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PRESS RELEASE: Greece suspends deportation following European Court of Human Rights’ grant of interim measures

Image: A shared tent in the “blue zone,” for vulnerable persons, in
 Lesvos’ “Temporary” Reception and Identification Centre in Kara Tepe (otherwise known as Moria 2.0 or Mavrovouni). Photo taken by a camp resident, August 2021.

English.

ΔΕΛΤΙΟ ΤΥΠΟΥ: Η Ελλάδα αναστέλλει την απέλαση μετά τη χορήγηση προσωρινών μέτρων από το Ευρωπαϊκό Δικαστήριο Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων

Στις 30 Αυγούστου 2021, το Ευρωπαϊκό Δικαστήριο Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων (ΕΔΑΔ) διέταξε τη λήψη προσωρινών μέτρων για τον εντολέα του Legal Centre Lesvos MH, έναν Σύρο με αναπηρία και χρόνια προβλήματα υγείας, και διέταξε τις ελληνικές αρχές να του εξασφαλίσουν συνθήκες διαβίωσης και ιατρική περίθαλψη κατάλληλες για την κατάσταση της υγείας του, προκειμένου να αποτραπεί επικείμενη ανεπανόρθωτη βλάβη.

Μετά την απόφαση αυτή, στις 9 Σεπτεμβρίου 2021, η Περιφερειακή Αστυνομική Διεύθυνση Βορείου Αιγαίου ανέστειλε την απέλαση του MH για έξι μήνες. Η αίτηση ασύλου του MH είχε απορριφθεί κατόπιν προσφυγής, με τη νομικά αβάσιμη αιτιολογία ότι η Τουρκία είναι ασφαλής τρίτη χώρα γι’ αυτόν. Ως εκ τούτου, θεωρήθηκε, από τις ελληνικές αρχές, ότι βρίσκεται εκτός της διαδικασίας ασύλου (και, ως εκ τούτου, στερείται ιατρικής περίθαλψης και κινδυνεύει με απέλαση).

Επιπλέον, μετά την απόφαση του ΕΔΔΑ, το αστυνομικό τμήμα ήρε τους γεωγραφικούς περιορισμούς του ΜΗ, οι οποίοι τον εμπόδιζαν να εγκαταλείψει το νησί της Λέσβου από την άφιξή του στο νησί πριν από ένα χρόνο, και στις 20 Σεπτεμβρίου 2021, μεταφέρθηκε τελικά στην Αθήνα μαζί με τον κύριο φροντιστή του, έναν άλλο Σύρο που είχε προηγουμένως εμποδιστεί να εγκαταλείψει το νησί, τόσο λόγω της πολιτικής περιορισμού που εφαρμόστηκε μετά τη δήλωση ΕΕ-Τουρκίας του 2016, όσο λόγω ότι η αίτηση του για άσυλο είχε απορριφθεί με την αιτιολογία ότι η Τουρκία είναι ασφαλής.

Κατά τη διάρκεια του περασμένου έτους, σε ένα καταδικαστικό κατηγορητήριο για τις απάνθρωπες συνθήκες που επικρατούν για τους μετανάστες στη Λέσβο, το ΕΔΔΑ έχει χορηγήσει προσωρινά μέτρα σε δεκατρείς υποθέσεις που υποβλήθηκαν από το Legal Centre Lesvos για λογαριασμό ευάλωτων ατόμων που ζουν στο “Προσωρινό” Κέντρο Υποδοχής και Ταυτοποίησης (ΚΥΤ) της Λέσβου στο Καρά Τεπέ (γνωστό και ως Μόρια 2.0 ή Μαυροβούνι). Σε κάθε περίπτωση, το ΕΔΔΑ διέταξε τις ελληνικές αρχές να εγγυηθούν κατάλληλες συνθήκες διαβίωσης και ιατρική περίθαλψη, προκειμένου να αποτραπεί αποδεδειγμένα ο άμεσος κίνδυνος βασανιστηρίων ή απάνθρωπης ή εξευτελιστικής μεταχείρισης ή τιμωρίας.

Παρά τις σταθερές αυτές εντολές του Δικαστηρίου, οι ελληνικές αρχές έχουν επανειλημμένα αποτύχει να διασφαλίσουν την έγκαιρη συμμόρφωσή τους. Τον Μάρτιο του 2021, η χορήγηση προσωρινών μέτρων από το ΕΔΔΑ στην υπόθεση της ΑΜ προκάλεσε τη μεταφορά της – εντός 48 ωρών – στην Αθήνα, όπου θα έπρεπε να έχει στη διάθεσή της εξειδικευμένη ιατρική περίθαλψη. Κατά την άφιξή της, ωστόσο, της αρνήθηκαν την πρόσβαση σε νοσοκομεία – και, ως εκ τούτου, στην ιατρική περίθαλψη που τόσο επειγόντως χρειαζόταν – για περισσότερους από τέσσερις μήνες. Οι δημόσιες υγειονομικές αρχές το δικαιολόγησαν αυτό με την αιτιολογία ότι δεν είχε αριθμό κοινωνικής ασφάλισης, παρά το γεγονός ότι η απόφαση του ΕΔΔΑ είχε τονίσει το δικαίωμά της σε ιατρική περίθαλψη.

Το γεγονός ότι η απέλαση του MH έχει (προσωρινά) ανασταλεί και ότι ο ίδιος, ο φροντιστής του και η ΑΜ έχουν μεταφερθεί στην Αθήνα είναι μικρές νίκες σε ένα κατά τα άλλα εχθρικό και βίαιο συνοριακό καθεστώς. Ωστόσο, η επιτυχία σε μια υπόθεση προσωρινών μέτρων -ακόμη και όταν ακολουθείται από αποφασιστική δράση των ελληνικών αρχών, όπως η πρόσβαση του MH στην υγειονομική περίθαλψη ή η αναστολή της μελλοντικής απέλασής του- είναι συχνά λίγο περισσότερο από την επαρκή εκπλήρωση των υφιστάμενων νομικών υποχρεώσεων του κράτους. Το γεγονός ότι το Legal Centre Lesvos αναγκάζεται να προσφύγει επανειλημμένα στο ΕΔΔΑ, προκειμένου να επιτύχει επείγουσα περίθαλψη για ευάλωτα άτομα, είναι ενδεικτικό του εξαιρετικού χαρακτήρα που πρέπει να αποδειχθεί στις ευρωπαϊκές αρχές πριν αναγνωριστεί το δικαίωμα των μεταναστών σε στοιχειώδη περίθαλψη ή ασφάλεια.

PRESS RELEASE: Greece suspends deportation following European Court of Human Rights’ grant of interim measures

On 30 August 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ordered interim measures for Legal Centre Lesvos client MH, a Syrian man with disabilities and chronic health issues, and ordered the Greek authorities to guarantee him living conditions and medical care appropriate to his state of health, in order to prevent imminent irreparable harm. 

Following this decision, on 9 September 2021, the Regional Police of the Northern Aegean suspended MH’s deportation for six months. MH’s application for asylum had been rejected on appeal, on the legally untenable grounds that Turkey is a safe third country for him. He was therefore considered, by Greek authorities, to be outside of the asylum procedure (and therefore denied medical care, and at risk of deportation).

