Greek Forum for Refugees reports on Greek asylum procedure through the eyes of refugees
The Greek Forum for Refugees (GFR) released a report this week describing the obstacles preventing asylum seekers in Greece from accessing the asylum procedure and from receiving international protection. The report is mainly based on testimonies provided by asylum seekers, refugees and communities throughout 2015 and focuses on both the old backlog procedure and the new asylum procedure which entered into force on 7 June 2013. The most important difference between these procedures is the shift from the police to the Greek Asylum Service as the responsible authority for handling asylum claims.
Problems with the backlog procedure include the fact that a significant number of applicants are still waiting for a final decision on their application because of problems arising from the contact between asylum seekers and police authorities who are still responsible for those. ”They said: “come in four days”. I came after four days and they gave me two days or weeks, it was changing all the time according to the [people],” explains A. from Sudan in the report.
Other problems arising from the old procedure are linked to the Appeal Committees that opened in 2012 but were closed between December 2014 and May 2015, resulting in further delays in the procedure and applicants who have been stuck in the old procedure for years. People who applied in the old procedure have no automatic access to the new procedure and are still facing long waiting periods, with the risk of being arrested and returned since they do not possess an asylum seeker card in the meantime. “There is a committee there, to meet with me and do another interview. So three years now I am waiting for them,” A. from Sudan told GFR.
Problems with the new procedure established by law 3907/2011 and Presidential Decree 113/2013 include the ineffective operationalisation of Regional Asylum Offices, where only 7 of the 13 regional asylum offices have opened. Most of these are in the Attica region, resulting in some asylum seekers having to travel sometimes extremely long distances and even give up the right to seek asylum because of the unaffordable costs. This geographic concentration also causes staff deficiencies and imbalances between capacities and needs, often resulting in a considerable degree of arbitrariness.
Another problem mentioned in the report is the Skype system, which is used to register and interview applicants and is described as highly dysfunctional, ‘almost inaccessible’. Finally, most asylum seekers don’t have access to a subsequent appeal after a rejection by the appeal authority as provided by the law due to the high costs and the precarious conditions they live in. This is clearly an ineffective remedy and results in asylum seekers being at risk of arrest and deportation without having the possibility to benefit from the legal options provided by refugee legislation.
For further information:
- Asylum Information Database (AIDA), Greece Country Report, November 2015.
Vacancy: ECRE is recruiting a Legal Officer
ECRE is offering a Legal Officer position for 10-months starting in August 2016. The purpose of this position is to enhance capacity of ECRE’s Legal Support and Litigation Team in providing legal and litigation support to ECRE and ELENA members. The post holder will be expected to contribute to ECRE/ELENA’s legal research on specific topics relating to international protection, legal training and EDAL database.
Applications should be sent by 22 July 2016. See here more information on how to apply.
Hungary: Latest amendments legalise extrajudicial push-back of asylum-seekers
Worrying amendments to the Hungarian Asylum Act and the Act on the State Border entered into force on 5 July. According to the new changes, Hungarian police are now allowed to automatically push back asylum seekers who are apprehended on Hungarian territory within 8 km from either the Serbian-Hungarian or the Croatian-Hungarian border.
“Legalising push-backs from deep within Hungarian territory denies asylum-seekers the right to seek international protection, in breach of relevant obligations emanating from international and EU law,” stated the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC). EU law obliges Hungary to ensure that every person in need of international protection has effective access to the asylum procedure, and is provided with the right to stay on the EU Member State’s territory pending a decision by the competent asylum authority.
“Despite Hungary’s insistence, Serbia refuses to officially readmit any asylum-seeker that entered Hungary from its territory. As the Hungarian government’s expensive and inhuman deterrence strategy failed, only ‘extrajudicial’ options remain, such as push-backs to the external side of the border fence, without any official procedure – no matter how much human suffering it entails,” said Márta Pardavi, co-chair of the HHC.
People pushed back can either go to Serbia, which is not considered a “safe third country” according to UNHCR - or to any other EU country with the exception of Hungary -, or they can queue in front of one of the two transit zones on the Serbian-Hungarian border section (Tompa or Röszke). There they will have to wait several weeks in very poor conditions before being allowed to present their asylum claim.
“We are worried that the wording of the law leaves too much room for interpretation and may result in law enforcement agencies not respecting the human rights of migrants and breaching international law, by forcibly expelling them without any form of legal procedure” stated the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
For further information:
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
European Court of Human Rights condemns Hungary for the unjustified and arbitrary detention of an LGBT asylum seeker
On 5 July 2016, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Hungary, in the case of O.M. v Hungary. O.M., an Iranian national represented by a Hungarian Helsinki Committee lawyer, had fled Iran because of his homosexuality and was detained in Hungary for nearly two months before being recognised as a refugee.
The Court unanimously ruled that the asylum seeker’s detention was arbitrary and unjustified, in violation of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, guaranteeing the right to liberty and security. In particular, the Court found that the Hungarian authorities had failed to take into account the applicant’s vulnerability in the detention facility based on his sexual orientation.
