8] An Application for Annulment of the relevant JMD has been filled by GCR and RSA before the Council of State and is currently pending.
  • Processing times: Despite the decrease in asylum applications and in the number of first instance decisions issued during the year, significant delays continue to be reported at first instance. At the end of 2021, more than half of the applications (58.08%) pending at first instance had been pending for a period exceeding 12 months (18,463 out of the total 31,787 applications pending at the end of 2021). In 45.27% of the pending applications, the personal interview has not yet been conducted (14,390 out of the total 31,787 applications pending at the end of 2021). Out of those, the interview has been scheduled in 2022 in 10,368 pending cases (32.61%); in 2023 in 3,311 pending cases (10.41%) and after 2023 in 711 pending cases (2.2%).[9]
  • First instance procedure: Given that the national legislation on asylum adopted in 2020, as widely noted, introduced “unwarranted procedural and substantive hurdles for people seeking international protection” and “tough requirements that an asylum seeker could not reasonably be expected to fulfil”,[10] in 2021 14,047 application were terminated at first instance, due to the issuance of an act interrupting the procedure. During 2021, the Asylum Service has resorted to the non-communication of first instance decisions in person to the applicant (‘fictitious service’  –πλασματική επίδοση) in a significant number of cases, without first attempting to locate the applicant at their registered address, nor, in cases when the applicant is represented by a lawyer, attempting to locate their lawyer. Τhe practice of ‘fictitious service’ of decisions has resulted in the expiration of deadlines for submitting an appeal without the applicant having been actually informed about the issuance of the decision, effectively depriving asylum seekers of the right to an effective remedy
  • Fast-track border procedure: The EU-Turkey statement, adopted in March 2016 and initially described as “a temporary and extraordinary measure”, continues to be implemented to those arrived by sea on the Aegean islands. The impact of the EU-Turkey statement has been inter aliade facto dichotomy of the asylum procedures applied in Greece. Asylum seekers arriving after 20 March 2016 on the Greek islands are subject to a fast-track border procedure with limited guarantees
  • Legal assistance: No state-funded free legal aid is provided at first instance, nor does the law establish an obligation to provide it. A state-funded legal aid scheme operates for the appeal procedure, on the basis of a registry of lawyers managed by the Asylum Service. However, obstacles in accessing free legal aid continued to be reported, inter alia because of the digitalization of the procedure and the fictitious service of negative first instance decisions. In 2021, out of 17,500 appeals lodged before the Independent Appeals Committees, a total of 11,045 appellants applied for and received free legal assistance under the state-run scheme. According to official data, the remaining 36.9% of the appellants (6,455 persons) were not assisted by a lawyer at second instance, as they did not apply for free legal aid. Since it is unlikely that such a percentage of appellants (more than 1 out of 3) had either sufficient funds to secure a private lawyer and/ or access to free legal provided by NGOs, the aforementioned discrepancy highlights the difficulties that applicants face in accessing and securing state funded free legal aid at appeal stage as provided by law.
  • Second instance procedure: Most appeals are rejected at second instance. Out of the total in-merit second instance decisions issued in 2021, only 6.6% (730) resulted in the granting of refugee protection, 10.24% (1,133) resulted in the granting of subsidiary protection and 83.15% (9,196) resulted in a negative decision. The possibility to grant a resident permit for humanitarian reasons was abolished in 2020. During 2021, 532 appeals were rejected as “manifestly unfounded” without an in-merit examination, due to the fact that the appellants did not comply with the obligation of an in-person appearance of the appellant or his/her appointed lawyer before the Committee, or to present a certification of residence to the Committee, which constitutes a disproportionate administrative burden imposed to the appellants. Appeals against decisions rejecting the application in the accelerated procedure or as inadmissible under certain grounds do not have automatic suspensive effect, despite the fact that these decisions also incorporate a return decision with immediate effect. A ‘fictitious service’ of the second instance decision is also foreseen by national legislation, which entails the risk that deadlines for judicial review have expired without the appellant having been actually informed about the issuance of the decision. Additionally, the right to remain in the country terminates once the second instance decision is issued, irrespectively of the time that the decision is communicated. This entails the risk that a person may be removed from the territory prior to the notification of the second instance decision.
  • Dublin: Additional obstacles to family reunification continued to occur in 2021 due to practices adopted by a number of receiving Member States, which may underestimate the right to family life. By the end of 2021, 4,770 individuals in total, including 1,199 unaccompanied children, had been relocated to other EU Member States under the voluntary relocation scheme launched by the EU Commission in March 2020.
