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January 2020 Report on Rights Violations and Resistance in Lesvos

A. Situation Report in Lesvos, as of 15/1/2020

  • Total population of registered asylum seekers and refugees on Lesvos: 21,268
  • Registered Population of Moria Camp & Olive Grove: 19,184
  • Registered unaccompanied minors: 1,049
  • Total Detained: 88
  • Total Arrivals in Lesvos from Turkey in 2020: 1,015

Over 19,000 people are now living in Moria Camp – the main refugee camp on the island – yet the Camp lacks any official infrastructure, such as housing, security, electricity, sewage, schools, health care, etc. While technically, most individuals are allowed to leave this camp, it has become an open-air prison, as they must spend most of their day in hours long lines for food, toilets, doctors, and the asylum office. Sexual and physical violence is common – and three people have died as a result of violence and desperation in as many weeks. The Greek government has also implemented a new asylum law 1 January 2020 with draconian measures that restrict the rights of migrants. This new law expands grounds to detain asylum seekers, increases bureaucratic hurdles to make appeals, and removes previous protections for vulnerable individuals who arrive to the Greek islands. Specifically, all individuals that arrive from Turkey are now prohibited from leaving the islands until their applications are processed, unless geographic restrictions are lifted at the discretion of the authorities. These changes ultimately will lead to an increased population of asylum seekers trapped in Lesvos, and an increasing number of people trapped here who have had their asylum claims rejected and face deportation to Turkey. We will not detail here the current catastrophic conditions on the island for migrants, as they have already been detailed by others.

B. Legal Updates

Since the implementation of the new asylum law in Greece in January 2020, 4636/2019, it remains to be seen to what extent the Greek state will have the capacity to implement the various draconian provisions enacted into law. Below we have documented the following violations in the first few weeks of 2020, and procedural and practical complications in the implementation of the new law.

1. Right to Work Denied: According to article 53 of the Law 4636/2019, asylum seekers have the right to work six (6) months after they have submitted their asylum application, if they have not yet received a negative first instance decision. Under the previously enforced asylum law, 4375/2016, asylum seekers had the right to work with no limitations. However, as one of its first acts after the New Democracy party came into power in Greece, on the 11 July 2019 the Minister of Employment & Social Affairs, Mr Vroutsis, issued a decision stopping the issuance of social security numbers (AMKA) to asylum seekers (Protocol number: Φ.80320/οικ.31355 /Δ18.2084). Although the newly enacted law allows for the issuance of a “temporary insurance number and healthcare of foreigners” (Π.Α.Α.Υ.Π.Α.) to asylum seekers, under Article 55 para. 2, the joint ministerial decision regulating this has not been issued, and it has yet to be set in force. The possession of a Π.Α.Α.Υ.Π.Α. or AMKA is a prerequisite to be hired in Greece, therefore, it is practically impossible for asylum seekers who have not already obtained an AMKA to work and have access to healthcare, despite having the right to do so.

2. Access to Asylum Procedure Effectively Denied: According to article 65 para. 7 of the Law 4636/2019, there is a deadline of seven (7) days between the simple and full registration of an applicant’s asylum application.     If the applicant does not present themselves before the competent authorities within 7 days, the case is archived with a decision of the head of the competent asylum office (article 65 para. 7 and 5). However, because of the number of asylum seekers currently living in Lesvos, many cannot access the asylum office on the day they are scheduled to register, as there are always hundreds of people waiting outside – and the asylum office is heavily guarded by the     private security company G4S. This could lead to many people missing the deadline and being denied the right to apply for asylum. As a result their asylum cases could be closed, and they could face detention and deportation.

3. Risk of Rejection of Asylum Claims Due to Inability to Renew Asylum Seeker ID Card: For asylum applications being examined under the border procedure (the procedure implemented for all those who arrive to the Greek islands from Turkey), the renewal of the asylum seeker’s card must take place every 15 days, under article 70 para. 4(c) of law 4636/2019. With over 20.000 asylum seekers currently in Lesvos, it is nearly impossible for them to access the office in order to renew an asylum seeker card that is expiring. Some have reported they have to pay (20 Euros) to other asylum seekers who are ‘controlling’ the line just to get a spot on line, where they must wait overnight in extreme weather conditions. After implementing the new law for the first few weeks of 2020 and requiring renewal of asylum seeker’s cards every 15 days, the Lesvos Regional Asylum Office (RAO) realized this is a practical impossibility and returned to the former system of renewing every 30 days, as announced to legal actors via UNHCR this week. Despite this, it still remains extremely difficult to access the asylum office, given the demand. Often the assistance of a lawyer is needed just to book an appointment or get in the door. The consequences of failing to renew an asylum seeker card under the new legislation are extremely harsh – asylum seekers must appear at the asylum office within one day of the expiration date, otherwise the asylum seeker’s card stops being valid ex officio, according to article 70 para. 6 of law 4636/2019. Their asylum claim will be implicitly withdrawn under article 81 para. 2 law 4636/2019, and this implicit withdrawal will be considered a final decision on the merits of their asylum claim, under article 81 para. 1 of law 4636/2019, despite never having had their asylum claim heard (if the implicit withdrawal is prior to their interview). While it may sound like a technical and insignificant difference, receiving a final decision on the merits means that they would need to appeal this denial to the Appeals Committee, rather than simply requesting the continuation of their case – which as described below involves additional obstacles that are likely to be impossible to overcome for many asylum seekers.

4. Prioritization of Claims Filed in 2020: The new asylum law allows for the accelerated processing of asylum application under the border procedures – i.e. for all those who arrive to Lesvos from Turkey.     As RAO and EASO transition to the new law, they have prioritized the processing of the asylum claims of new arrivals, at the expense of     the thousands of asylum seekers who arrived and applied for asylum in Lesvos in 2018/2019. Those that have arrived in 2020 are registered and scheduled for interviews with the EASO within a few days of arrival. This means that it is extremely difficult for these individuals to access legal information or legal aid prior to their asylum interviews. Individuals who arrived last year, however, and are waiting months to be heard, are having their interviews postponed in order to accommodate the scheduling of interviews for new arrivals. We have also received information that EASO has not only prioritized new arrivals for interviews, but also prioritized the issuance of opinions for the cases of new arrivals, meaning that decisions for those who were interviewed in 2019 will also be delayed.

5. Delay in Designation of Vulnerabilities Results in Continued Imposition of Geographic Restrictions for pre-2020 Arrivals: The designation of vulnerability under the previous asylum law led to the lifting of geographic restrictions to Lesvos, as ‘vulnerable’ individuals were referred form the border procedure to the regular asylum procedure. Vulnerable groups, as defined by pre 2020 law included: unaccompanied minors; persons who have a disability or suffering from an incurable or serious illness; the elderly; women in pregnancy or having recently given birth; single parents with minor children; victims of torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence or exploitation; persons with a post-traumatic disorder, in particularly survivors and relatives of victims of ship-wrecks; victims of human trafficking. In 2018, 80% of asylum seekers in Lesvos were designated vulnerable (or approved for transfer to another European State under the Dublin III Regulation), and therefore able to leave Lesvos prior to the final processing of their asylum claims. Under the new legislation, however, vulnerable individuals continue to have their asylum claims processed under the border procedures, as specified in article 39 para. 6 of law 4636/2019. Many individuals who arrived in 2019 and should have been designated vulnerable through the Reception and Identification Procedures’ mandatory medical screening, provided by Article 9 para. 1c of the law 4375/2016, were not designated as such in 2019 due to delays and failure to have a thorough medical screening. For example, just in the past two weeks we have met with survivors of torture, sexual assault and people suffering from serious illnesses who arrived to Lesvos months ago, but have not been designated vulnerable due to a lack of a thorough medical assessment. If designated vulnerable in 2020, the State is currently applying the new law to these individuals, and continues to process their claims under the border procedures, rather than lifting geographic restrictions and referring to the regular asylum procedure. They have now missed the opportunity to have geographic restrictions lifted while they await their interviews, through fault of the Greek state. We should also note that the new legislation also requires a medical screening under Article 39, para. 5 4636/2019, however, this does not carry the same legal consequences, as those found vulnerable under the new legislation are not referred from the border to regular procedure.

This week the Legal Centre Lesvos represented one couple from Afghanistan, in which the wife is pregnant (a category of vulnerability). In late 2019, they had been designated vulnerable and referred to the regular procedure, however, when in 2020 they were issued their asylum seeker card, it was with geographic restrictions. Only after the intervention of the Legal Centre Lesvos, were they advised that this was merely a ‘mistake’ and they would be referred back to the regular procedure and geographic restrictions would be lifted when they next renewed their asylum seeker card. Meanwhile, for the next two weeks they are unlawfully restricted to Lesvos.