Furthermore, following the ECtHR’s decision, the police department lifted MH’s geographic restrictions, which had prevented him from leaving the island of Lesvos since his arrival to the island over a year ago, and on 20 September 2021, he was finally transferred to Athens together with his primary caregiver, another Syrian man who had previously prevented from leaving the island, both due to the containment policy in place since the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement, and because he also had his asylum application rejected on the grounds that Turkey was safe. 

Over the past year, in a damning indictment of the inhumane conditions for migrants in Lesvos, the ECtHR has granted interim measures in thirteen cases submitted by the Legal Centre Lesvos on behalf of vulnerable individuals living in Lesvos’ “Temporary” Reception and Identification Centre (TRIC) in Kara Tepe (otherwise known as Moria 2.0 or Mavrovouni). In each case, the ECtHR has ordered Greek authorities to guarantee appropriate living conditions and medical care in order to prevent a proven imminent risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 

Despite these firm Court orders, the Greek authorities have repeatedly failed to ensure their timely compliance. In March 2021, the ECtHR’s grant of interim measures in AM’s case prompted her transfer – within 48 hours – to Athens, where specialist medical care should have been available to her. Upon arrival, however, she was denied access to hospitals – and therefore to the medical care that she so urgently needed – for more than four months. Public health authorities justified this on the grounds that she did not have a social security number, despite the fact that the ECtHR’s order had emphasised her right to medical care.

The fact that MH’s deportation has been (temporarily) suspended, and that he, his caregiver, and AM have been transferred to Athens are small victories in an otherwise hostile and violent border regime. However, success in an interim measures case – even when it is followed by decisive action by Greek authorities, such as MH’s access to healthcare or the suspension of his prospective deportation – is often little more than adequate fulfillment of the State’s existing legal obligations. That the Legal Centre Lesvos is forced to take recourse to the ECtHR on a repeated basis, to obtain urgent treatment for vulnerable persons, is indicative of the exceptionalism that must be proven to European authorities before migrants’ entitlement to basic care or safety is recognised.

ONE YEAR OF MAVROVOUNI CAMP

There is nothing more permanent than the temporary – Ουδεν μονιμοτερον του προσωρινου

In September 2020, in the aftermath of the Moria fires, the European Commission announced that a dedicated task force would be established with the ostensible purposes of  “implement[ing] a joint pilot with the Greek authorities for new reception facilities” and ensuring “adequate living conditions, more certainty through faster procedures and more balanced responsibility-sharing and solidarity.” Far from these stated objectives, the reality in Lesvos and on the other Aegean islands has been the extension of the European Union’s existing hotspot approach through the knowing creation and perpetuation of inhumane living conditions into effective prison camps and the continued sacrifice of fundamental rights to expedited and summary asylum procedures. 

The hasty establishment of Mavrovouni Temporary Reception and Identification Centre (TRIC) in October 2020 – on land that was leased for five years, calling in to question the camp’s alleged temporariness (see here, here, and here) – has, since then, given way to constant construction works, despite knowledge that the site is contaminated with lead and therefore poses an acute health risk to all contained there. Fires, heavy winds, flooding and ongoing building works have forced the camp residents’ constant relocation from one tent or shelter to another, while prospects of moving outside of the camp (to accommodation in shelters for vulnerable people, for example) have progressively closed. Some families told the Legal Centre Lesvos that they were forcibly moved from their tents or containers, at least, once per month, due to the constant – and disorientating – re-shaping of the camp’s infrastructure. They also complained about the frequent presence of dust in the air created by the permanent construction works and movement of trucks passing through the camp, which also contaminates their food and water.

Mavrovouni’s neatly aligned rows of nearly 500 UNHCR-branded tents, containers, and rub-halls might appear, at first glance, better organised than the olive groves that sprawled around the former Moria RIC. But this image, satisfactory only for politicians’ brief visits or organisations’ promotional videos, belies a fundamentally different reality: the effective detention of migrants in shelters battered by extreme weather conditions, with scarce and inaccessible sanitation facilities, and under ever-increasing police surveillance – yet facing chronic insecurity. 

Mavrovouni camp is organized around four main zones – blue, yellow, green and red – which hosts people dependent on their profile (vulnerable, single men, families) and the capacity of each zone given the ongoing construction works. Crucially, people are also grouped into the different sections of each zone depending on their status in the asylum procedure. For instance, both people whose asylum claims have been rejected on appeal and recognised refugees – who are all currently considered to be “outside of the asylum procedure” by the Greek authorities and therefore ineligible for the “housing” and cash assistance provided to asylum seekers – are often hosted within the same rows or group of tents, containers or rubhalls in the camp, including in less “comfortable” shelters and more remote areas. Families with children whose asylum claims have been rejected on appeal are being concentrated in large rubhalls hosting 80 to 100 persons of the “green zone”, which is also the most remote and one of the dirtiest areas of the camp (see picture below). Families hosted there complain about the lack of space and safety for their children, given the absence of an escape route in case of fire of the rubhall and the dirt, rats and bed bugs which they are exposed to. 

Picture: Plastic rubhalls shared among 80 to 100 persons hosting families with children who have been rejected at least twice in the asylum process – in the remote area of the “green zone” of Mavrovouni RIC. Picture taken by a camp resident, August 2021. 

Vulnerable persons (including among others people with physical disabilities, chronic health conditions, single parents with minor children and pregnant women) are mostly hosted in the “blue zone” of Mavrovouni camp, which alternates between tents shared among eight persons and ISO box containers. However, at present, this part of the camp lacks sufficient capacity to host all persons with vulnerabilities. Some of the Legal Centre Lesvos’ clients with severe medical conditions and physical disabilities are forced to live in other zones, where they sleep on the floor of tents shared with unrelated persons. Furthermore, the shower facilities adapted for persons with disabilities (which have running water, as opposed to the bucket showers found across the rest of the camp) were built outside of the blue zone – and at approximately five minutes’ walking distance. This means that they are in practice very difficult to access for people with limited mobility or in wheelchairs.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has, since the start of the year, repeatedly held that the living conditions in Mavrovouni RIC put people with severe medical conditions at imminent risk of irreparable harm and breach the prohibition on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment found in Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Despite the ECtHR’s repeated instructions to the Greek government to urgently transfer war wounded persons, pregnant women, victims of torture, children with epilepsy or autism, and other vulnerable people into appropriate and safe accommodation and ensure their access to adequate medical care, many – both those named in these cases and other hundreds in analagous situations – are still left without assistance in Mavrovouni camp. 

Picture: Lines of tents in the “blue zone” of Mavrovouni RIC hosting vulnerable people including people with limited mobility and in wheelchairs who are sleeping on the floor in shared tents among 8 other persons. Picture taken by a camp resident, August 2021. 

In any case, however, the shelters available in Mavrovouni camp (whether tent, container or rub hall) are invariably inadequate to ensure people’s health or safety. Among all the ISO boxes containers, rubhalls and tents installed in Mavrovouni camp, only the ISO box containers relocated in the “blue zone” from the former municipality-run Kara Tepe camp (which was used to host vulnerable individuals and families, and forcibly closed by Greek authorities in April this year) are equipped with air conditioning. This means that during the summer, where temperatures reached 40°C, the vast majority of people living in the camp were left without proper ventilation. This also means that people will most certainly be left without proper heating during the upcoming winter, where temperatures will drop below freezing and snow may well fall.

