Following an official event on Migration and Asylum boasting the “successes” of the Greek government on the subject, Fenix did some research and counter-analysed the facts. Unsurprisingly, much debunking of fake news is needed.
On January 17th, 2023, the Hellenic Prime Minister, Mr. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and the Hellenic Minister of Migration and Asylum (MoMA), Mr. Notis Mitarakis, attended for the anniversary of three years since the establishment of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, "Three years of effective management of the Migration Crisis".
We would like to take this opportunity to call on the Greek Prime Minister and to the MoMA not only to take into account the invaluable work of non-governmental and civil society organisations (NGOs and CSOs) into such reports, which was not the case in this event, but also to broaden the discussion on migration and asylum issues to non-governmental experts on the ground that could definitely provide further analysis.
This event was, first and foremost, a missed opportunity for the Greek Government, as well as for DG Home, to acknowledge and address the systematic shortcomings and challenges that applicants face every day while trying to navigate the asylum procedure. In recent years, Greece has been at the forefront of the introduction of restrictive migration and asylum legislation and policies in the European Union.
Additionally, the investment in recent years has been focused on containment at the borders, accelerated border procedures, safe country policies, a decrease of the procedural guarantees, and externalisation of the external borders, instead of on the construction of a swift and effective asylum procedure and access to adequate, humane and special reception conditions for vulnerable applicants. Below, we will address some of our main concerns about biassed or incorrect information boasted at this event, highlighting contradictions and worrying “games of truth” of Orwellian memory, as migration and asylum issues would deserve better wording and deeper analysis in the speech of government officials, in order to avoid social disruption and to promote peace and stability both in Greek and in European society.
There’s nothing “modern” in open-air, prison-like facilities for people in need
Kyriakos Mitsotakis (K.M.):
“The disgraces of Moria and Idomeni gave way to modern structures.”
“Make a comparison, please, of the squalor that existed in Samos - a camp that was barely designed to accommodate 1,000 people, at one point it came to accommodate 7,000. Compare this situation with the state-of-the-art structure funded by European funds that is now operating in Samos.”
We are glad Mr Mitsotakis asked. When something that didn’t work before is burnt down to the ground, it is simply obvious that one should rebuild better facilities, the “modern” factor being only a matter of chronological perspective. The reality on the ground shows that these “modern” structures are actually not providing much better living conditions, thus potentially opening the way to similar a issues as before for those living inside it, but also to new ones. 14 civil society organisations, including Fenix, denounced the situation in Samos in a policy note from September 2022, 1 year after the new “Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC)” opened.
Open-air prison-like refugee camps such as these put asylum seekers in a de-facto detention situation, and although small material progresses have been made, the current living conditions of people in the camp are nowhere near “modern”, let alone dignifying. We couldn’t stress anymore that seeking asylum is not a crime, and is instead a basic human right enshrined in International Conventions to which Greece is a signing Party. Furthermore, as noted in September 2022:
“The combined expected cost of building all five CCACs is 260 million euros. Meanwhile, the average distance from the closest towns is 14 kilometers, with no access to regular, adequate and affordable transport services. These EU funds could be used instead to host people in suitable conditions that respect their dignity, and ensure access to healthcare, employment opportunities and promote people’s ability to become part of the society in Greece.”
The access to adequate living conditions especially applies to vulnerable people, who are left to live in the camp with no regard to their specific needs, as UNHCR and Fundamental Rights guidelines would suggest. The closing of Estia, the special housing program for vulnerable groups in Greece, by the Greek Government, was the final blow to impede access to adequate housing for vulnerable groups. This action was justified at the MoMA event as follows:
K.M. “Apartments [that] were reserved [to vulnerable asylum seekers] will henceforth be made available to house our vulnerable citizens.”
Fenix is a strong supporter of adequate housing for Greek nationals. Concerning asylum seekers, we remind the Greek government that vulnerable asylum seekers should be granted specific and adequate housing regardless of their nationality, in accordance with the Reception Conditions Directive, for which the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Greece just a few days after the celebration event..
Among the most vulnerable groups of people are certainly minors. Now, although Fenix welcomes the stated efforts made by the Greek government on the “drama of unaccompanied refugee children” (K.M.), harmful practices come to light when dealing with unaccompanied and unrecognised minors. The reality on the ground shows that the presumption of minority is not applied to minors declaring themselves as such, in blatant breach of international humanitarian standards and of European Directives. We must remind the Greek Authorities that
“States should treat the person as a child and ensure that the person has access to appropriate child protection services, education, housing, and support.” 
Following a complaint filed by unaccompanied, unrecognised minors, Fenix had already received confirmation in November 2022 from Frontex Fundamental Rights Officer that border authorities must respect the presumption of minority and had already underlined, in October 2022, the violations that these practices entail. The presumption of minority principle is also provided under Article 13 of the Asylum Procedure Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims , and harmful practices by border authorities and case workers not applying the principle prevents children from accessing their specific rights and therefore from being treated in accordance to their specific needs, further violating the principle of the child’s best interest.
Playing with numbers is playing with people’s lives
(K.M.) “Last year, for example, 17 000 immigrants entered our country. In 2015 alone, more than 900,000 entered the country. The number you have heard is indicative.”
“Last year, about 250,000 illegal entries were prevented at our land borders and almost 45,000 at our maritime borders.
At the same time, our islands breathed a sigh of relief. 40,000 were on the Aegean islands in 2019. Today there are just 5,000.”