6. Insurmountable Hurdles to Appeal Negative Decisions: Under the new legislation, asylum applicants who receive a negative decision must describe specifically the grounds in which they are making an appeal in order for their appeal to be admissible by the Appeals Committees, according to articles 92 and 93 of 4636/2019. This is practically impossible without a lawyer to assess the decision and determine the grounds of appeal. Although the state is obligated to provide a lawyer on appeal (article 71 para. 3), this right has been denied for over two years in Lesvos. Nevertheless, the Lesvos RAO appears to be enforcing the new provision of the law requiring individuals to provide the grounds for appeal in order to lodge an appeal, but continues to deny applicants lawyers on appeal in order to determine these grounds – meaning that many are practically unable to lodge an appeal. Others are physically blocked from even accessing the asylum office in order to lodge the appeal due to the hundreds of people attempting to access the asylum office at any given time. We have documented at least one case of a family with two small children, that were arbitrarily given a five day deadline to lodge their appeal and moreover they were unable to enter the asylum office despite trying every day. Only through the intervention of a Legal Centre Lesvos attorney – accompanying the family on multiple days – the family was able to access the asylum office in order to lodge their appeal in due time. Furthermore, it will be a practical impossibility to accompany every asylum seeker whose case is rejected, and many are or will likely miss the deadline to lodge their appeal, if practices are not immediately changed.

7. Denial of Interpreter for Detained Asylum Seekers Speaking Rare Languages at Every Stage of the Procedure: In November 2019, 28 asylum seekers’ claims were rejected with no interview having taken place, on the basis that no interpreter could be found to translate for them in their languages. The Legal Centre Lesvos and other legal actors represented these individuals on appeal, and denounced this illegal practice. Now, it appears the Lesvos RAO is attempting a new practice to reject the asylum claims of detained asylum seekers. Last week several men from sub-Saharan African countries who were detained upon arrival (based on the practice of arbitrarily detaining ‘low profile refugees’ based on nationality) were scheduled for interviews this week in either French or English, depending on whether they came from an area of the African continent that had previously been colonized by France or by Great Britain. This is despite the fact that they requested an interview in their native language, as is their right, under article 77 para. 12 of 4636/2019. The lasting effects of colonization – also a driving factor in continued migration from Africa to Europe – has continued to haunt these individuals, as even after they have managed to make it into Europe, they are now expected to explain their eligibility for asylum in their former colonizer’s language. The clear attempt to reject detained asylum seekers’ claims without     regard to the law is a worrying trend, combined with the provisions of the new legislation which allow for expanded grounds for detention and expanded length of detention of asylum seekers. The Legal Centre has taken on representation of one of these individuals in order to advocate for the right of asylum seekers to be interviewed in a language they can communicate comfortably and fluently in.    

8. Apparent Suicide in Moria Detention Centre Followed Failure by Greek State to Provide Obligated Care. On 6 January a 31-year-old Iranian man was found dead, hung in a cell inside the PRO.KE.K.A. (Pre-Removal Detention Centre) According to other people detained with him, he spent just a short time with other people, before being moved to isolation for approximately two weeks. While in solitary confinement, even for the hours he was taken outside, he was alone, as it was at a different time than other people. For multiple days he was locked in his cell without being allowed to leave at all, as far as others detained saw. His food was served to him through the window in his cell during these days. His distressed mental state was obvious to all the others detained with him and to the police. He cried during the     nights and banged on his door. He had also previously threatened to harm himself. Others detained with him never saw anyone visit him, or saw him taken out of his cell for psychological support or psychiatric evaluation. Healthcare in the PRO.KE.K.A is run by AEMY (a healthcare utility supervised by the Greek state). Its medical team supposedly consists of one social worker and one psychologist. However, the social worker quit in April 2019 and was never replaced. The psychologist was on leave between 19 December and 3 January. The man was found dead on 6 January meaning that there were only two working days in which AEMY was staffed during the last three weeks of his life, when he could have received psychological support. This is dangerously inadequate in a prison currently holding approximately 100 people. EODY is the only other state institution able to make mental health assessments, yet it has publicly declared that it will not intervene in the absence of AEMY staff, not even in emergencies, and that in any case it will not reassess somebody’s mental health. For more details, see Legal Centre Lesvos publication, here. Of note is that there is no permanent interpretation service inside the detention centre.

C. Legal Centre Lesvos Updates

Despite the hostile political environment in Lesvos, a few significant successes confirm the importance of continued monitoring, litigation, and coordination with other actors in advocating for migrant rights in Lesvos. 

  • On 25th November 2019 we joined other legal actors on Lesvos in representing 28 men from African countries whose asylum claims were rejected before they had even had an interview on their claims. These individuals – through the long denounced ‘pilot’ project – were arbitrarily detained upon arrival to Lesvos from Turkey, based only on their nationality – as they are from countries with a ‘low refugee profile.’ The RAO further denied these individuals their rights in November 2019, when their asylum claims were rejected on the basis that there was a lack of interpreter to carry out the interviews. In the case of the Legal Centre Lesvos client, he was rejected because apparently a Portuguese interpreter could not be found! We collaborated with other legal actors on the island and UNHCR in representing these individuals on appeal, and engaging in joint advocacy to denounce this illegal practice. Following this joint advocacy initiative, the Lesvos RAO has continued the illegal practice of arbitrary detention based on nationality, and has attempted new tactics to accelerate the procedure, rejection, and ultimate deportation of these individuals (as described above), but there have been no reports of denial of asylum claims based on lack of interpretation since our joint advocacy in November 2019. 
  • Following our successful submission to the European Court of Human Rights in November 2019, which led to the last minute halting of a scheduled deportation, the police appeared to have changed their policies. In the month prior to our filing, at least six individuals were deported to Turkey, after having filing appeals in administrative court, and motions to suspend their deportation pending resolution of their appeals. Despite the fact that the administrative court had not yet ruled on the suspension motions, these individuals were forcibly deported to Turkey. Since our petition to the ECHR, in which we raised the lack of effective remedy in Greece, there have been no reported cases of deportation of individuals who have filed administrative appeals on their asylum claims. Our efforts in making this change were not alone, as advocacy from other legal actors and the Ombudsman’s Office against this practice likely contributed to the changed policy.
  • Dublin Successes in Increasingly hostile climate: Since late 2017, there has been an increase in the number of refusals of ‘take charge’ requests for family reunification sent by the Greek Dublin Unit to Germany under the Dublin III regulations, with a variety of reasons used to deny the reunification of families who have often been separated by war and persecution. The family reunification procedure under the Dublin regulations is one of the rare legal routes protecting family unity and allowing for legal migration for asylum seekers out of Greece to other European states.
Decrease in acceptance of ‘take charge’ requests from Greece:
Source, Greek Asylum Service

In the period of October 2019 – December 2019 four families we represented had their applications for family reunification through Dublin III Regulations approved, enabling our clients to reunite with family members in France, Germany, and Sweden.

  • Our most recent Dublin success involved the reunification of a family with two minor sons who are living in Germany.  The two minor sons had left Afghanistan 5 years ago and had been separated from their family ever since. There is a trend from the German Dublin Unit to reject the cases in which families make the difficult decision to first send their minor children to safety when the entire family is not able to leave together. The German Dublin Unit has denied these cases on the basis that it is not in the best interest of the child to reunite minor children with parents who used smugglers to send their children to safety. We have consistently argued that when the children’s life is at risk, the parents should not be punished for using whatever means they can to find safety for their children, when legal and safe routes of migration are denied to them. The German Dublin Unit agreed in this case after advocacy from the Legal Centre Lesvos and the Greek Dublin Unit.

CALL FOR ACCOUNTABILITY: Apparent Suicide in Moria Detention Centre followed failure by Greek State to provide obligated care.

Poster from Mobilisation on 16 January 2020, calling for release of all those held in PRO.KE.K.A, following 6 January death.

On 6 January a 31-year-old man from Iran was found dead, hung in a cell inside the Pre Removal Detention Centre (PRO.KE.K.A.), the prison within Moria camp on Lesvos island. Police knew before they detained him that he had serious mental health issues, according to reports from several detained with him. Despite this, for approximately two weeks prior to his death he was kept in isolation.

Within this PRO.KE.K.A. prison, those that are held there are the “undesirables” of the European Union and Greek State: the majority are arrested after arriving to Lesvos from Turkey, and held there immediately upon arrival, based only on their nationality. Others are considered ‘public security threats’ but they have never been tried or convicted. Others have had their asylum cases rejected, but they were judged in an unfair asylum system built to exclude migrants from Europe and maintain an undocumented and therefore exploitable population.