New lightweight “plastic containers” have now been installed as accommodation for families in the “red zone” of the camp and have space for five to eight persons sleeping on the floor. The manufacturers of these containers, a partner of UNHCR, describe these as short-term accommodation “to house families for a couple of nights” (emphasis added). Those containers have fire safety guidelines on the doors, instructing residents that they have only two minutes to escape in case of a blaze, due to the highly flammable nature of the material. The instructions further stipulate that there must be at least five metres between each container. In Mavrovouni, however, there is only approximately one to two meters between each unit (see picture below). 

Despite the well known risks of fires, the Greek authorities continue to pile highly flammable and unheated containers close to each other, with no regard for the health, safety or lives of the people forced to live there. 

Pictures: New light-weight plastic structures called by the camp residents “plastic containers” and their fire safety guidelines, Picture taken by a camp resident, September 2021.

The inhumane living conditions imposed on people in Mavrovouni camp are coupled with pervasive  anxiety and uncertainty created by de facto detention, mass rejections and accelerated assessments of residents’ claims

As of August, almost half of the camp population had already had their asylum claim rejected on appeal, and are therefore officially considered to be “outside of the procedure”. This means in practice that they no longer have access to UNHCR cash assistance, nor legal aid support from state lawyers, nor social security services, such as health care (with the exception of emergency services). 

In any case, UNHCR has announced the termination of its cash assistance programme as of the 15 September 2021, the date in which all persons eligible are requested to withdraw their last cash allowance. There has been no official announcement by the Greek State confirming that this programme will in fact be continued, or if so, under which eligibility criteria. Clients of the Legal Centre Lesvos explained that they are extremely worried as to how they will be able to cover their basic needs, particularly while being forced to live in Mavrovouni camp and not having access to any work. Some clients stated that they are “working” three shifts for different non-governmental organisations operating inside the camp and survive on the 20-euros supermarket coupons and 12-euros mobile top up cards given to them in exchange for their services, such as interpreting, helping to move tents or building ISO box containers, cleaning the bins, or gathering empty bottles. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of Mavrovouni RIC (and other camps across Greece) have been subjected to disproportionate and discriminatory restrictions such as curfews, restricted exits per week, and ongoing movement certification requirements. In August, exit and entrance restrictions were finally lifted for the Mavrovouni camp residents, but every person leaving the camp was forced to undergo a rapid COVID test each time they want to leave – even vaccinated persons who could present a COVID vaccine certificate. Since 11 September, harsh police controls and movement restrictions have been reimposed under the justification of “protection measures of public health from the spread of COVID-19,” whereas the rest of the local population on the island is not subjected to any restriction – let alone an enhanced restriction – at the moment. As a consequence, the camp management has resumed the publication of daily notices listing residents’ file numbers, to determine who is allowed to leave the camp “for the cover of basic needs” – such as medical appointments, asylum interviews, appointment with lawyers or public services under the presentation of a document proving those appointments.

Furthermore, the National Public Health Organisation (EODY), which operates a clinic in the camp,  announced in the last week of August that the State would no longer provide COVID-19 vaccinations for people “outside of the asylum procedure”, under the pretext that the State could not issue a vaccine certificate for those without legal status. People who already had appointments with EODY in the camp, but had since received a second instance rejection on their asylum claim, were therefore refused vaccination when they came to their appointment. Legal status has no bearing on public health imperatives, and the exclusion of migrants from the vaccination programme on this basis is a violation of the fundamental principle of non-discrimination. 

For a full year, people have now been forced to live in the “temporary” Mavrovouni camp in horrendous conditions, with the poor excuse that people’s stay there would be temporary. As confirmed by the Greek proverb, “there is nothing more permanent than the temporary” (Ουδέν μονιμότερον του προσωρινού). 

NO CAMPS, NO PRISONS, NOT HERE, NOT EVER!

ONE YEAR AFTER THE MORIA FIRES

NO LESSONS LEARNT AND NO RESPONSIBILITY TAKEN

One year after the fires that destroyed the infamous Moria hotspot camp in Lesvos, and the various political promises that followed – including that there would be “No more Morias” – the immiserating living conditions forced on migrants arriving to Lesvos continue as before, if not worse, just in a different location on the island. 

Far from reconsidering the containment approach and the confinement of people to camps on the islands, Greece and the European Union (EU) have agreed the extension and entrenchment of this deadly model through the construction of new closed “multi-purpose” camps on the Eastern Aegean islands, where migrants will be concentrated in the future. 

A man walking through the burnt remains of Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos, September 2020.
Photo Credit: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP

Rather than recognising that the fires of Moria were the inevitable product of the hotspot approach and its deadly camp infrastructures which should – in no circumstances – be reproduced,  the Greek authorities have continued to put all their efforts towards the progressive closure of all existing alternative and safe accommodations available in Lesvos, including for minors, families and people with vulnerabilities or medical conditions. Meanwhile, the “temporary” Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) hastily built in the Mavrovouni area (also known as “Moria 2.0”) – on land contaminated with lead, and leased for five years – has become the sole site in which people seeking asylum are contained, in similar inhumane conditions with inadequate shelter, poor sanitation, and little access to health care or legal support.

The EU and Greek authorities have failed to recognise their clear responsibility for the creation, extension and ultimate destruction of the deadly hotspot camp of Moria. Instead, the Greek state conveniently arrested six young Afghan migrants and presented them as the sole culprits of  the fires, attempting to divert the public debate from the issue of the living conditions inside the camp and the political responsibility. 

It should be recalled that the fires took place at a time when the number of people living in Moria camp had reached over 12,000 (despite an official capacity of 3,100), when movement restrictions had been in place for almost six months, and a growing fear of COVID-19 was spreading inside the camp – without any appropriate step taken by the camp management to protect people forced to live there from contracting the virus. The Greek authorities had violently cracked down on camp residents’ protests against the lack of public health measures by blocking the roads around the camp, isolating its residents, and firing tear gas and smoke bombs.

Just one week prior to the fires, on 2 September 2020, the first person in the camp tested positive for the virus. Instead of moving infected people out of the camp, deploying medical staff or adopting hygiene measures for the people trapped inside, the Greek authorities announced the total lockdown of the camp, with entry and exit explicitly prohibited for 14 days for all those other than security personnel. That same day, the Greek Ministry for Migration signed a contract worth almost one million Euros to begin the camp’s conversion into a closed, controlled centre. 

Not only are the authorities denying any responsibility for the crime of Moria, but the six young Afghans were presented by the Greek authorities as guilty from the moment of their arrest and unsurprisingly sentenced to prison after undergoing unfair and unjust trials, reinforcing the impression of a premeditated decision.

Only one week after the fires, the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum stated that “the camp was set on fire by six Afghan refugees who were arrested”, already violating their right to the presumption of innocence. Five of the six accused were minors when they were arrested, but only two of them were officially recognised as such. Those two recognized minors were tried before the Juvenile Court in Mytilene (Lesvos) and sentenced to five years in prison in March 2021, despite lack of evidence and a hastily convened court hearing that flouted basic procedural standards. The four others, including three unrecognized minors, were unanimously sentenced to ten years of imprisonment in June 2021 by the Mixed Jury Court of Chios, despite extensive evidence that mitigated against their guilt. Their conviction was based solely on one written testimony, of dubious accuracy, of a resident of Moria camp, who disappeared before the trial and apparently could not be located to appear in Court. 

