Visit of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) to Greece on 4 November 2021. Meeting of Members of European Parliament with Legal Organizations in the European Parliament Offices in Athens.
On November 4, 2021 our Executive Director Amanda Muñoz de Toro and our Legal Coordinator Asterios Kanavos attended a roundtable discussion at the European Parliament offices in Athens in the context of the mission of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) to Greece. MEPs present included Juan Fernando López Aguilar Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D) and Chairief of the LIBE Committee, Pietro Bartolo (S&D), Damian Pietro Bartolo (S&D), Damian Boeselager Boeselager (Greens), Fabienne Keller Fabienne Keller (Renew), Cristian Terhes (ECR) and Cornelia Ernst (The Left).
Together with the Greek Ombudsman Andreas Pottakis, HIAS Greece HIAS Greece, Greek Council for Refugees Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), Refugee Support Aegean Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), Safe Passage and European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL), Fenix presented some of the main problems of the Greek asylum procedure and its non- compliance with EU law.
Among the issues raised in the meeting were the systematic failure to transpose EU Directives into Greek legislation and the request to the MEPs to advocate for a regular monitoring of the European Commission’s process of enforcement of EU legislation in Greece. Actors also urged for the conduct of infringement procedures.
Secondly, the organizations raised concerns on the adoption of the ministerial decision of June 2021 that designates Turkey as a safe third country for nationals of Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Under this new policy, the safe third country concept is applied throughout the country regardless of the type of procedure applicable and affects vulnerable persons. Regarding this concept, the participants expressed that it leaves applicants in a legal limbo, without access to reception conditions, cash assistance and documentation. While domestic legislation acknowledges that persons who are not on the Aegean islands cannot be readmitted to Turkey under the EU Turkey Deal, readmissions from the islands have also been suspended since March 2020, as confirmed by the European Commission, the Hellenic Police and the Ministry of Migration and Asylum. Despite clear evidence on the lack of readmissions, Greece continues to apply the safe third country concept leaving persons in a legal limbo until they submit a subsequent claim. Subsequent applications suffer from many additional issues including the imposition of a 100 Euro fee, the lack of operativeness of the system to submit second subsequent applications, important delays from the Asylum office, and the application of the safe country concept to new claims.
The participants also raised concerns regarding the lack of appropriate medical screening and vulnerability assessment on arrival. Applicants are interviewed immediately after the lodging of the asylum application without an assessment of special procedural needs and the provision of special procedural guarantees; e.g. victims of torture. Furthermore, the participants expressed the lack of adequate and timely age assessments, the practice to register minors as adults on arrival and the violation of the presumption of minority.
Pursuant to the fast timelines of the asylum procedure, applicants have difficulties in contacting legal aid actors in time. Furthermore, access to legal aid has been further hindered by regulations established by the management of the RIS regarding lawyers’ access to the RIS, the lack of an established facility or area designated for lawyers in the camps, and the prohibition of access to the quarantine areas where applicants are held on arrival (from 7 - 30 days).
Another issue raised were the barriers to family reunification from Greece to other Member States. Finally, both the participants and the members of the LIBE Committee raised concerns on the substantiated and repeated allegations on pushbacks at the Greek land and sea borders and the need for an urgent and independent monitoring mechanism.It is important that the LIBE Committee is taking the lead on this issue. All those present agreed on the importance of the creation of a National independent mechanism which would investigate the reported cases.
The Committee was very receptive and concerned with the situation in Greece. We look forward to continuing working together towards a fair asylum process and dignified reception conditions in Greece.