This policy of collective punishment is commonly reproduced in courts and the media, which criminalize migrants and categorizes them as having a ‘low refugee profile’ before anything is even known about them individually. This concept of a ‘low refugee profile’ is implemented in PRO.KE.K.A. in Lesvos and Kos, through a pilot project. Those who come from countries where, statistically, less than 25% are granted international protection, are detained upon arrival from Turkey. This is mainly people from African states. Men from these countries who arrive to Lesvos without family, are arrested upon arrival and detained for up to three months. The new asylum law allows for increasing detention time for up to 18 months.

PRO.KE.K.A. operates with little oversight or accountability. There, people are held with limited access to legal, medical or psychological support. People are detained in overcrowded cells 22 hours a day. According to detainees, psychological and physical abuse is common. Detainees have reported the following abuses: People are woken up at random hours of the night using noise and light. They are forced to spend two hours outside each day, even in the winter. Recently, there are reports that they are taken to where there are no cameras and beaten by the police, and beaten by the police while in handcuffs. People are granted access to their phones only at weekends, cutting them off most of the week from their families and support networks, and making communication with legal support almost impossible. Visits from friends and family are at times prohibited. Because of these reasons, reporting abuse is practically impossible for detainees. Also many report that they fear retaliation by the police and do not trust government or official organizations because they see abuse continue with no consequences for the police, even though the abuse happens under everyone’s eye.

Almost no basic need is met. No adequate warm clothing, and only one blanket, meaning they must freeze in the winter months. Without interpreters present, detainees have limited means of communicating with prison officers, meaning that many do not know why they are detained or for how long. The food is inadequate and unhealthy, with many going hungry. At times, only one meal a day is served, and no food can be brought in from contacts outside. They are provided no basic hygiene products like soap or toothpaste, and outbreaks of scabies have occurred.

The asylum claims of those detained in PRO.KE.K.A. are accelerated, and people are scheduled for interviews on their asylum claims within a few days of arrival, and access to legal aid is severely limited. Legal aid on appeal is routinely denied, despite having a right to a lawyer. Trapped in prison, detainees face huge difficulties submitting evidence to the asylum service to support their claims.

The illegal detention of minors is commonplace because European Border Agency FRONTEX is systematically registering minors as adults. Torture survivors are also commonly detained despite an obligation by the state to screen for any vulnerabilities. Those with serious medical and psychological conditions are routinely denied access to healthcare. For example people with prescription medicine are not provided with this medication, even if they had it on their person when arrested. When people ask to see a doctor or psychologist, the police and AEMY – a private institution supervised by the Greek Ministry of Health – pass responsibility between each other and often people are never treated. Self harm is tragically common in PRO.KE.K.A.. At times, those with severe illnesses have been detained and deported by police and FRONTEX to Turkey, under the knowledge of UNHCR.

Here in PROK.E.K.A. is where the man who died found himself in December 2019, when he was taken into detention. According to other people detained in PRO.KE.K.A., he spent just a short time with other people, before being moved to isolation for approximately two weeks. While in solitary confinement, even for the hours he was taken outside, he was alone, as it was at a different time than other people. For multiple days he was locked in his cell without being allowed to leave at all, as far as others detained saw. His food was served to him through the window in his cell during these days. His distressed mental state was obvious to all the others detained with him and to the police. He cried during the nights and banged on his door. He had also previously threatened to harm himself. Others detained with him never saw anyone visit him, or saw him taken out of his cell for psychological support or psychiatric evaluation.

Healthcare in the prison is run by AEMY and the Greek state is its sole shareholder. Its medical team supposedly consists of one social worker and one psychologist. However, the social worker quit in April 2019 and was never replaced. The psychologist was on leave between 19 December and 3 January. The man was found dead on 6 January meaning that there were only two working days in which AEMY was staffed during the last three weeks of his life, when he could have received psychological support. This is dangerously inadequate in a prison currently holding approximately 100 people. KEELPNO is the only other state institution able to make mental health assessments, yet it has publicly declared that it will not intervene in the absence of AEMY staff, not even in emergencies, and that in any case it will not reassess somebody’s mental health.

If we believe that this individual took his own life in order to escape from the abyss of PRO.KE.K.A., then it was the result of prison conditions that push people to despair, and the failure of multiple state agencies to provide him obligated mental health care.

One death is too many. We call for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death on 6 January.

PRESS RELEASE: Deportation of Legal Centre Lesvos client halted by intervention of the European Court of Human Rights.

25.11.19

[Greek text below]

On 21 November 2019, in the case of Z.B. vs. Greece, ECHR֊LE2.2bR, the European Court of Human Rights granted an interim application preventing the Greek authorities from deporting an Afghan man, ‘Z.B’, to Turkey from Lesvos.  Z.B, who is represented by Legal Centre Lesvos, was due to be deported the next morning had it not been for the intervention of the Court.  Amongst the various arguments raised in the application to the ECHR, was the concern that Z.B would be subjected to various serious violations of his human rights, including the very real possibility that he be subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment in Turkey. 

The Court agreed to further examine Z.B.’s case, requesting further information regarding Z.B’s claim that the Greek State’s failed to consider the risk of treatment contrary to Article 3 prior to his scheduled deportation. 

Since the last elections, the Greek government has been accelerating the rejection of asylum applications and deportations to Turkey.  In the last month the authorities took the extraordinary step of deporting at least six individuals who had ongoing legal proceedings in Administrative Court challenging the Greek state’s decision to deport them. Their deportations were in flagrant violation of domestic, European and International law and are indicative of a dangerous trend, given that the Greek government has announced it plans to return 10,000 asylum seekers to Turkey by the end of 2020.

We have consistently stated that returning asylum seekers to Turkey violates Article 3 and that it should not be considered a ‘safe third country’ as the framework of the EU-Turkey Statement of 2016 implicitly states, given that Turkey does not provide permanent international protection to non-European nationals. In addition, all non-Syrians returned to Turkey from Greece are sent to Repatriation Detention Centres in Turkey where they face overcrowding, lack of medical care, lack of legal assistance, and almost certain deportation to their home countries.

We hope the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights in this case will serve as reminder to the Greek authorities that they are not above the law.

ΔΕΛΤΙΟ ΤΥΠΟΥ: Η απέλαση του πελάτη του Νομικού Κέντρου Λέσβου σταμάτησε με την παρέμβαση του Ευρωπαϊκού Δικαστηρίου Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων

Στις 21 Νοεμβρίου 2019, στην περίπτωση του Z.B. vs. Greece, ECHR֊LE2.2bR, το Ευρωπαϊκό Δικαστήριο Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων χορήγησε προσωρινή αίτηση που εμποδίζει τις ελληνικές αρχές να απελάσουν έναν Αφγανό, «Z.B», στην Τουρκία από τη Λέσβο. Ο κ. Ζ.Β., ο οποίος εκπροσωπείται από το Νομικό Κέντρο Λέσβου, επρόκειτο να απελαθεί το επόμενο πρωί αν δεν είχε παρεμβεί το ΕΔΔΑ. Μεταξύ των διαφόρων επιχειρημάτων που προβλήθηκαν στην αίτηση του ΕΔΔΑ, ήταν και οι ανησυχίες ότι ο κ. Z.Β θα υποστεί διάφορες σοβαρές παραβιάσεις των ανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων του, συμπεριλαμβανομένης της μεγάλης πιθανότητας να υποστεί απάνθρωπη ή εξευτελιστική μεταχείριση στην Τουρκία.

Το Δικαστήριο συμφώνησε να εξετάσει την υπόθεση του κ. Z.Β, ζητώντας περισσότερες πληροφορίες σχετικά με τον ισχυρισμό του κ. Z.Β ότι το ελληνικό κράτος δεν έλαβε υπόψη τον κίνδυνο μεταχείρισης αντίθετο με το Άρθρο 3 πριν από την προγραμματισμένη απέλαση του.

Από τις τελευταίες εκλογές, η ελληνική κυβέρνηση επιταχύνει την απόρριψη αιτήσεων ασύλου και απελάσεων στην Τουρκία. Τον περασμένο μήνα οι αρχές ανέλαβαν ένα εξαιρετικό μετρό, και απέλασαν τουλάχιστον έξι άτομα που είχαν συνεχιζόμενες νομικές διαδικασίες ενώπιον του Διοικητικού Δικαστήριο αμφισβητώντας την απόφαση του ελληνικού κράτους να τους απελάσει. Οι απελάσεις τους παραβιάζουν κατάφωρα το εθνικό, ευρωπαϊκό και διεθνές δίκαιο και είναι ενδεικτικές μιας επικίνδυνης τάσης, δεδομένου ότι η ελληνική κυβέρνηση ανακοίνωσε σχέδια για την επιστροφή 10.000 αιτούντων ασύλου στην Τουρκία μέχρι τα τέλη του 2020.