In this trial, none of the defense lawyers’ objections were granted by the Court – not about the unjustified exclusion of the public, observers and journalists from the courtroom, nor about the fact that the indictment was never translated to the accused in a language that they understand, nor even about the demonstration of three of the four’s minority status at the time of their arrest. In violation of Ministerial Decision 3390/13-08-2020, governing age assessment procedures, the court rejected original identity documents proving the minority status of the accused and instead based their age assessment on the “expert” opinion of a social scientist with a criminology and anthropology background who claimed, based on X-rays of the defendants’ hands, that the three were adults. 

Since then, the lawyers representing the three minors have twice requested access to these X-rays in May and July 2021, from the Greek Social Security agency (EFKA), such to submit them to a specialised doctor and obtain an independent and qualified medical opinion about their age.  Those requests have so far gone unanswered.

The inhumane living conditions that were imposed on people in the hell of Moria – otherwise recognised by all participants in the trials – were also ignored by the courts to reduce the defendants’ sentence. Putting aside the obvious and shameless lack of fair trial observed in the case of the six accused of the Moria fires – which sooner or later will be scrutinized by higher institutions – one should question the criminal and civil liability of the Greek and EU authorities involved in the creation of the hotspot camps, like Moria, Mavrovouni and the upcoming closed camps which will replace them. 

There has been no justice for most of the families of those who died in Moria RIC, or for the tens of thousands of people subjected to the camp’s institutional disregard for their lives. There has been no redress for those whose health deteriorated due to their prolonged containment in inhumane and unsanitary conditions; for those who were subjected to violence, insecurity, sexual and other forms of abuse; for the children denied access to education, safe shelter, or adequate nutrition, refused access to support, or otherwise left to fend for themselves; for those who still live with the post-traumatic disorders resulting from their effective detention in this hell on earth. There has been no recognition, by responsible authorities, of their role in causing and compounding the trauma of those already subjected to persecution and insecurity, of their deliberate subjection of thousands of people to torturous and degrading treatment to serve the sole purpose of upholding Europe’s violent borders. 

Quite the opposite: “no more Morias,” as expected, was an empty promise. Mavrovouni camp is Moria 2.0: built to ensure the containment and exclusion of migrants, built to demonstrate that Fortress Europe will pay no mind to the safety, rights or lives of migrants, regardless of whatever political promises are made. Moreover, across the Eastern Aegean islands, the logic of Moria is only deepening: closed multi-purpose reception and identification centers are being built, fully funded and politically ordained by the European Union, that will ensure the expanded detention of migrants and the continued infliction of violence against them.

The construction of these camps continues Greek and European authorities’ violent crimes towards migrants, intertwined with their practices of expulsion, deportation, and externalisation. But the Moria fires one year ago demonstrated that these policies are doomed to failure, and will inevitably meet the same result. 

𝐒𝐮𝐜𝐜𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐟𝐮𝐥 𝐫𝐞𝐥𝐨𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐨𝐟 𝟐𝟕-𝐲𝐞𝐚𝐫-𝐨𝐥𝐝 𝐌.𝐌. 𝐭𝐨 𝐆𝐞𝐫𝐦𝐚𝐧𝐲 𝐚𝐟𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟕 𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐡𝐬’ 𝐞𝐟𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐬

Photograph: Damaged tents in Mavrovouni RIC, August 2021.

Ελληνικά.

M.M, a 27-year-old Afghan beneficiary of subsidiary protection, who attempted to self-immolate in the Mavrovouni Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) of Lesvos on February 21, 2021, has been safely relocated to Germany with her family. The transfer to Germany was made possible by a new order of the Investigating Judge of the First Instance Court of Mytilene, which allowed for her exit from the country, under the condition that M.M. reports at a Greek consular authority in Germany once a month, until a final ruling on the criminal charges pending against her is made.

In February, M.M. – then pregnant – attempted to take her life inside Mavrovouni temporary Reception and Identification Centre (RIC), in Lesvos. As a result of the attempted self-immolation, M.M. sustained injuries on several parts of her body, including her head, both hands, back, and legs, and inhaled smoke that caused her to lose consciousness for a short period of time. M.M. was rescued by the residents of the neighbouring tents and was transferred to the hospital immediately after.

M.M. and her family had lived for more than a year in the inhuman conditions of Moria and Mavrovouni RICs before she attempted to take her life. For this act of desperation, she was later charged with “arson with intent, endangering life and the objects of others”, as well as with “damage of an object of common utility by means of fire.” Τhe case is still pending at the pre-trial-stage.

HIAS Greece and Legal Centre Lesvos express their satisfaction with the positive outcome regarding the family’s relocation. The decisions taken by the Judicial Authorities as well as those of the Central Asylum Service were instrumental in making the family’s transfer possible. At the same time, we hope that the Judicial Authorities will recognize M.M.’s act of desperation as self-harm, which is not punishable according to Greek penal code. This criminal case constitutes another example of misguided use of criminal law mechanism against refugees, and simultaneously reveals the failure of the state to provide adequate living conditions for persons seeking international protection in Greece.

Μεταφέρθηκε στη Γερμανία η 27χρονη Μ.Μ. που είχε προσπαθήσει να θέσει τέλος στη ζωή της στο ΚΥΤ Μαυροβουνίου της Λέσβου

Η 27χρονη αναγνωρισμένη δικαιούχος επικουρικής προστασίας από το Αφγανιστάν που προσπάθησε να αυτοπυρποληθεί στις 21 Φεβρουαρίου 2021, μεταφέρθηκε από τη Λέσβο με ασφάλεια στη Γερμανία μαζί με την οικογένειά της, στο πλαίσιο του προγράμματος μετεγκατάστασης. Η μεταφορά της κατέστη εφικτή ύστερα από τη νέα διάταξη του Ανακριτή Πρωτοδικών Μυτιλήνης κατόπιν πρότασης της εισαγγελέα, με την οποία ορίστηκε ως μοναδικός περιοριστικός όρος η εμφάνιση στην πλησιέστερη ελληνική προξενική αρχή μια φορά το μήνα, μέχρι την οριστική εκδίκαση της σε βάρος της κατηγορίας.

Υπενθυμίζουμε ότι, τον Φεβρουάριο του τρέχοντος έτους, η 27χρονη έγκυος γυναίκα αποπειράθηκε να θέσει τέλος στη ζωή της εντός του προσωρινού Κέντρου Υποδοχής και Ταυτοποίησης στο Μαυροβούνι της Λέσβου. Ως αποτέλεσμα, η πρόσφυγας υπέστη πολλαπλά εγκαύματα στο κεφάλι, την πλάτη, τα χέρια και τα πόδια και έχασε τις αισθήσεις της μετά από εισπνοή καπνού. Η Μ.Μ. διασώθηκε από τους κατοίκους των γειτονικών σκηνών και αμέσως μετά μεταφέρθηκε στο νοσοκομείο λόγω των πολλαπλών τραυμάτων που έφερε από τη φωτιά. Σημειώνουμε ότι η γυναίκα μαζί με την οικογένεια της ζούσαν για περισσότερο από ένα χρόνο σε απάνθρωπες συνθήκες του κέντρου Υποδοχής και Ταυτοποίησης της Μόριας και στη συνέχεια του Μαυροβουνίου. Για αυτήν την πράξη απελπισίας, της αποδόθηκαν κατηγορίες για «εμπρησμό από πρόθεση από τον οποίο προέκυψε κίνδυνος για ξένα πράγματα και για ανθρώπους» και «φθορά πράγματος που χρησιμεύει για κοινό όφελος η οποία έγινε με φωτιά» ενώ η υπόθεση εκκρεμεί ακόμα στο στάδιο της προδικασίας.

