Pursuant to the obligation of the state to provide special reception conditions to vulnerable asylum seekers under EU and domestic law, in September 2020, the Greek Government took over from UNHCR the EU-funded ESTIA II program with the intention of increasing its capacity from 25.500 to 40.000 places by the end of 2021 . Not only did this not materialise, but also in February 2022, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum announced the restriction of the capacity of ESTIA II to 10.000 places by April 2022, aiming to fully complete it by the end of 2022, while there was no provision for the vulnerable asylum seekers currently accommodated there.
Earlier this month, several beneficiaries, particularly vulnerable asylum seekers represented by Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid (Fenix), were informed at short notice (in some cases, as little as 24 hours) that they would have to leave their apartments and get transferred back to camps in unknown destinations. A vulnerable family of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, accommodated by ESTIA program in the city of Tripoli due to their vulnerabilities with their 5 minor children, 4 of them enrolled at the local school since 2019 had to drop out of school as they were forced to move to a camp in a different city, a transfer for which they were informed one day in advance. The conditions in the camp where they were transferred are incompatible with their special needs as vulnerable persons and results to lack of access to healthcare services and education.
A trans woman, survivor of sexual, physical and psychological violence, living with HIV and other serious medical problems in need of continuous access to healthcare in a specialised hospital in Athens, was informed orally that she will be soon evicted and will have to return to a camp, most likely in a remote area without access to the necessary and specialized medical care for her serious health condition. These are just some examples of thousands of extremely vulnerable asylum seekers in need of special material reception conditions that are being left behind by the Greek Government following the closure of ESTIA II although the competent Ministry has guaranteed the funding by EU.
It is worth noting that the procedure for those already evicted and most likely for those who will be evicted soon lacks basic procedural safeguards and violates domestic and EU law, as highlighted by Fenix’s Legal Coordinators. A transfer decision from an apartment of ESTIA program to a camp constitutes a clear reduction of the special material conditions already provided, therefore an individualised, reasoned and written decision shall be issued and notified to the applicants (in line with article 61 of the Law 4939/2022) so that they can exercise their legal rights, including the right to appeal in accordance with article 26 in conjunction with Articles 17, 21, 22 of the Directive 2013/33/EU.
None of the asylum seekers received a formal notice or decision on the reduction of their material reception conditions, which is a violation of the above legal framework. In response, Fenix has proceeded to several legal actions in order to ensure that the rights of asylum seekers are respected. Fenix sent a letter of complaint to the accommodation providers and to the Reception and Identification Service requesting a transfer decision from the ESTIA to a camp and a decision on the reduction of the material reception conditions to be issued and notified in accordance with the procedure established by law. Moreover, Fenix submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman requesting an intervention and addressed an extrajudicial to the Ministry of Migration and Asylum and to the Governor of Reception and Identification Service requesting the issuance and notification of the above-mentioned decisions and the suspension of the applicants’ removal until they exercise their legal rights. Until today there has been no response from the authorities, while some of the asylum seekers have already been transferred and live under inhumane and degrading conditions in camps, contrary to the information provided by the Minister in a recent answer to the Greek parliament.
The Greek Government shall stop closing the door to those seeking protection and implementing discriminatory and anti-refugee policies, including isolating them by constructing closed centres on the Aegean Islands and condemning the most vulnerable by closing ESTIA II. We urgently call the Greek authorities to comply with the European and domestic legislation on special material reception conditions for vulnerable applicants, and the legal safeguards in cases of reduction of the reception conditions. In addition, we call on the Greek Government to suspend the removal of vulnerable asylum seekers from ESTIA II and take effective measures to ensure that vulnerable asylum seekers are accommodated in conditions compatible with their recognised vulnerabilities and needs.