Έχουμε διαβεβαιώσει ότι η επιστροφή των αιτούντων άσυλο στην Τουρκία παραβιάζει το Αρθρο 3 και ότι δεν πρέπει να θεωρείται «ασφαλής τρίτη χώρα», όπως δηλώνει σιωπηρά το πλαίσιο της δήλωσης ΕΕ-Τουρκίας του 2016, δεδομένου ότι η Τουρκία δεν παρέχει μόνιμη διεθνή προστασία σε μη ευρωπαίους πολίτες. Επιπλέον, όλοι οι μη-Σύροι που έχουν επιστραφεί στην Τουρκία από την Ελλάδα αποστέλλονται στα κέντρα κράτησης επαναπατρισμού στην Τουρκία, όπου αντιμετωπίζουν υπερπληθυσμό, έλλειψη ιατρικής περίθαλψης, έλλειψη νομικής συνδρομής και σχεδόν σίγουρη απέλαση στις χώρες καταγωγής τους.

Ελπίζουμε ότι η παρέμβαση του Ευρωπαϊκού Δικαστηρίου Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων στην προκειμένη περίπτωση θα χρησιμεύσει ως υπενθύμιση στις ελληνικές αρχές ότι δεν είναι πάνω από το νόμο.

PRESS RELEASE:

Rejection of 28 asylum seekers from African countries due to a lack of interpreters – Legal aid organizations express concerns regarding the unprecedented administrative practice of the Regional Asylum Office of Lesvos, which goes against Greek, European and International law.

22.11.19

[Greek text below]

The undersigned legal aid organizations operating on the island of Lesvos have been surprised to learn that, from 15 to 20 November, the Regional Asylum Office (‘RAO’) of Lesvos has, without any prior notice, served negative asylum decisions on 28 asylum seekers from Sub-Saharan African countries without conducting the legally mandatory asylum interview.

The Administration justified its decision on the basis of its ‘inability’ to secure interpretation for languages spoken by the asylum seekers. The reasoning of the Administration, which was repeated in an identical manner in all the decisions, was that “the asylum seeker did not attend a personal interview since repeated attempts to find interpretation services for the mother tongue and the language of communication of the asylum seeker proved unsuccessful”. What is more, in one case, the application for international protection was rejected without conducting an interview because, according to the decision of the Asylum Office, finding interpretation for . . . Portuguese, proved impossible.

However, the omission of the personal asylum interview due to the inability to provide interpretation constitutes a violation of EU law. In addition, the fact that the majority of the applicants were rejected only a few days after they lodged their asylum applications is in direct contradiction to the statement of RAO Lesvos about “repeated and unsuccessful attempts to find suitable interpretation”.

Further questions arise from the fact that all the decisions were issued urgently and were signed by the same person, namely by the Head of the RAO of Lesvos, while in many cases the applicants were served fictitious invitations to interviews scheduled for the same day that the negative decisions were issued. It must be noted that the relevant negative decisions were served in languages it is uncertain if the asylum seekers understand. Moreover, the hearings of the appeals were scheduled in just a few days and the asylum seekers were never informed about their right to free legal aid, rendering the right to an effective remedy a ‘dead letter.’

Moreover, the Administration has rejected asylum applications, despite having assessed as credible the evidence in the administrative file of applicants for refugee status. For example, the Administration rejected an applicant even though it had accepted that he had been subjected to torture by his country’s authorities. In another case it rejected the asylum claim, although it was acknowledged that jihadi militiamen had attacked the applicant and killed two of his brothers because they were Christians.

This is unprecedented for national, European and international legal standards, action of the Administration to decide on international protection claims without conducting a personal interview serves the purposes of another arbitrary practice which has been ‘tested’ on the island of Lesvos since mid-2016. Specifically, 27 of the 28 rejected applicants mentioned above have been arbitrarily detained at the Lesvos Pre-removal Detention Center (P.R.D.C.) since the first day of their arrival in Greece, as part of the program of detention of applicants considered as coming from ‘low refugee profile’ countries. The purpose of this program is to complete the entire asylum procedure before the release of the applicants from detention after the expiry of the maximum time limit for detention of asylum seekers. In this way, in the event of their rejection, they can be immediately returned to Turkey. However, this practice goes directly against the principle of individualized examination of any application for international protection and the prohibition of discrimination.

Conducting an asylum interview is a cornerstone of the process of examining an application for international protection, as it provides applicants with the opportunity to fully explain the reasons why they were forced to leave their country and are unable to return. Any omission of a personal interview constitutes a violation of Directive 2013/32/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection. In addition, the importance of the personal interview is also illustrated by the severe legal consequences for asylum seekers who do not appear in person for the interview.

This unlawful practice by the Administration does not occur in a vacuum, but is part of a significant regression in relation to the procedural guarantees and rights of asylum-seekers which has become apparent for some time now from the announcements of the new government, which has been sanctioned with the adoption of the new law on international protection, 4636/2019. Additionally, it coincides with the Government spokesperson’s announcement of 20 November 2019 for a new ‘operational plan for the management of the migration/refugee issue’ that will include expanding the use of detention with the replacement of current structures with closed Reception and Identification Centers (RICs) and the creation of new Pre-removal Detention Centers (P.R.D.C.).

The Lesvos RAO follows practices that do not adhere to our legal acquis and breach national and EU law, which we believe is important to highlight. Moreover, these practices expose our country to future condemnations by European and international courts and institutions.

We call on the competent Greek authorities to respect the law and take the necessary steps in order to revoke all the above decisions, to restitute the harm caused to the asylum seekers, and to refrain from similar practices in the future.

Signing organisations: HIAS Greece Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες – Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) Equal Rights Beyond Borders, Legal Centre Lesvos , Danish Refugee Council, FENIX Humanitarian Legal Aid

Απόρριψη 28 αιτούντων άσυλο από Αφρικανικές χώρες λόγω έλλειψης διερμηνείας – Ανησυχία εκφράζουν νομικές οργανώσεις για την άνευ προηγουμένου και αντίθετη στο ελληνικό, ευρωπαϊκό και διεθνές δίκαιο διοικητική πρακτική του Περιφερειακού Γραφείου Ασύλου Λέσβου

Λέσβος, 22.11.2019

Οι υπογράφουσες νομικές οργανώσεις που δραστηριοποιούμαστε στο νησί της Λέσβου με έκπληξη διαπιστώσαμε, στο διάστημα από τις 15 μέχρι και τις 20 Νοεμβρίου, την αιφνιδιαστική επίδοση απορριπτικών αποφάσεων από το Περιφερειακό Γραφείο Ασύλου (ΠΓΑ) Λέσβου σε 28 αιτούντες άσυλο από χώρες της υποσαχάριας Αφρικής, χωρίς να έχει διεξαχθεί προηγουμένως η υποχρεωτική εκ του νόμου συνέντευξή τους με τις αρμόδιες αρχές.

Η Διοίκηση αιτιολόγησε την απόφασή της, επικαλούμενη την «αδυναμία» της να εξασφαλίσει διερμηνεία στις ομιλούμενες από τους αιτούντες γλώσσες. Το σκεπτικό της Διοίκησης, το οποίο επαναλήφθηκε με πανομοιότυπο τρόπο σε όλες τις αποφάσεις, ήταν ότι «ο αιτών δεν παρέστη σε προσωπική συνέντευξη καθώς οι επανειλημμένες προσπάθειες εξεύρεσης υπηρεσιών παροχής διερμηνείας στη μητρική γλώσσα και γλώσσα επικοινωνίας του αιτούντος κατέστησαν ανεπιτυχείς». Σε μια μάλιστα περίπτωση, η αίτηση διεθνούς προστασίας απερρίφθη χωρίς διεξαγωγή συνέντευξης, επειδή, σύμφωνα με την απόφαση της Υπηρεσίας Ασύλου, κατέστη αδύνατη η διεύρεση διερμηνείας στα … Πορτογαλικά!

Ωστόσο, η παράλειψη της προσωπικής συνέντευξης λόγω αδυναμίας εξασφάλισης διερμηνείας έρχεται σε ευθεία αντίθεση με τα προβλεπόμενα στο ευρωπαϊκό δίκαιο. Επιπρόσθετα, το γεγονός ότι στην πλειοψηφία τους τα αιτήματα απορρίφθηκαν μέσα σε λίγες μόλις ημέρες από την καταγραφή τους έρχεται σε ευθεία αντίφαση με την αιτιολογία του Π.Γ.Α. Λέσβου περί «επανειλημμένων και δη ανεπιτυχών προσπαθειών σχετικά με την εξεύρεση κατάλληλης διερμηνείας».