Οι οργανώσεις ΗΙΑS Eλλάδος και Legal Centre Lesvos εκφράζουν την ικανοποίηση με την θετική εξέλιξη της υπόθεσης αναφορικά με την μετεγκατάσταση της οικογένειας καθώς τόσο οι Δικαστικές Αρχές όσο και η Κεντρική Υπηρεσία Ασύλου συνέδραμαν αποτελεσματικά με τις αποφάσεις τους ώστε να καταστεί εφικτή η μεταφορά της οικογένειας στη Γερμανία. Παράλληλα, στην περίπτωση της εντολέως μας, ευελπιστούμε και στην θετική έκβαση της ποινικής υπόθεσης, με την απόσυρση των κατηγοριών σε βάρος της από τις δικαστικές αρχές,  αξιολογώντας ορθά την πράξη απελπισίας της ως αυτοπροσβολή, ατιμώρητη κατά το ποινικό δίκαιο. Η υπόθεση αυτή αποτελεί δυστυχώς ένα ακόμη παράδειγμα άστοχης ενεργοποίησης του ποινικού μηχανισμού σε βάρος των προσφύγων καταδεικνύοντας παράλληλα την αδυναμία του κράτους να εξασφαλίσει κατάλληλες συνθήκες διαβίωσης για τους ανθρώπους που αναζητούν προστασία στη χώρα μας.

ΑΦΓΑΝΙΣΤΑΝ: ΑΠΑΡΑΙΤΗΤΗ Η ΔΗΜΙΟΥΡΓΙΑ ΑΣΦΑΛΩΝ ΔΙΑΔΡΟΜΩΝ ΓΙΑ ΤΟΥΣ ΠΡΟΣΦΥΓΕΣ

Δελτίο τύπου

“Azadi” or Freedom in Farsi. Photo: No Border Kitchen Lesvos

Η πτώση της Καμπούλ και η επικράτηση των Ταλιμπάν έχουν μια πολύ άμεση συνέπεια: πολλοί άνθρωποι στο Αφγανιστάν βρίσκονται ήδη σε κίνδυνο.

Σαφώς δεν είμαστε σε θέση να προβλέψουμε αν θα υπάρξουν προσφυγικές ροές από το Αφγανιστάν, αν και αυτό φαντάζει πιθανό. Η εμπειρία από το προηγούμενο καθεστώς των Ταλιμπάν και οι πρόσφατες αγριότητες υποδεικνύουν πως η ζωή και η ελευθερία πολλών χιλιάδων αμάχων και ιδιαίτερα γυναικών βρίσκεται σε κίνδυνο λόγω των θρησκευτικών πεποιθήσεών τους, της εθνοτικής καταγωγής τους, του φύλου και του σεξουαλικού προσανατολισμού τους ή των πολιτικών τους πεποιθήσεων.

Αυτή η συγκυρία θα πρέπει να σημάνει συναγερμό για κάθε δημοκρατική κοινωνία. Συναγερμό για την ανάγκη προστασίας ανθρώπων σε κίνδυνο, για την ανάγκη να σωθούν ανθρώπινες ζωές.

Με βαθιά λύπη διαπιστώνουμε πως η έως τώρα πολιτική πραγματικότητα απέχει από αυτό το σκοπό. Πως υπάρχει μια έκτακτη κινητοποίηση μεταξύ των κρατών μελών της ΕΕ, αλλά προς τον αντίθετο σκοπό. Πως εκεί όπου θα έπρεπε να υπάρχει κινητοποίηση αλληλεγγύης, μοιάζει να υπάρχει μόνο προετοιμασία για αποτροπή.

Στη χαραυγή εξελίξεων που μπορεί να οδηγήσουν σε μια νέα, παρατεταμένη ανθρωπιστική κρίση και που κάθε δυνατή προσπάθεια θα πρέπει να επικεντρωθεί στην προστασία της ζωής όσων έχουν ανάγκη, μοιάζει αδιανόητο να λέγεται ότι η Ελλάδα δεν μπορεί να γίνει «πύλη εισόδου για ένα νέο κύμα προσφύγων», όπως δήλωσε πρόσφατα ο αρμόδιος Υπουργός κ. Μηταράκης.

Είναι επίσης αδιανόητο το πώς ακόμα και πέντε μέρες πριν την πτώση της Καμπούλ, 6 υπουργοί χωρών της ΕΕ (συμπεριλαμβανομένης της Ελλάδος) προέτρεψαν την Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή να εντείνει τις συζητήσεις της με την (πάλαι ποτέ) κυβέρνηση του Αφγανιστάν, ώστε να διασφαλιστεί πως οι αναγκαστικές απελάσεις Αφγανών πολιτών προς το Αφγανιστάν θα συνεχιστούν.

Ως μέλη της κοινωνίας των πολιτών, νιώθουμε την ευθύνη να επισημάνουμε πως κάθε άνθρωπος που βρίσκεται σε κίνδυνο δίωξης για λόγους καταγωγής και συνείδησης έχει το δικαίωμα να προστατευτεί με βάση το διεθνές δίκαιο προστασίας των προσφύγων. Νιώθουμε το χρέος να επισημάνουμε πως κάθε άτομο που ζητά άσυλο έχει δικαίωμα το αίτημά του να εξετασθεί ατομικά, όπως προβλέπεται από το διεθνές και ενωσιακό δίκαιο.  

Σε αυτό το πλαίσιο, μας ανησυχεί ιδιαίτερα το γεγονός ότι στη χώρα μας, οι έως τώρα προετοιμασίες για τη διαχείριση των πιθανών επακόλουθων της κρίσης στο Αφγανιστάν, φαίνεται να επικεντρώνονται αποκλειστικά και μόνο στην ενίσχυση των μηχανισμών αποτροπής. Μας ανησυχεί επίσης πολύ το ενδεχόμενο άνθρωποι σε ανάγκη να αποτραπούν από το να βρουν ασφαλές καταφύγιο για τους ίδιους και τις οικογένειές τους και καλούμε την ελληνική κυβέρνηση να αποφύγει ένα τέτοιο ενδεχόμενο με κάθε τρόπο.