  • Safe third country:One of the major changes in the Greek asylum system in 2021 relates to the expansion of the safe third country concept. On 7 June 2021, a Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD) designated Turkey as a “safe third country” in a national list for asylum seekers originating from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia, was issued.[11] As a result, all applications for international protection lodged by persons of said nationalities throughout the Greek territory (borders and mainland) are examined under the safe third country concept and not on their individual circumstances and the risks they face in their country of origin (in merits examination). Three of the five nationalities mentioned in the JMD are those who were most often recognised as beneficiaries of international protection in Greece previous to the issuance of the JMD (to exemplify, recognition rates in 2020 were of 92% for Syrianss 66% for Afghans and 94% for Somalis. An Application for Annulment of the JMD has been filed before the Council of State by GCR and RSA in October 2021 and is currently pending before the Council of State.
  • Inadmissibility decisions: The application of the JMD resulted in a sharp increase in inadmissibility decisions based on the “safe third country” concept, rising from 2,839 in 2020 to 6,424 in 2021. Out of a total of 6,424 inadmissibility decisions based on the concept, 5,922 (92%) were issued in application of JMD 42799/2021. The overwhelming majority of “safe third country” decisions (85%) concern the mainland, while only 979 out of 6,424 inadmissibility decisions concerned the border procedure on the Eastern Aegean islands.[12] Despite the suspension of readmissions to Turkey, since March 2020 Greek Authorities have been rejecting asylum applications as inadmissible on the basis of safe third country concept vis-à-vis Turkey and, contrary to Art. 38 (4) of the Asylum Procedure Directive, do not provide an in merits examination for cases of applications rejected as inadmissible. As stated inter alia in December 2021 by the EU Commission, “[t]he Commission has requested the Greek authorities to apply Article 38(4) of the Asylum Procedures Directive (2013/32/EU), to the extent the conditions are met, to applicants whose applications have been deemed inadmissible on the basis of the Safe Third Country Concept under the Joint Ministerial Decision of 7 June 2021, in order to avoid the legal limbo you refer to. The Commission will continue to monitor the situation on the ground. This issue non-compliance is reportedly being monitored by the European Commission.[13]
  • Identification of vulnerability: Gaps and shortcomings in vulnerability assessments remain a matter of concern, despite the fact that no excessive delays between the moment of arrival and the realization of the vulnerability assessment were reported in 2021, as it was instead the case in previous years. The main problems included the limited or non-existent realisation of psychosocial assessment, difficulties regarding referrals made by RIS to public hospitals, the low quality of the medical screening and the psycho-social support, the classification of vulnerability and non-vulnerability and the lack of information on the outcome of the procedure. Moreover, the regulatory framework for the guardianship of unaccompanied children initially introduced in 2018 is still not operational.
  • Response to the situation in Ukraine as of 4 May 2022: According to the Ministry of Citizen Protection, as of 19 April, 21,028 persons from Ukraine had arrived in Greece, including 5,975 children. This is more than double the total number of refugee and migrant arrivals to Greece in the whole year (when 9,157 people arrived) and higher than in 2020 (when 14,785 arrived). Among recent arrivals, 53 unaccompanied or separated children have been registered at the Promahonas border crossing with Bulgaria. According to the Special Secretary for the Protection of UAMS, these children were separated from their families and accompanied by other adults. Following the activation of the Temporary Protection Directive by the EU and Greece, Greece grants temporary protection status to Ukrainian nationals residing in Ukraine who have been displaced on or after 24 February 2022, and to their family members. Additionally, temporary protection status is granted to third-country nationals and stateless persons legally residing in Ukraine as beneficiaries of international protection or equivalent national protection and to their family members displaced from Ukraine on or after 24 February 2022. The Greek Asylum Service subsequently stated that Ukrainians who had left the country since 26 November 2021 were also included in the temporary protection scheme and were eligible to apply, although this has not been formally announced at the moment of writing. In practice, there have already been cases of Ukrainians who arrived in Greece in the period between 26 November and 24 February and were granted temporary protection status. A visa is required for holders of a Ukrainian passport without biometric features (old type), which is issued directly at all entry points. Ukrainian citizens who do not have travel documents may enter only from the Passport Control Department in Promahonas at the Greek-Bulgarian border, where a document is issued by the staff of the Ukrainian Embassy in Greece. All the above allow for a stay of a maximum of 90 days. According to a Decision of the MoMA on the procedure for issuing Residence Permits to Beneficiaries of Temporary Protection, the procedure of granting temporary protection status started on the 4 of April 2022 before the Regional Asylum Offices (RAOs) of Athens, Thessaloniki, Western Greece (Patra) and Crete. The pre-registration process and the scheduling of an appointment for the full registration started on the 28 March, through a special online platform of the MoMA. After registration, a one-year temporary protection card is issued with the possibility of automatic extension for 6 months and then for a further 6 months. In case of submission of an asylum application, the temporary protection status will not be revoked. [14]