Εντύπωση, μάλιστα, προκαλεί το γεγονός ότι όλες οι αποφάσεις έλαβαν τον χαρακτήρα του κατ’ επείγοντος, υπογράφηκαν από το ίδιο πρόσωπο, ήτοι τον Προϊστάμενο του ΠΓΑ Λέσβου, ενώ σε αρκετές περιπτώσεις επιδόθηκαν εικονικές κλήσεις για συνέντευξη προσδιορισμένη την ίδια ημέρα με την έκδοση της απορριπτικής απόφασης. Δέον μαλιστα σημειωθεί ότι η επίδοση των σχετικών απορριπτικων αποφάσεων έγινε σε γλώσσες που τίθεται εν αμφιβόλω αν κατανοούν οι αιτούντες, η δε συζήτηση της προσφυγής τους προσδιορίστηκε εντός μόλις ολίγων ημερών και χωρίς ουδέποτε να ενημερωθούν περί του δικαιώματός σε δωρεάν νομική βοήθεια, καθιστώντας το δικαίωμα σε αποτελεσματικη προσφυγή κενό γράμμα.

Μάλιστα, η Διοίκηση προέβη στην απόρριψη αιτημάτων ασύλου, καίτοι έκρινε ως βάσιμα στοιχεία του διοικητικού φακέλου των αιτούντων που συνάδουν με την ιδιότητα του πρόσφυγα. Για παράδειγμα, απέρριψε αιτούντα μολονότι δέχτηκε ότι υπήρξε θύμα βασανιστηρίων από τις αρχές της χώρας του, ενώ, σε άλλη περίπτωση, εξέδωσε απορριπτική απόφαση παρότι δέχτηκε ότι οι τζιχαντικές πολιτοφυλακές είχαν επιτεθεί σε αιτούντα και είχαν σκοτώσει δυο αδερφούς του επειδή ήταν χριστιανοί.

Η πρωτοφανής αυτή για τα εθνικά, ευρωπαϊκά και διεθνή νομικά δεδομένα ενέργεια της Διοίκησης να λάβει απόφαση επί των αιτημάτων διεθνούς προστασίας χωρίς τη διεξαγωγή προσωπικής συνέντευξης ηρθε να εξυπηρετήσει τις ανάγκες μιας άλλης αυθαίρετης πρακτικής που «δοκιμάζεται» στο νησί της Λέσβου από τα μέσα του 2016. Συγκεκριμένα, οι 27 εκ των 28 προαναφερθέντων απορριφθέντων τελούν υπό αυθαίρετη διοικητική κράτηση στο Προαναχωρησιακό Κέντρο Κράτησης (ΠΡΟ.ΚΕ.ΚΑ.) Λέσβου ήδη απο την πρώτη ημέρα της αφίξης τους στην Ελλάδα, στο πλαίσιο του προγράμματος κράτησης αιτούντων προερχόμενων από χώρες που θεωρούνται ως «χαμηλού προσφυγικού προφίλ». Στόχος αυτού του προγράμματος είναι η ολοκλήρωση του συνόλου της διαδικασίας ασύλου των αιτούντων πριν την άρση της κράτησης λόγω συμπλήρωσης του ανώτατου χρονικού ορίου, προκειμένου, σε περίπτωση απόρριψής τους, να επιστρέφονται άμεσα στην Τουρκία. Η συγκεκριμένη πρακτική ωστόσο αντιβαίνει ευθέως στην αρχή της εξατομικευμένης εξέτασης κάθε αίτησης διεθνούς προστασίας και της απαγόρευσης διακριτικής μεταχείρισης.

Η διεξαγωγή της συνέντευξης ασύλου αποτελεί ακρογωνιαίο λίθο της διαδικασίας εξέτασης ενός αιτήματος διεθνούς προστασίας, γιατί εξασφαλίζει τη δυνατότητα στους αιτούντες να εκθέσουν με πληρότητα τους λόγους για τους οποίους αναγκάστηκαν να εγκαταλείψουν τη χώρα τους και αδυνατούν να επιστρέψουν σ’αυτήν. Τυχόν παράλειψη της προσωπικής συνέντευξης συνιστά καταστρατήγηση της Οδηγίας της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης 2013/32/ΕΕ σχετικά με κοινές διαδικασίες για τη χορήγηση και ανάκληση του καθεστώτος διεθνούς προστασίας. Άλλωστε η σημασία της προσωπικής συνέντευξης καταδεικνύεται και από τις αυστηρότατες συνέπειες που επέρχονται εκ του νόμου σε περίπτωση μη αυτοπρόσωπης εμφάνισης των αιτούντων άσυλο σε αυτή.

Η παράνομη αυτή πρακτική της Διοίκησης δεν παρήχθη εν κενώ αλλά αποτελεί μέρος της σημαντικής οπισθοδρόμησης ως προς τις διαδικαστικές εγγυήσεις και τα δικαιώματα των αιτούντων άσυλο, που εμφαίνεται εδώ και καιρό από τις εξαγγελίες της νέας κυβέρνησης, και η οποία επικυρώθηκε με τη ψήφιση του νέου νόμου 4636/2019 Περί Διεθνούς Προστασίας. Επιπρόσθετα, συμπίπτει χρονικά με τις από 20.11.2019 ανακοινώσεις του κυβερνητικού εκπροσώπου για ένα νέο «επιχειρησιακό σχέδιο για τη διαχείριση του μεταναστευτικού/προσφυγικού ζητήματος» που θα περιλαμβάνει τη διεύρυνση της κράτησης με την αντικατάσταση των σημερινών δομών από κλειστά Κέντρα Υποδοχής και Ταυτοποίησης (ΚΥΤ) και με τη δημιουργία νέων Προαναχωρησιακών Κέντρων Κράτησης (ΠΡΟ.ΚΕ.ΚΑ).

Το ΠΓΑ Λέσβου ακολουθεί πρακτικές που δεν συνάδουν με το νομικό μας κεκτημένο και παραβιάζουν το εθνικό και το ενωσιακό δίκαιο, επιλογή που φρονούμε δέον να αναδειχθεί. Επιπλέον, εκθέτουν τη χώρα μας σε μελλοντικές καταδίκες από ευρωπαϊκά και διεθνή δικαστήρια και όργανα.

Καλούμε τις αρμόδιες ελληνικές αρχές να σεβαστούν τη νομιμότητα και να προβούν στις απαραίτητες ενέργειες ώστε να ανακληθούν οι ως άνω αποφάσεις, να αποκατασταθεί η βλάβη που υπέστησαν οι αιτούντες διεθνή προστασία, και να απόσχουν από ανάλογες πρακτικές στο μέλλον.

Οι οργανώσεις: HIAS Ελλάδος (HIAS Greece), Υποστήριξη Προσφύγων στο Αιγαίο (RSA), Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες (Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες – Greek Council for Refugees) , Equal Rights Beyond Borders (Equal Rights Beyond Borders), Legal Center Lesvos, Δανικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες (Danish Refugee Council), FENIX Humanitarian Legal Aid.

Joint statement on the use of Israeli drones to monitor and control migration

We have joined the Stop the Wall campaign and 31 other Civil Society organisations to express our concern about the use by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) of Israeli drones to monitor and control migratory movements towards Europe.

In a letter addressed to the company that contract ‘Elbit Systems’ drones (CeiiA) we assert our opposition to their continued use and implication in human rights abuses. Human Rights organisations have documented the fact that these specific drones were used to deliberately target civilians in the Gaza Strip during the 2008-2009 massacres and were also used to kill civilians in the Lebanon-Israeli war in 2006. Furthermore, the company that produces these drones has developed technology that has been used for the wall built by Israel in the occupied Palestinian Territory.

The financing of these drones by EU funds, whether directly or indirectly, contributes to Israel’s ability to commit war crimes and serious violations of international law and human rights.

The use of military drones is part of a wider EU strategy to militarize migration policy rather than focus on developing humane policies.

Contracts for the use of drones for surveillance by EU countries will be renewed this month. We urge CEiiA not to renew the contract for the use of Elbit Systems’ killer drones, not to remain an accomplice of perpetrators of crimes against the Palestinian people. We stand in solidarity with all Palestinians and migrants affected by these policies.