Οι τραγικές εξελίξεις στο Αφγανιστάν κάνουν επιτακτική την ανάγκη να επανεξεταστούν οι πρόσφατες αποφάσεις απόρριψης ασύλου πολιτών του Αφγανιστάν και το θεσμικό πλαίσιο που τις διέπει. Όπως είναι γνωστό, η Τουρκία πρόσφατα ανακηρύχθηκε με μονομερή απόφαση της Ελλάδας σε «ασφαλή τρίτη χώρα» για τους πολίτες του Αφγανιστάν. Η εφαρμογή αυτού του μέτρου έχει ήδη οδηγήσει στην άρνηση της ελληνικής Πολιτείας να εξετάσει την ουσία αιτημάτων ασύλου πολιτών του Αφγανιστάν. Από μόνο του αυτό είναι απαράδεκτο, καθώς ισοδυναμεί με την άρνηση της ευθύνης προστασίας ατόμων προερχόμενων από την λιγότερο ασφαλή χώρα του κόσμου. Εν όψει και της συνεχιζόμενης άρνησης της Τουρκίας, ήδη από τον Μάρτιο του 2020, να δεχθεί την επιστροφή πολιτών τρίτων χωρών από την Ελλάδα, αυτό θα οδηγήσει έναν σημαντικό αριθμό Αφγανών αιτούντων άσυλο σε ένα ανεπίτρεπτο νομικό κενό μεταξύ Ελλάδας και Τουρκίας, σε μια κατάσταση χωρίς πρόσβαση στη υγεία, χωρίς πρόσβαση στη στέγη και χωρίς πρόσβαση στην εκπαίδευση. Καλούμε, λοιπόν, για μια ακόμη φορά την ελληνική κυβέρνηση να ανακαλέσει την πρόσφατη Κοινή Υπουργική Απόφαση τόσο σε σχέση με τους πολίτες του Αφγανιστάν όσο και σε σχέση με τους πολίτες άλλων εθνικοτήτων.

Οι κυβερνήσεις της ΕΕ δεν θα πρέπει να αρνηθούν, μέσω της ανάθεσης των ευθυνών τους σε τρίτες χώρες, να συνδράμουν καθοριστικά στον επιμερισμό της ευθύνης προστασίας όσων Αφγανών πολιτών αναζητήσουν διεθνή προστασία σε αυτές. Αυτή η ευθύνη αλληλεγγύης πηγάζει από τις δημοκρατικές, ιστορικές και πολιτισμικές αρχές των χωρών της ΕΕ, όπως και το διεθνές δίκαιο. Ας μην αποτύχουμε για μια ακόμη φορά να προασπίσουμε τις αρχές της δημοκρατίας, του ανθρωπισμού, του κράτους δικαίου και της αλληλεγγύης.

Υπογράφουσες Οργανώσεις

Αλληλεγγύη Λέσβου

ASAM Greece

Δίκτυο για τα Δικαιώματα του Παιδιού

Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες

Ελληνικό Φόρουμ Μεταναστών

Ελληνικό Φόρουμ Προσφύγων

Equal Rights Beyond Borders

Jesuit Refugee Service Greece (JRS Greece)

HumanRights360

Ίριδα – Κέντρο Γυναικών

Κέντρο Διοτίμα

Κοινότητα Πάπα Ιωάννη 23ου

Legal Centre Lesvos

Μέλισσα – Δίκτυο Μεταναστριών στην Ελλάδα

ΜΕΤΑδραση- Δράση για τη Μετανάστευση και την Ανάπτυξη 

Mobile Info Team

Odyssea

Still I Rise

SolidarityNow

The HOME Project

European Court of Human Rights recognises Greek authorities’ persistent disregard for migrants’ health and lives in Mavrovouni camp


Wheelchairs outside of a tent in the “Blue Zone” of Mavrovouni camp, where persons with physical disabilities are hosted in tents shared among 8 persons. Photo by a resident of the camp.

Since June 2021, the Legal Centre Lesvos (LCL) has submitted eight applications for interim measures to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) requesting the urgent transfer of nine individuals and their families out of Mavrovouni hotspot camp into safer accommodation and their immediate access to urgently needed health care on mainland Greece.* 

In seven of these cases, the ECtHR granted an interim measure within 48 hours of submission, instructing Greece to fulfill its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and ensure that the applicants’ living conditions be compatible with Article 3 ECHR, the prohibition on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, having regard to their state of health, and to provide them with adequate healthcare. In response to the eighth case, the Court ultimately refused the interim measure, as Greece scheduled the individual’s transfer to Athens while the case was pending. 

These seven successful applications for interim measures follow an earlier set of three granted applications submitted by LCL in March 2021. They constitute another damning indictment on the immiserating reception conditions imposed on migrants effectively contained  in the EU hotspot of Lesvos and a reiterated recognition by the ECtHR that people with severe health situations left in Mavrovouni camp for months without attention are at imminent risk of irreparable harm

CASES FOR WHICH INTERIM MEASURES WERE GRANTED BY THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

The following persons were all granted interim measures by the European Court of Human Rights, on the grounds that the Greek authorities’ persistent denial of their access to adequate healthcare and their living conditions put them at imminent risk of irreparable harm:

— A young woman who suffers from severe, frequent and treatment-resistant epileptic seizures as a result of a major head trauma following an airstrike and had been living for 21 months first in Moria and then in Mavrovouni camps, during which time her health deteriorated to the extent that she became wholly dependent on the care of her brother.

— A heavily pregnant woman at that time who suffers from a degenerative condition in her shoulders, chronic asthma and, owing to her living conditions, inflammation and a lung infection. She and her family were forced to reside in Moria and then Mavrovouni camp for the past 17 months

— A four year old child who suffers from severe epilepsy (the result of various head traumas), plagiocephaly (also known as flat head syndrome) and undiagnosed developmental and neurological complexities. She and her family were confined to Lesvos for 16 months. 

— A woman who suffers from a lump in her breast, for which she received no proper diagnosis or treatment on Lesvos, resulting in inflammation and severe pain. Her daughter suffers from arteriovenous dysplasia of the spinal cord, resulting in acute mobility issues. Together with their relatives, both the mother and the daughter were held in quarantine for two months upon arrival and after that spent around 10 months in Mavrovouni camp.

— A seven months pregnant woman who is into a high risk pregnancy with a history of premature and traumatic embryo births and was already forced to spend 12 months in Mavrovouni camp with her family. She suffers from acute psychological issues and her young son also suffers from psychological issues in addition to seizures, severe sleep disturbances and psychosomatic symptoms of anxiety. 

— A man who suffers from several chronic conditions as a result of airstrike and gunshot injuries, in addition to other illnesses, including rectal bleeding, haemorrhoids, abdominal pain and bladder stones. He and his family have been in Lesvos for 20 months. His minor son also suffers from severe medical issues including ‘attacks’ during which he experiences seizures, loses his vision and hearing, and falls down. The Court refused the interim measure regarding the son, while granting that of his father. 

— A man who suffers from Hepatitis B, a potentially life-threatening condition for which he has received no treatment on Lesvos. He experiences severe symptoms and is at heightened risk of severe illness from the COVID-19 virus. Nevertheless, he spent the past 19 months in Moria and then Mavrovouni camp

As with the previous set of interim measure applications, LCL’s decision to seek redress before the ECtHR followed months of inaction by the Greek authorities and fruitless communication with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Head of Mavrovouni Reception and Identification Centre (RIC), and the Vulnerability Focal Point (VFP) of the RIC – all of whom are responsible for the identification and transfer of people with vulnerabilities and specific medical needs as provided under Greek law.

— In all of the thirteen interim measure applications filed by LCL before the ECtHR in 2021, the Greek authorities knew or should have known of the applicants’ urgent medical needs and situation since their first medical screening upon arrival to Greece by the National Public Health Organisation in charge, EODY, or, at the latest after the applicants’ explicit referrals to the VFP of the RIC, or their official diagnosis and referral for urgent medical treatment or transfer to the mainland by Greek public health institutions. 