 

Reception conditions

 

  • Freedom of movement:Asylum seekers subject to the EU-Turkey statement, i.e. arriving on Greek islands, are issued a geographical restriction (geographical limitation) order, imposing them not to leave the respective island until the end of the asylum procedure. The geographical limitation is applied en masse and without any prior individual assessment to all new arrivals to the Greek islands, while the regulatory framework that entered into force in January 2020 has significantly limited the categories of applicants for whom the restriction can be lifted. The disproportionate application of COVID-19 preventive measures in a number of facilities across the country has equally restricted the freedom of movement.  Since November 2021, residents of the newly established “Closed Controlled Access Facility” of Samos without a valid asylum seeker’s card were prohibited from exiting the facility, a measure amounting to de facto detention. Among those subjected to the measure there are persons who have filed a subsequent application until a decision on admissibility is rendered, and asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected at first instance, until they lodge an appeal.
  • Reception capacity: Temporary camps on the mainland, initially created as emergency accommodation facilities, continued to operate throughout 2021. In December 2021, 15,793 persons- most of whom were children (39%) and women (24%) – were accommodated in mainland camps.[15] Additionally, 12,447 people were accommodated under the ESTIA II accommodation scheme in December 2021 (nearly 49% were children). In February 2022, the Ministry for Migration and Asylum announced that the ESTIA II accommodation scheme would be terminated by the end of 2022. On 31 December 2021, 3,508 persons remained on the Eastern Aegean islands; 106 among them were held in detention in police cells and the Pre-Removal Detention Centre (PRDC) of Kos.
  • Living conditions: Despite the decrease in the number of applications, reception conditions remain substandard in different locations across the country. On the mainland, the main concerns refer to the remote location of the mainland camps, limited access to rights and services for residents, lack of sufficient equipment and electricity shortages, the disproportionate restrictions of movement imposed on the residents due to COVID, limited access to education for children and the construction of the high concrete walls around a number of mainland camps, exacerbating the feeling of isolation. It should be mentioned that by the end of 2022 camps, which per se cannot considered as suitable for long term accommodation, will be the only accommodation structure offered, as the ESTIA accommodation scheme will be terminated. Conditions prevailing at the Reception and Identification facilities on the islands reportedly are in violation of the minimum standards set by the Reception Conditions Directive.  In May 2021, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, stressed that “action to improve the lingering substandard living conditions in the Reception and Identification Centres must not be delayed”. In Samos, the launch of the operation of the new EU-funded “Closed Controlled Access Centre” has been highly criticized in particular due to its prison-like conditions.

 

Detention of asylum seekers

 

  • Statistics on detention:  The total number of third-country nationals detained in Pre-removal Detention Facilities (PRDFs) during 2021 was 12,020, out of whom 6,447 were asylum seekers. At the end of 2021, there were 2,715 persons in administrative detention, of whom 1,344 asylum seekers. Out of the total number of detainees at the end of 2021, 2,335 were detained in pre-removal facilities and 380 (13.9%) in several other detention facilities countrywide such as police stations; border guard stations etc. About 30% of the detainees in pre-removal detention facilities at the end of 2021 (700 detainees out of 2,335) remained detained for a period exceeding 6 months.
  • Detention facilities: There were 7 active pre-removal detention facilities (PRDF) in Greece at the end of 2021. Police stations continued to be used for prolonged immigration detention. Two new pre-removal facilities established through a Joint Ministerial Decision in February 2022 on the islands of Samos and Leros were still not operational at the time of writing.
  • Detention in case of non-feasible return: Greek authorities continue to impose detention even in cases where removal is not feasible. This is particularly visible for applicants that have been rejected based on the safe third country concept in Turkey, as all removals to the country have been suspended since March 2020. This is also the case of Afghan nationals who remain in detention despite the rapid deterioration of the security and human rights situation in their country of origin in particular since August 2021 and the fact that returns to Afghanistan have been suspended.
  • Detention of vulnerable persons:   Vulnerable groups are detained in practice, without a proper identification of vulnerability and individualised assessment prior to the issuance of a detention order.
  • Detention conditions:In many cases, the detention conditions in pre-removal centres fail to meet adequate standards, inter alia due to their carceral and prison-like design. Police stations and other police facilities, which are not suitable for detention exceeding 24 hours by nature, continue to fall short of basic standards. Overall, the major concerns regarding detention conditions have been summarised by the Greek Ombudsman in June 2021:  overcrowding, especially in police stations; lack of doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers; total lack of interpretation services; lack of recreational activities; poor structures, hygiene conditions and lack of light and heating; inadequate cleaning; lack of clothing; lack or limited possibility of access open air spaces. Moreover, pre-removal centres continue to face a substantial shortage in medical staff. At the end of 2021, there were only 2 doctors present in Amygdaleza PRDF, 1 in Tavros, 1 in Korinthos, 1 in Fylakio and 1 in Paranesti. No doctors were present in Xanthi and Kos PRDF. No physiatrist nor phycologist was present at any PRDF across the country at the end of 2021, as well as no interpreter.[16]
  • Legal Remedies against Detention: The possibility for detained persons to challenge detention orders is severely restricted in practice due to gaps in the provision of interpretation services and to the lack of free legal aid, resulting in a lack of access to judicial remedies. Out of the total 12,020 detention orders issued in 2021, only 2,803 (23.3%) were challenged before a Court. Limited judicial control regarding the lawfulness and the conditions of detention remains a matter of concern.