Report on Rights Violations & Resistance in Lesvos – October 2019

For over three years we have been reporting on the systematic denial of rights to migrants on Lesvos, and each report includes a laundry list of violations that only seem to worsen over time. The containment policy – at first opposed by UN agencies, NGOs and civil society – has become all but the norm in Lesvos.

Since the start of the year, there have been 45,500 arrivals to Greece, with approximately 18,000 arriving by sea from Turkey in August and September alone. Currently, over 14,000 people trapped on Lesvos are living in inhumane living conditions as a result of the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement, and the legislated containment policy that stipulates that asylum seekers cannot leave the Greek islands. The increase in new arrivals has coincided with a newly elected right-wing government in Greece who won on an anti-migrant platform that is creating an even more hostile atmosphere for asylum seekers on the island ‘hotspots’.

This combination has exacerbated the already desperate situation for migrants on the island, where human rights continue to be trampled at every instant.

1. Rising death toll inside Moria Refugee Camp Tragic but Predictable Result of Illegal Containment Policy

The deplorable living conditions inside the camp, now over four times its capacity, have resulted in the deaths of at least three people seeking international protection in the last months.

  • On 24 August, a 15-year old boy was killed and two were others seriously injured inside the so-called ‘safe zone’ of the camp, an area designed to protect unaccompanied minors, but which is overcrowded with limited access to needed services, resulting in raised tensions and frustrations. Despite previous warnings, the Greek authorities failed to comply with recommendations to transfer unaccompanied minors to more appropriate facilities that would ensure their safety.  Today, over 1000 unaccompanied minors are trapped in Lesvos.
  • On 19 September, a five year old boy was killed by a truck just outside of the Moria camp. He had been playing on the roadside, hidden from view in a cardboard box.
  • On 29 September, an electric fire broke out inside the camp, resulting in the death of at least one woman and destroying eight containers. The aftermath of the fire and the frustration over unsafe conditions, continued imprisonment on Lesvos island, and lack of transparency and accountability from authorities regarding the fatal fire have led to daily peaceful demonstrations by residents. These tragic deaths are not coincidental or accidents, but instead a direct consequence of EU policies that have created “hotspot” camps such as Moria Camp.

The ‘geographical restriction’ imposed on asylum seekers in Lesvos have directly created the inhumane conditions inside Moria Camp that are in abject violation of Article 11 of the Recast Reception Conditions Directive 2013/33/EU, which obligates States to provide “standards for the reception of applicants that will suffice to ensure them a dignified standard of living.” The conditions inside Moria Camp are far from dignified and fail to meet even the most basic human needs.

2. Insufficient Support for Individual Transfers to the Mainland

On 2 September the authorities began the transfer of 1500 people to the Nea Kavala Camp in Northern Greece. As often happens with mass transfers from the Greek islands to the mainland, individuals and families are given only a few hours to pack their belongings, pack up their lives (many people have been living several months or over a year in Lesvos), and take the ferry to an unknown destination. People describe being shipped off of Lesvos like cattle. 

Shortly after the transfer, residents began to report on the dire conditions of the camp including a shortage of tents and a lack of proper infrastructure to meet the basic needs of residents, such as electricity or water. In addition, the remote location of the camp means that people are left isolated without access to important medical and legal services. They are also exposed to extreme weather conditions which will only worsen as the winter arrives.

These transfers are also occurring without taking into consideration family circumstances, leading to the separation of families:

  • One individual, who had traveled together with his elderly mother from Afghanistan to Greece, had to make the difficult decision of allowing his mother to travel to the mainland when offered accommodation there, and remaining here in Lesvos, as he does not have permission to leave the island. He has subsequently lost contact with his mother and does not know where she has been transferred to.
  • Another individual, who had been receiving psycho-social support from an NGO in Lesvos and had been prescribed with anti-psychotic medication, was transferred to a camp where he could not access medical care. He has therefore been unable to continue the treatment he started on the island.

One of the new measures announced by the government after the emergency meeting of the Citizen Protection Ministry on 1 September was that thousands of asylum seekers would be transferred within two months to thirteen camps apparently under construction on the mainland. Greece’s Ministry of Defence has presented a list of unused military facilities on the Greek mainland which could be transformed into new sites for housing several thousand refugees. However, there is currently no evidence that these structures are under construction. The lack of infrastructure on the camps is deeply concerning as winter is fast approaching.

The Reception Conditions Directive 2013/33/EU obligates Greece to provide adequate housing, health care, and living conditions to asylum seekers. If Greece is unable to meet its obligations, then those seeking international protection should not be restricted to Greece and should be granted freedom of movement within Europe.

3. Legal Updates: Changes in European Asylum Support Office (EASO) Practices Continue to Deny Asylum Seekers Due Process

In the past month, EASO announced it would only carry out interviews under the ‘border procedures’ in Lesvos, and all those referred to the normal procedure must register at the nearest asylum office in order to continue their procedure. Often individuals are then scheduled for their interviews several years in the future.  One of the only ways individuals are referred to the normal procedures is if they are designated vulnerable. This means that that all individuals who have been designated vulnerable, are likely to have their procedures further delayed under these new EASO practices, despite a provision which provides that the cases of vulnerable individuals should be prioritized, under Article 51(6), 4375/2016. This change has caused further confusion and uncertainty for individuals, as it is not clear when and if geographic restrictions will be lifted for individuals whose vulnerability is not recognized until their interview. Together with other legal actors, we will continue to work to clarify the impacts of this change in policy and to advocate for due process throughout the asylum procedure.

  • In the past month, many individuals who had already been designated as vulnerable had to pay for tickets back to Lesvos (approximately 100 Euros round-trip) for previously scheduled interviews. If they did not return, they risked having their asylum case closed, which could ultimately lead to their arrest and deportation. After traveling back to Lesvos and appearing for their interviews, they are notified that they must return to the mainland and register for their interview at the nearest asylum office – almost always scheduled for several years in the future.
  • While vulnerable individuals are having interviews scheduled several years in the future, those who are still in the border procedure in Lesvos are having their interview dates advanced with little or no notice. Several individuals who accessed the Legal Centre were given less than 24 hours notice of an interview, in contrast to Article 52, 4375/2016, which provides that an applicant must be given a reasonable notification time, of at least one day. With advocacy from Legal Centre attorneys, these individuals’ interviews were postponed; however, applicants often do not know of their right to a reasonable notification time, and as a result are streamlined through the asylum procedure without time to access legal aid or adequately prepare for their interviews, which will likely have a negative impact on their asylum claim.
  • The EASO and the Regional Asylum offices in Lesvos are located inside Moria Camp. This is where individuals register their asylum claims and submit documentation to support their claims, yet the office remain inaccessible to asylum seekers – behind two barbed wire fences and heavily guarded by G4S.  Only if given an appointment by EASO, are individuals able to access the asylum office. This is a clear violation of asylum seekers right to access the asylum procedure and access to justice, and has required the advocacy of lawyers for even the simplest interventions. Our Legal Centre attorneys follow up on dozens of cases per week in both the Lesvos and Athens asylum offices: for example, in order to submit documentation supporting claims for family reunification under Dublin III Regulations, to give evidence of vulnerability, and to submit evidence to support individuals’ asylum claims.

4. Increased use of Arbitrary Detention and Successful Legal Centre Advocacy

As the new Greek government aims to ‘streamline’ the asylum process by accelerating the removal of those not considered eligible for asylum, the use of detention will likely become increasingly arbitrary and prevalent as a method of restricting movement, frustrating asylum cases, and finally as a prerequisite to deportation.

In the last quarter, Legal Centre attorneys successfully filed objections to the detention of an individual detained as a ‘public security’ threat. The detention of individuals detained on the grounds of ‘public security’ often are detained either in violation of due process, or in violation of the principle of double jeopardy. The individual represented by Legal Centre had been ordered released from detention by the criminal tribunal, after being convicted of a non-violent, victimless crime, but was transferred from penal detention directly to detention in Moria Camp as an asylum seeker. These objections were filed on the defense of double jeopardy, and the individual was eventually released.

5. New Proposals and Reforms would Violate Right to Individualized Asylum Assessment and the Principle of Non-refoulement

The Greek government has announced a raft of new measures purportedly to try and reduce overcrowding and improve conditions inside Moria Camp. However, the proposed changes will likely only further restrict migrants rights as the government has changed the narrative: rather than fulfilling its duty to protect refugees, it now speaks of controlling illegal migration of economic migrants. The government has also announced it will accelerate deportations to Turkey, claiming it will return 10,000 people to Turkey by the end of 2020.

These measures are completely lacking in legal basis, as all asylum seekers must have their claims individually assessed, and the right to access justice.