— In eleven of those cases, the individuals had expressly been referred by Greek public health institutions for urgent medical treatment on mainland Greece, given the lack of adapted medical care available in Lesvos island. And ten of these applicants had been waiting for more than six months since their first urgent referral to a specialised hospital in Athens (including for twelve months in one case, and for over eighteen months in another case). One applicant’s colon cancer diagnosis had been recognised by the Greek National Public Health Organisation (EODY) nineteen months prior to his application before the ECtHR. Ultimately he was in fact transferred to Athens but without his carers upon whom he depends entirely.  

— In nine of the thirteen cases, the individuals LCL represented had already had their geographical restrictions lifted in recognition of their vulnerabilities – meaning they had the right to leave the island of Lesvos – but the Greek authorities had failed to transfer them, resulting in many people having to self-finance the trip and arrange their own accommodation upon arrival to the mainland, which many people did not have the financial means to do. In many cases, the Greek authorities justified their failure by stating that the vulnerable persons in question had, in the meantime, received a negative asylum decision and were therefore no longer considered asylum seekers who were eligible for health care and housing provided by the Greek state.

This cruel and unfair policy prioritises immigration control and containment of migrants over all else, irrespective of the severity of people’s medical conditions. It also ignores the fact that a person’s right to health and life are fundamental rights that must be guaranteed for all, regardless of legal status.

The swiftness with which some of the “successful” applicants were transferred out of Mavrovouni camp demonstrates that Greece’s persistent failure to ensure access to urgent, necessary and appropriate medical treatment for migrants in need is more from lack of political will than lack of capacity.

However the fulfilment of those transfers is not sufficient: out of the “successful” cases granted by the ECtHR, only a few have in fact been given access to a safe accommodation and were supported in accessing health care once on the Greek mainland. Most of them are either still waiting in Lesvos or were transferred by the Greek authorities but again forced to live in camps on the Greek mainland without specific reception conditions or medical attention. 

In particular, out of the ten successful applications filed by LCL this year, four applicants are still awaiting transfer in Lesvos or had to leave the island on their own, whereas six were officially transferred or are scheduled to be transferred out of Mavrovouni camp with their close relatives by the Greek authorities. 

Out of those six cases, only three have been accommodated in non-camp spaces in Athens, and only one has obtained all of the medical examinations or treatment that they all so urgently require. One was then threatened with eviction from his new accommodation, without legal basis. 

Since filing this latest set of interim measure applications, LCL observed a shift in the Greek authorities’ policy who have now started allowing individuals with severe medical conditions to leave the island, by their own means, when those individuals are able to show medical documentation recommending treatment unavailable on Lesvos and to obtain permission to leave the island from the Greek police – regardless of their legal status. 

Although this unofficial decongestion of Mavrovouni camp is an improvement, it however is not being applied in a consistent manner, with many still denied permission to leave the island despite being issued with medical documents from the General Hospital of Mytilene recommending transfer to and treatment on the mainland. Moreover, these are not ‘official’ transfers and do not ensure that vulnerable people will ultimately access safe accommodation or health care on the mainland. For many, this could result in homelessness, destitution and continued lack of access to medical treatment. This also means that only those people who have the financial means and are in a physical and psychological state allowing them to move and travel, can risk leaving the island on their own. As a consequence the remaining 3500 people who are currently stuck in Mavrovouni camp are increasingly the people whose personal situation makes it difficult for them to travel easily, for example because they have physical disabilities, are older, have large families or do not have the financial means to support themselves. 

The situations of the people LCL has represented before the ECtHR are unfortunately not unique, but illustrative of the dire situation faced by everyone trapped in the detention-like conditions of Mavrovouni RIC and on Lesvos in general.

The living conditions in the hastily constructed Mavrovouni de-facto detention centre  are unfit for human habitation: the camp is built on a disused firing range with dangerous levels of lead contamination; public health measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19 have been grossly inadequate and discriminatory; the camp is chronically overcrowded; water, sanitation and hygiene facilities are insufficient; and none of the accommodation provided is suitable for harsh winter or summer conditions. 

For every person forced to live in Mavrovouni RIC, the conditions in and of themselves constitute a violation of the right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 3 ECHR. For all of the individuals on whose behalf LCL filed interim measures, the conditions in the camp exacerbated pre-existing medical conditions and in many cases caused secondary conditions, in particular psychological issues. There are countless analogous cases in which the denial of urgent and necessary medical treatment, in violation of fundamental rights, has no other objective than to enforce Europe’s violent border regime. 

The progressive concentration and confinement of migrants into a single, inhumane and degrading site in Lesvos – in full disregard of people’s recognised vulnerabilities and specific needs – is in clear violation of their fundamental and human rights and will have fatal consequences. It is also a precursor to European and Greek authorities’ aim of mass detention of migrants across the Aegean islands in “Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centres” outside urban areas, where migrants will be subjected to expedited processing of their asylum claims, swift rejections and deportations to countries where they are not safe. 

LCL therefore once again calls on the Greek state to immediately:

  1. Ensure the provision of medical examination and assistance for ALL people living in Mavrovouni RIC to prevent the risk of irreparable harm to their mental and physical health from arising in the future. 
  2. Facilitate the official transfer to the mainland and ensure access to health care for ALL individuals in analogous situations to those for whom interim measures were granted. 
  3. Ensure that accommodation compatible with human dignity, access to medical services and transfer to the mainland are accessible for ALL irrespective of immigration status in accordance with Article 5(2) of the Greek constitution and non-derogable rights under Articles 2 and 3 ECHR. 
  4. Implement non-discriminatory migration policies allowing people to travel through safe and legal routes to their destination of choice, to ensure the reestablishment of family and community links, and abolish prison camps and containment at Europe’s borders.

* In some of the most recent cases, the Lesvos Legal Centre cooperated with a law firm based in Vienna (http://www.messerschmidt.lawyer/) and the Vienna Forum for Democracy and Human Rights (www.humanrights.at). Following the granting of an interim measure, a complaint was submitted to the ECtHR concerning a family that includes a survivor of torture, a woman with a high-risk pregnancy and a history of acute mental trauma, and a young child in psychological distress.

Legal Centre Lesvos Quarterly Newsletter: April – June 2021

Lesvos or the “Human Rights Graveyard” for migrants trapped on the island, Wall of Moria 1.0. 
Photo Credits: Boštjan Videmšek.

(1) Living conditions

  • Continued inhumane and degrading living conditions in Mavrovouni de-facto detention-center.
  • 24-30 April – Closure of all safe and alternative accommodations for migrants in Lesvos – Part II: Evictions of  families hosted in Kara Tepe municipality run camp.
  • June 2021 – Recognition by the European Court of Human Rights of the Greek authorities’ persistent and official indifference to migrants suffering in Mavrovouni camp.

(2) Asylum procedures

  • 7 June – Greek authorities declare Turkey safe for Afghan, Bangladeshi, Syrian, Somali and Pakistani Nationals, instituting further mass exclusion from asylum in Europe
  • Families remain separated for months and even years after arrival to Europe
  • Continued failure by the Greek State to proceed with age assessments of minor children wrongly registered as adults

(3) Advocacy efforts increase against continued policy of collective expulsions in the Aegean

  • 12 April – New case filed against Greece before the European Court of Human Rights, for massive pushback operation of over 180 migrants caught in a storm near Crete
  • 28 April – The Greek Ombudsman published an interim report on pushbacks
  • 12 May – UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants published report on pushbacks
  • June – Frontex under scrutiny of the European Parliament

(4) Criminalisation

  • 23 April – Justice for K.S
  • 11-12 June – Trial of the Moria 6
  • 22-29 June – Vial 15 Trial in Mytilene

Download the full report here

(1) Living Conditions

  • Continued inhumane and degrading living conditions in Mavrovouni de-facto detention-center.