 

Content of international protection

 

  • Family reunification: Administrative obstacles, in particular for the issuance of visas even in cases where the application for family reunification has been accepted, continue to hinder the effective exercise of the right to family reunification for refugees. In practice, the family reunification procedure is extremely complex and lengthy. It lasts at least three years, and requires constant legal assistance and support. The procedure of family reunification 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.
  • Naturalization: Following an amendment of the Citizenship Code in March 2020, the minimum period of lawful residence required prior to submitting an application for citizenship in the case of recognised refugees has been increased from 3 to 7 years, despite the legal obligation of the Greek Authorities under Article 34 of the Geneva Convention 1951 to “facilitate the assimilation and naturalisation of refugees” and “in particular make every effort to expedite naturalisation proceedings”. The applicant must undergo a written test and in addition he/she must go through a new form of interview. This Committee will determine the adequate integration of each applicant in the economic and social life of the country based on specific rules, common standards and a unified methodology, compiled by the National Transparency Authority (NAC), in the form of a multi-page Practical Interview Guide.
  • Housing of recognised refugees: Beneficiaries of international protection residing in accommodation facilities must leave the centres within 30 days after being granted international protection. Given the limited integration of recognised beneficiaries of international protection in Greece, this results in a high risk of homelessness and destitution. In 2021, a number of national Courts across the EU, including Administrative Courts in Germany and the Council of State in the Netherlands, suspended the return to Greece of recognised beneficiaries of international protections by taking into account the conditions that they would face upon return.

 

 

 

[1] UNCHR, Operational Portal, Mediterranean Situation: Greece, available at: https://bit.ly/3qQJs0K.

[2] Ibid. 

[3] Ibid.

[4] GCR, Greek Council for Refugees input for the forthcoming report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants with respect to human rights violations at international borders: trends, prevention and accountability, 28 February 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3NQU0XF.

[5] Greek Ombudsman, Letter to the Asylum Service, 290565-291571/2367/2021, 15 January 2021.

[6] Article 89 (10) IPA, as added by article 23 L.4825/04.09.2021, Gazette 157/ A/ 04.09.2021.

[7] EASO, Fees or other charges for applications for international protection in EU+ countries, October 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3DPRMmB.

[8] Available at: https://bit.ly/3IkoWLG.

[9] Ministry of Migration and Asylum, Reply to parliamentary question, 97157/2022, 17 February 2022, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3HiYIsF.

[10] UNHCR, ‘UNHCR urges Greece to strengthen safeguards in draft asylum law’, 24 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3fXkm9j.  

[11] JMD 42799– Gov. Gazeete 2425/Β/7-6-2021, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3zbSojR.   

[12] Ministry of Migration and Asylum, Reply to parliamentary question, 97157/2022, 17 February 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3oXKvuD, 7-8; Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), The Greek asylum procedure in figures: most asylum seekers continue to qualify for international protection in 2021, available at:  https://bit.ly/3qH3qeo, p.1 and 4. 

[13] European Commission, Directorate General for Migration and Home Affairs, Ref.Ares(2021)7836311, 17 December 2021. 

[14] GCR, Oxfam, Save the Children, “GREECE: A two-tier refugee system”, Bi-monthly bulletin, May 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3kNiDao.

[15] IOM, Supporting the Greek Authorities in Managing the National Reception System for Asylum Seekers and Vulnerable Migrants (SMS), December 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3uf4jwP.

[16] Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 8 March 2022.

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