Additionally, as we have consistently denounced, deportation to Turkey violates migrants’ basic rights and often leads to deportation back to individuals’ country of origin, in direct violation of the principle of non-refoulment, which guarantees that no one should be forcibly returned to a country where they would face torture, cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. Furthermore, as the Greek government announced it would increase deportations to Turkey under the EU-Turkey Deal, there has been an increase in deportation of Syrians from Turkey.

The idea that Turkey is a ‘safe third country’ confirms that – much like the ‘safe zone’ in Moria – the concept of a ‘safe third country’ has lost all meaning.

6. Racial Profiling by Local Police

The attack of the new right-wing government on refugee rights is continuing both on the Greek islands and the mainland.

In Lesvos, police harassment and racial profiling of migrants has increased, with the newly elected right-wing government legitimizing a rise in xenophobia, racism, and targeting by police. In an informal survey carried out with over 60 individuals who have come to the Legal Centre seeking advice, over 60% had been stopped by the police asking for documentation in the last month. Of those stopped by the police, approximately a third were apprehended and taken to the police station after being stopped, and later released.

One individual who was walking to his home, was apprehended, brought to the police station to check his papers, only to be later released. While walking home from the police station the same night, he was again stopped by the police and for the second time in one night, was taken to the police station to verify his documentation.

7. Police coercion of community leaders

We have continued to receive reports from community leaders that they are being brought into the police station and asked by officers both to suppress the right of individuals to protest, and to identify people inside Moria Camp that the authorities suspect of wrongdoing. This continued action by the police had been a response to the tragic fire inside the camp and the subsequent protests of residents.
We have previously documented the harassment of community leaders by the authorities in the following report and it seems that this is a recurring pattern which will only intensify as the conditions inside Moria worsen and tensions increase.

8.  Trials in Mytilini of migrants accused of occupying Sappho Square

On 10 October, one of Legal Centre Lesvos’ coordinators appeared as a witness in the trial of several individuals who were charged with disobedience, resisting arrest, and illegal camping. They were charged related to a prolonged protest in the central square of Mytilene, in October and November of 2017. During the hearing, the dangerous conditions inside Moria were highlighted as a state of emergency that left the defendants with no other choice but to stay in the square. HIAS Greece, successfully represented several of the accused, and all but one of the defendants were acquitted despite the prosecutors’ anti-migrant rhetoric.

9.  Sustained Protests against Inhumane treatment of Migrants in Greece

Despite the continued violation of the rights of asylum seekers in Greece, there remains acts of solidarity and resistance both on the mainland and on the islands.

  • In the Exarchia district of Athens, demonstrations were held in solidarity with the squats after the widespread evictions of the migrants living there. More than 6,000 people reportedly marched in solidarity with the squats and against state repression. Some of the ex-residents who had been evicted from the building as well as residents from other squats that are still under threat all marched together.
  • The day after the fire inside Moria Camp, around 200 women living inside the camp protested peacefully against the conditions but were prevented from marching to Mytilini by the local police who blocked the road. Migrants have carried out daily protests outside Moria Camp since the date of the fire, and on each occasion the police prevented individuals from walking to Mytiline by physically blocking the road with police vans.
  • On 1 and 5 October, the solidarity and migrant communities came together to protest the deplorable conditions that led to the fire and demand the immediate closure of Moria camp.
  • On 12 October, approximately 30 Kurdish Syrians gathered in the centre of Mytilene to denounce Turkey’s illegal invasion of Northern Syria, and ongoing offensive against the Kurdish people.


Press release: Fatal fire inside Moria refugee camp

In what comes as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the hotspots on the Greek islands, yesterday a fire broke out inside Moria Refugee Camp, which currently houses approximately 13,000 people in unlivable, cramped ‘housing’. The fire apparently started after an electric short-circuit in one container and killed at least one woman and resulted in the severe injury of many others. After the fire was finally put out, with the assistance of many residents of the camp, and the bodies of several carried to ambulances, protests over the conditions inside the camp were met with excessive use of tear gas by the police. Those held in the detention centre inside Moria Camp were trapped there without any medical attention. Without any evacuation plan in place, those that were not detained scrambled to escape the fire, smoke, and tear gas and met locked gates that they had to force open, and barbed wire fences: several individuals were admitted to the hospital yesterday with broken bones, respiratory problems, and lacerations.

Indicative of the Greek government’s framing of migration as an issue of public order, in response to the deadly fire, additional riot police and Michail Karamalakis, the Chief of Police, were flown into Lesvos from Athens yesterday. No emergency medical teams arrived, and there was no immediate plan to address the needs of the thousands of people left without shelter (many afraid to re-enter Moria Camp), several in need of medical attention.

Yesterday’s death is yet another preventable tragedy caused by the inhumane state policies which are systematically denying migrants their rights on the Greek islands. The containment polices, enforced since the EU-Turkey Statement of 2016, which have turned the Greek islands into prison islands for the thousands of migrants that continue to arrive here, must end.

Στης 29 Σεπτέμβριου ξέσπασε πυρκαγιά στον καταυλισμό προσφυγών στην Μόρια, στον οποίο ζουν περίπου 13.000 άνθρωποι υπό απάνθρωπες συνθήκες. Η πυρκαγιά φαίνεται να προκλήθηκε από βραχυκύκλωμα σε ένα από τα κοντέινερ οδηγώντας στον θάνατο μιας γυναίκας και στον σοβαρό τραυματισμό πολλών άλλων. Είναι σημαντικό να τονίσουμε σε αυτό το σημείο ότι η φωτιά σβήστηκε χάρη στη συμμετοχή και βοήθεια των προσφύγων του καταυλισμού. Μετα την κατάσβεση της πυρκαγιάς και τη μεταφορά των τραυματιών στο νοσοκομείο, εκδηλώθηκαν διαμαρτυρίες κατά των συνθηκών διαβίωσης στο καμπ της Μόριας. Οι εν λόγω διαμαρτυρίες αντιμετωπίστηκαν με υπερβολική χρήση δακρυγόνων από την αστυνομία. Οι δε κρατούμενοι στο προαναχωρησιακό κέντρο κράτησης εγκλωβίστηκαν σε αυτό χωρίς να υπάρχει πρόσβαση ιατρικού/νοσηλευτικού προσωπικού.

Η έλλειψη σχεδίου εκκένωσης ανάγκασε τους κατοίκους του καμπ να διαφύγουν όπως όπως από την πυρκαγιά, τον καπνό και τα δακρυγόνα. Οι προσπάθειες διαφυγής τους, όμως, αποδείχτηκαν δύσκολες , λόγω των κλειδωμένων πυλών, τις οποίες αναγκάστηκαν να σπάσουν, μαζί με τις περιφράξεις από συρματόπλεγμα. Αρκετοί άνθρωποι μάλιστα, εισήχθησαν στο νοσοκομείο με σπασμένα κόκαλα, αναπνευστικά προβλήματα και διάφορα άλλα τραύματα.

Η ανταπόκριση της ελληνικής κυβέρνησης σε αυτήν την τραγωδία, με τη χρήση δυνάμεων των ΜΑΤ και την αποστολή του Αρχηγού της Ελληνικής Αστυνομίας Μιχαήλ Καραμαλάκη στη Λέσβο, είναι ενδεικτική της πολιτικής της που έχει ως στόχο τον χαρακτηρισμό του προσφυγικού ζητήματος ως προβλήματος δημόσιας τάξης παρά ως κατεξοχήν ανθρωπιστικής κρίσης. Εκτός την ανάπτυξης αστυνομικών δυνάμεων, δεν συστάθηκε καμία ιατρική ομάδα άμεσης δράσης για την περίθαλψη των τραυματιών.  Ακόμα πιο προβληματική ήταν η έλλειψη σχεδίου για την αντιμετώπιση των αναγκών χιλιάδων ατόμων που βρέθηκαν χωρίς κατάλυμα (πολλοί από τους οποίους φοβούνταν να ξαναμπούν στο καμπ), με αρκετούς να χρειάζονται ιατρική φροντίδα.

Ο χθεσινός θάνατος ήταν ακόμα μια αποτρέψιμη τραγωδία που προκλήθηκε από τις απάνθρωπες κρατικές πολιτικές που συστηματικά στερούν από τους μετανάστες τα δικαιώματα τους στα ελληνικά νησιά. Οι πολιτικές περιορισμού, οι οποίες εφαρμόστηκαν μετά τη Δήλωση ΕΕ-Τουρκίας του 2016, οι οποίες έχουν μετατρέψει τα ελληνικά νησιά σε φυλακές για χιλιάδες μετανάστες που συνεχίζουν να φτάνουν εδώ, πρέπει να τερματιστούν.