As the Prime Minister himself mentions, one of the reasons why there are fewer pending asylum procedures is precisely that fewer people are entering the country. What he also mentions, is how this was possible: through the “political decision to shield [Greek] borders” with wired fences on the mainland and reinforced maritime security on the Aegean, leading to a deeper lack of access to asylum on EU soil for asylum seekers. We would like to remind once again the Greek authorities that seeking asylum is a human right, and that the 1951 Geneva convention to which Greece is an undersigning Party clearly states the principle of non-refoulement as a pillar of the asylum procedure. While we recognise the principle of Greek sovereignty on Greek soil, we must remind the authorities that denying entry to asylum seekers means denying their right to seek asylum, and decreasing asylum applications as a consequence of this denial is not a success, but an utter failure to comply with Greece’s legal obligations. The only policy that is needed is the correct application of asylum law standards standards and both national and international laws and covenants.
On the same line, speaking about migratory “invasions” or people “attempting to invade our borders” is absolutely not the right way to speak of people fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in another country. Regardless of possible actions by any third country, Greece (and all Member States) must abide by its national and international laws and provide access to the asylum procedure to those who claim it. As the PM himself mentions, “our neighbours from the East often turn human suffering into a lever for national and political purposes”: Greece must not do the same.The increase in border and coast guard’s effectives to “keep the eastern national and European borders safe against illegal flows” (K.M.)
should never imply or cause any refoulement of asylum seekers and consequent denial of access to the right to asylum for people in clear distress both on the Evros land border and at sea. Search and Rescue at sea should be a priority, and the constant criminalisation of humanitarian workers involved in volunteer SAR operations doesn’t contribute to actually saving people’s lives. If Mr. Mitarakis is serious about his statement: “our country's priority always remains, first and foremost, the protection of human life”, then he should take into consideration the fact that its policies have actually increased the number of deaths at sea , and therefore a change in policies and practice needs to be implemented to actually protect human lives.
Türkiye: an Unsafe Third Country
(K.M.) “While out of 202,000, more than 200,000 pending asylum requests inherited by our Government in 2019, today these are less than 20,000. Congratulations to the services of the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum for being able to simplify the process”
This “simplification” of the asylum process derives from the Greek government’s decision (Joint Ministerial Decision 42799/2021) to consider Türkiye as a “Safe Third Country” for asylum seekers from 5 nationalities, namely Afghans, Syrians, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Somali nationals. This simplification has led to a generalisation of inadmissibility decisions based solely on nationality, instead of considering each application on merits. The inadmissibility strategy does, indeed, quicken procedures, but it does not combine speediness with actual efficiency: first, as Türkiye has stopped readmissions from Greece since March 2020, even if it was a Safe Third Country, there is no point in issuing “inadmissibility” decisions as people will nevertheless be stranded on Greek soil and are left in a legal limbo where they cannot fully enjoy their basic rights in Greece, but cannot return to Türkiye either even if they wanted to. Second, Türkiye is, in any case, an Unsafe Third Country for most applicants, and especially applicants fleeing Syria and Afghanistan, as worrying reports of forced deportations from Türkiye to Syria, and even directly to Afghanistan through Iran, continue to multiply. Third, Considering the human rights situation in the Türkiye, “simplifying the process” by considering it a “Safe Third Country” for the sake of statistics actually reduces procedural guarantees for applicants and does not contribute to finding sustainable solutions. Instead, the reduced numbers of pending asylum requests due to a way too speedy and superficial analysis of asylum claims, yet again amounts to a failure of the Greek state to actually provide swift, fair and efficient asylum procedures.
European Union: a lack of safe and legal ways leading to even more human trafficking
“We need to identify the difference between economic migrants, illegal economic migrants and genuine refugees entitled to international protection.” (K.M.)
The need to differentiate between different asylum claims can only strengthen the case for individualised assessments for every applicant, instead of applying a flat, one-size-fits-all approach. This differentiation also further underlines the need for safe and legal pathways for seeking asylum and migrating legally to the EU without having to go through dangerous routes that put people’s lives at risk: it is the appalling lack of safe and legal ways to access the EU that actually strengthens the trafficking nets of human smugglers, as they compensate dangerously and illegally for what the EU is unwilling to provide safely and legally.
On the European Union’s side, the Deputy Director General at the European Commission's Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) and head of the Task Force on Migration Management, Ms Beate Gminder considered that EU is providing “support and solidarity” by giving out money - European’s taxpayers money - to the Greek government.
Real European solidarity would rather look like a proper EU-wide, efficient and human rights-based asylum system that:
- Allows easier family reunification procedures across Member States
- Provides an individualised assessment and a quicker access to asylum for applicants with a valid claim
- Fully revises the Dublin Regulation’s provisions on “First Country of Asylum”, to avoid on one side so-called “Dublin cases” and people being de facto forcefully deported from one country to another against their will, and on the other side the current overwhelming of protection and reception capacities of border MS.
- Forces Member States to abide by the relocation quotas they agreed upon (which are already ridiculously low considering the number of actual arrivals).
Simply giving out money to border Member States to deal with the issue alone, all while effectively closing Schengen borders to prevent so-called secondary movements and “asylum shopping”, has proven to be an unviable, unsustainable solution that both puts excessive pressure on border States to provide sufficient asylum services, and doesn’t consider at all the actual needs of people in need.
As the PM mentions, “this issue must and can only be European”: Fenix welcomes the acknowledgment by the Prime Minister that “it is now absolutely necessary to have a mechanism to regulate the relocation of asylum seekers and the movement within the Union of those who are entitled to international protection, which is what happened with the refugees from Ukraine.” The Ukraine refugees intake from European Member States was remarkable in timing and efficiency and proved, if proof was needed, that the EU as a whole actually has the capacity, the ability and the humanity needed to welcome people in need fleeing persecution and war-torn zones.
This is precisely what is needed, and what has been lacking for years, at the Greek and European borders: international solidarity.