ECRE submitted joint written observations in this case, with the ICJ, the AIRE Centre, and ILGA-Europe. The interveners welcome the judgment and note that “this decision is a definite step forward as it reiterates asylum seekers inherent vulnerability and the risks their detention may entail due to potential violence and discrimination, particularly on account of their sexual orientation. The Court emphasised special care the authorities should exercise when deciding on deprivation of liberty in such situations.”
For more detailed information on the case, see this week’s ELENA Weekly Legal Update.
For further information:
REPORTS & NGOs ACTIONS
Refugees and migrants fleeing sexual violence, abuse and exploitation in Libya
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both released briefings on the horrific instances of sexual violence, abuse and exploitation endured by refugees and migrants fleeing Libya. The organisations interviewed several refugees and migrants at reception centres in Italy, who had been abused at the hands of people smugglers, traffickers, organised criminal gangs and armed groups. In particular, Human Rights Watch raises serious concerns about the EU’s decision to extend its anti-smuggling naval operation in the central Mediterranean to include training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy, which are intercepting boats at sea and sending people back to Libya.
The EU has acknowledged that under international law it may not send people intercepted at sea to Libya due to the extreme dangers in the country. For instance, Amnesty International collected the testimony of a 22-year-old Eritrean woman who witnessed other women being sexually abused, including one who was gang-raped because the smuggler wrongly accused her of failing to pay his fee. “Her family couldn’t pay the money again. They took her away and she was raped by five Libyan men. They took her out late at night, no one opposed it, everyone was too afraid,” she said.
“Supporting Libyan forces should be accompanied by ending torture and abuse in the facilities where those forces are sending people,” said Judith Sunderland from Human Rights Watch. “It’s unacceptable to save or intercept people at sea and then send them back for abuse on land.”
The organisations urge Libyan authorities and international actors, especially the EU and its Member States, to prioritise respect for rights over closure of borders, calling for an approach that “feeds into the larger goal of stabilising Libya and building rights-respecting institutions”.
“The EU should focus less on keeping migrants and refugees out and more on finding safe and legal ways for those trapped in Libya to access a place of safety. The priority should be saving lives, this means deploying enough resources in the right places to prevent further tragedy,” said Amnesty International Magdalena Mughrabi. "The EU should be tackling abuses by smugglers but should not be seeking to trap people in a country where their lives and rights are so obviously at risk.”
NGOs document trends of large-scale detention in France
The five NGOs working in administrative detention centres in France, ASSFAM, Ordre de Malte, Cimade and ECRE members France terre d’asile and Forum réfugiés-Cosi, have published their 2015 detention report.
The report documents a continuing trend of large-scale detention pending deportation, with 47,565 persons deprived of their liberty in 2015. In the last five years (2011-2015), France has detained as many as 237,610 people, according to the organisations.
“We can observe that the number of persons being held in detention has remained stable during the last 5 years. This is worrying because it leads to a banalisation of detention. Of the 47,565 persons held in detention in 2015, only 11,449 were deported from France. It means that three quarters of the persons were detained illegally, in an abusive and unnecessary way before being released,” stated the organisations in a joint press release.
For further information:
The original version of this article appeared in the Asylum Information Database (AIDA).
#LocalGov4refugees: Mayors across Europe urge EU Member States to protect refugees
The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), the oldest association of European local and regional governments, in collaboration with mayors, local and regional leaders across Europe is calling on EU Member States to keep their promises on asylum and integration policies.
Mayors from Lesvos, Vienna, Brussels, Munich and Nicosia, among many others, are calling upon Member States to implement effective relocation procedures and to agree on a permanent relocation system for refugees, to provide targeted funding for tows and regions hosting refugees and to improve coordination among the local, regional and national governments for the relocation of refugees. This call is supported by a petition, which includes the full list of signatories. Follow the conversation on Twitter with #localgov4refugees.
- 11 July 2016, Brussels, Refugee Voices from the beneficiaries of the “Scholarships for Refugees” programme, MEP Barbara Spinelli in collaboration with Odysseus Network
- 11-16 July 2016, Bologna, Summer School on Forced Migration and Asylum: a Multidisciplinary Approach, Africa e Mediterraneo
- 12-13 September, Brussels, Social Innovation for Refugee Inclusion, ECRE & partners
- 5-7 December, Mexico City, Scientific Symposium - Delivering on the Promise of the Right to Rehabilitation, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (early bird registration until July 31, 2016)
VACANCIES / OPEN CALLS
- European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), Lawyer (maternity cover), deadline 10 July
- University of Sussex, Research Fellow – 3 posts, deadline 13 July
- PICUM, Traineeship, deadline 13 July
- Norwegian Refugee Council Europe, Advocacy & Admin Assistant, deadline 15 July
- ECRE, Legal Officer, deadline 22 July
- Raoul Wallenberg Institute, Call for Abstracts – Refugee Research Methodologies Workshop, deadline for submission 15 August