“Green” Capitalism of UN Climate Summit insufficient to address extractive resource dependence or protect climate refugees

On Friday there was a global climate strike, concentrated largely in the Global North, in which millions of people marched to demand urgent action on climate change.

The strike has been made possible by the mobilization of a youth movement who are demanding that states and corporations act now to prevent further damage to the planet.

While the Global North is overwhelming responsible for the climate crisis, developing countries in the Global South are disproportionately affected, including extreme weather, drought and rising sea levels, and targeting of environmental activists. As a result of this crisis, since 2008 there has been an annual average of 21.5 million people forcibly displaced by climate change, with 16 million people being displaced in 2018 alone.

The annual displacement of millions of people worldwide, and the targeting of environmental activists as a result of climate change must be addressed, but so far international protection for these individuals remains inadequate. The protection gap lies in the fact that ‘climate refugees’ are not clearly defined and are not covered by the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. The current definition only extends to those fleeing war and persecution and does not include those forcibly displaced because of environmental reasons. Today the UN hosted global climate summit will bring together governments and businesses, in order to discuss a “Green” Capitalism. But a green capitalism will not provide safe and legal means of migration to the millions who are currently effected by the climate crisis. Nor will it address the dependence of the Global North on the violent extraction of resources in the Global South – another significant contributor to the climate crisis and forced migration.

The mobilization of youth in the Global North to demand change and accountability from their governments and corporations is promising, but further work is needed to combat the imperialist and capitalist policies that have caused the climate crisis, and force individuals to leave their homes.

PRESS RELEASE: Legal Centre Lesvos denounces the Greek governments proposed changes to the asylum procedure:

On Saturday 31st August, the Spokesperson for the Greek Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence announced that a meeting had taken place with the Prime Minister and that seven measures of immediate action would be implemented in order to address the increasing number of people arriving on the Greek Islands. We express serious concern that one of the measures announced is the intention of the Greek government to abolish the appeal stage of the asylum procedure, so that if an asylum application is rejected, they will proceed immediately with the return of the applicant to their country of origin. This announced reform undermines the legitimacy of the asylum process and deprives asylum seekers of their right to effective protection, which is guaranteed by Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 39 of the Asylum Procedures Directive. This announcement has been made in response to the increasing number of arrivals to the Greek Islands- in particular Lesvos-which last week saw the arrival of 547 people in just a few hours.

This announcement is the latest in a pattern of gross violations of the rights of asylum seekers in Greece. These violations include the conduct of interviews by EASO (European Asylum Service) with clearly specified lines of authority to reject applications on completely unjustified grounds, with unsubstantiated judgments about the credibility of asylum seekers, alongside significant errors in interpretation throughout the asylum interview. Those of us who have been accompanying individuals through the asylum process know how many mistakes can be made in this process and how dangerous it is to reform a procedure by removing the ability to challenge wrong decisions. This lack of transparency and protection against arbitrariness would mean that people are deprived from their right to be heard by competent authorities. This suggestion of a faster procedure is an aggressive measure which undermines the basic rule of law.

Although the Greek authorities have yet to clarify the content of the proposed reform, the statement raises concerns about their intent to undermine the rights of those seeking international protection in order to implement the shameful EU-Turkey deal which continues to infringe the human rights of those seeking asylum.

In the face of this announcement, we express our solidarity with all those seeking international protection and we will continue to defend and advance human rights.

Baseless Smuggling Charges Not Only in Italy, but are a Regular Occurrence in Lesvos

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In Lesvos, where boats and dinghies carrying migrants from Turkey continue to arrive on a nearly daily basis, it is common practice of the local police to arrest the driver of the boat and charge him (in most cases it is men who are driving) with smuggling. In coordination with the local prosecutor and judge, these individuals are charged and usually convicted on smuggling charges. As we at the Legal Centre and our partners at Christian Peacemakers Lesvos have documented, it is often migrants themselves who are forced to drive the boats leaving Turkey for Greece. The individuals charged are denied the basic rights to a fair trial, guaranteed under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as they are routinely denied adequate interpretation, are denied a fair hearing, and convictions are based on the sole fact that the individual was driving the boats attempting to reach Europe from Turkey.
It is difficult to monitor the number of individuals who have been arrested and convicted on smuggling charges in Lesvos, as those charged are detained upon arrival and often transferred to Greek prison after an expedited trial within just a few days. Last week at least three individuals who were driving dinghies from Turkey to Greece were arrested and charged with smuggling, including a 16 year old. In this case, likely due to the young age of one of the accused, their arrest was reported in the local press. However, most individuals arrested do not have access to media, social movements, solidarity actors, or legal aid. They remain nameless and without international movements coming to their defense.
We denounce the arrest of Carola Rackete in Italy on smuggling charges, and the continued criminalization of solidarity and migrants themselves. We demand the immediate release of Carola Rackete. We also demand the immediate release of all those who are arrested on similar charges here in Lesvos on a regular basis, and who have received far less attention and support.
Αβάσιμες Κατηγορίες Λαθρεμπορίου Όχι μόνο στην Ιταλία, Aλλά ένα Σύνηθες Συμβάν στην Λέσβο
Στην Λέσβο, όπου βάρκες και φουσκωτά σκάφη μεταφέρουν μετανάστες από την Τουρκία συνεχίζουν να καταφθάνουν σε καθημερινή βάση, είναι μια κοινή πρακτική από την τοπική αστυνομία να συλλαμβάνει τον οδηγό της βάρκας και να του ασκούνται κατηγορίες ( στις περισσότερες περιπτώσεις άνδρες οδηγούν τις βάρκες) για λαθρεμπόριο. Σε συνεργασία με τον τοπικό εισαγγελέα και δικαστή, αυτά τα άτομα κατηγορούνται και συνήθως καταδικάζονται για της κατηγορίες του λαθρεμπορίου.
Όπως εμείς στο Legal Centre και οι συνεργάτες μας στην Christian Peacemakers Lesvos, έχουμε καταγράψει, συνήθως είναι μετανάστες οι οποίοι εξαναγκάζονται να οδηγήσουν τις βάρκες που φεύγουν από την Τουρκία για την Ελλάδα. Τα άτομα που κατηγορούνται, τους αρνούνται τα βασικά δικαιώματα για δίκαιη δίκη, η οποία εγγυάται σύμφωνα με το Άρθρο 6 της Ευρωπαϊκής Συνθήκης των Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων, επίσης συστηματικά τους αρνούνται επαρκή διερμηνεία, δίκαιη ακρόαση, και οι κατηγορίες βασίζονται μόνο στο γεγονός ότι τα άτομα αυτά οδηγούσαν τις βάρκες προσπαθώντας να φτάσουν στην Ευρώπη από την Τουρκία.
Είναι δύσκολο να εποπτευθεί ο αριθμός των ατόμων οι οποίοι έχουν συλληφθεί και καταδικαστεί για λαθρεμπόριο στη Λέσβο, από τη στιγμή όπου οι αποδέκτες των κατηγοριών κρατούνται μετά την άφιξη τους και συνήθως μεταφέρονται σε Ελληνική φυλακή μετά από μια εσπευσμένη δίκη μέσα σε μόνο λίγες μέρες. Την προηγούμενη εβδομάδα τουλάχιστον τρία άτομα που οδηγούσαν σκάφη από την Τουρκία για την Ελλάδα συνελήφθησαν και τους ασκήθηκαν κατηγορίες για λαθρεμπόριο, συμπεριλαμβανομένου ενός 16 χρόνου. Σε αυτή την υπόθεση, πιθανώς λόγω του νεαρού της ηλικίας του ενός εκ των κατηγορουμένων, η σύλληψη τους αναφέρθηκε στον τοπικό τύπο. Ωστόσο, τα περισσότερα άτομα που συνελήφθησαν δεν έχουν πρόσβαση στα μέσα μαζικής ενημέρωσης, κοινωνικά κινήματα, αλληλέγγυους φορείς, ή νομική βοήθεια. Παραμένουν ανώνυμοι και χωρίς διεθνή κινήματα να έρχονται να τους υπερασπιστούν.
Αποδοκιμάζουμε τη σύλληψη της Carola Racketeστην Ιταλία για κατηγορίες λαθρεμπορίου, και τη συνεχόμενη ποινικοποίηση της αλληλεγγύης και των μεταναστών. Απαιτούμε την άμεση αποφυλάκιση της Carola Rackete. Επίσης απαιτούμε την άμεση αποφυλάκιση όλων εκείνων που έχουν συλληφθεί για παρόμοιες κατηγορίες εδώ στην Λέσβο σε συστηματική βάση, και εκείνων που έχουν λάβει πολύ μικρότερη προσοχή και υποστήριξη.