The forced closure of most of the safe and alternative accommodation facilities in Lesvos put additional pressure on the already overcrowded and inhumane hotspot camp Mavrovouni / Karatepe ‘Temporary Reception and Identification Centre’ (so-called Moria 2.0), where as of 4 July, 4329 people were living in shared tents. Still labeled as a ‘temporary’ camp, thousands of people have been forced to live there for over nine months.  

With particular regard to COVID-19, the internal measures in place within the camp are insufficient to effectively allow any physical distancing from others or suitable hygiene conditions. In May, there was an increase in people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the camp and on the island. 550 positive COVID-19 cases were reported in Lesvos, 227 of which were found amongst the residents of Mavrovouni camp. Residents of the camp share a very limited living space with other people, and stand in long queues in close proximity to others in order to access all basic necessities, including food, water, toilets and showers. In May, the so-called “quarantine area” set up inside Mavrovouni camp to isolate people who tested positive for COVID-19 and their contacts reached its full capacity for at least a week. People who were not sick when they entered the quarantine area became sick while imprisoned there. While the quarantine area was full, people with COVID symptoms were asked by the camp authorities to self-isolate in their tents – a practical impossibility, given how overcrowded the camp is and that all tents are shared with other persons or families. 

The camp residents of Moria and later Mavrovouni have remained subjected to discriminatory movement restrictions ostensibly justified by the COVID pandemic since March 2020, and are prevented from moving freely in and out of the camp. When the rest of Greece was opened for foreign tourists and movement restrictions were progressively lifted for the general population, starting on the 3 May 2021, people forced to live in Mavrovouni camp remained under a 5pm curfew, and continued to be prohibited from leaving the camp except for once a week, and for medical or legal appointments. 

Migrants were also disproportionately targeted in police controls during the pandemic. The official police record fines issued for alleged breaches of COVID measures in Lesvos show that in Lesvos between 23/03/2020 and 24/05/2021 74% of the fines were issued against foreigners, that is 3 times more than the ones issued against Greek nationals – despite the fact that foreign nationals make up a small percentage of the island’s population. Clients of LCL have reported that people have received fines in Mavrovouni camp for failing to wear a mask while washing their face outside their tent and for not wearing a mask while smoking – demonstrating the absurdity and arbitrariness in the issuance of fines against migrants. The police record also mentions the issuance of fines against 21 members of NGOs in Lesvos as a specific category of foreigners. This official publication confirms the ongoing racial profiling, which is shamelessly published by the authorities.

Meanwhile, inside the camp, conditions remain dire. As of May, only 302 toilets were operational. These toilets are often covered in faeces and are a breeding ground for communicable diseases. There are numerous reports documenting that the camp’s sewage system overruns during rainstorms, causing the ground within the camp to become a bed of mud, water and excrement. Mavrovouni camp has 10 electricity generators which often fail due to network overload, causing power cuts which leave residents without light, heat or air conditioning, or electricity and which poses a fire hazard. Incidents of violence and harassment are common, with little protection provided by the Greek authorities despite the heavy police presence in the camp.

Moreover, the site was used for almost a century (1926-2020) as a military firing range, and high levels of lead have been found in soil samples. Prolonged exposure to lead can cause long-lasting, and often irreversible, neurological and behavioural damage. Many camp residents, including pregnant women and small children (who are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of lead exposure), have now lived there for over nine months as of the end of June 2021.

Stacking of shared tents on a military firing range, Mavrovouni hotspot camp or “Moria 2.0”, Photo Credits: UNHCR.
  • 24-30 April – Closure of all safe and alternative accommodations for migrants in Lesvos – Part II: Evictions of  families hosted in Kara Tepe municipality run camp.

In the last week of April, vulnerable people and families who were hosted in the municipality-run Kara Tepe camp were evicted from their containers in the early morning hours over several days. Although the Ministry of Migration and Asylum announced that the majority of the evicted families from Kara Tepe camp would be moved to the mainland or relocated elsewhere in the EU, over 500 persons were moved to Mavrovouni camp. 

This follows the closure of Pikpa solidarity camp – which hosted particularly vulnerable families and individuals – and was evicted by the Greek authorities on 30 October 2020. Many vulnerable families were transferred to Kara Tepe containers when Pikpa was forcibly evacuated, and in April were once again uprooted and forced to move to shared tents in Mavrovouni camp. 

The Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis visited the emptied Kara Tepe camp on 7 May just after the evictions and congratulated himself publicly that “the municipal structure of Kara Tepe returned today, after six years of operation, to the municipality and the citizens of Mytilene.” He also announced the upcoming closure of all apartments hosting asylum seekers under the ESTIA programme – currently hosting families, unaccompanied minors and particularly vulnerable persons – by 30 November 2021 and the creation of a new “closed/controlled” Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centre (MPRIC) on Lesvos, located outside the urban area and entirely funded by the European Commission (effectively a detention center).

Several LCL clients with recognised vulnerabilities were forcibly moved from the municipality-run Kara Tepe camp to Mavrovouni camp. One family from Syria with 3 teenage children and 1 adult son who has extreme mental health conditions and does not speak were among those forced to pack up their belongings at six in the morning and move to Mavrovouni camp. The mother is his sole carer, and he relies on her support in all of his daily tasks; she, however, suffers from her own urgent medical problems, including a cyst in her brain and kidney stones, which require urgent treatment in Athens. Although the family’s geographical restrictions to the island had been lifted to allow for needed medical treatment, their asylum claim was rejected on appeal – on the basis that Turkey is a country from which they could have sought protection, and as a result, they are again restricted to the island. This family has now been trapped in Lesvos since November 2019 – approaching two years – unable to access the asylum procedure and unable to obtain needed medical treatment. 

The progressive concentration and confinement of migrants into a single site in Lesvos where conditions are inhumane and degrading – in full disregard of people’s recognised vulnerabilities and specific needs – raises great concern and is in clear violation of their fundamental and human rights. It is also a precursor to the EU and Greek authorities’ aim of mass detention of migrants across the Aegean islands in “Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centres” outside urban areas, where migrants will be subjected to expedited processing of their asylum claims, swift rejections and deportations to countries where they are not safe.  

It should be noted that since the eviction of Pikpa solidarity camp in October 2020 and Kara Tepe in April 2021, both municipal spaces have been left abandoned and unused.

  • June 2021: Recognition by the European Court of Human Rights of the Greek authorities’ persistent and official indifference to migrants suffering in Mavrovouni camp

The Legal Centre Lesvos continued denouncing the ongoing failure of the Greek authorities to provide adequate housing and medical care to vulnerable people forced to live in Mavrovouni camp. Following the granting of Interim Measures for three LCL clients in March 2021, on the basis that they had been denied adequate housing and medical care, the Ministry of Migration continued to deny this care to other families and individuals in similar circumstances, despite ongoing advocacy by LCL. As a last resort, the LCL was forced to return to the European Court of Human Rights in order to ensure our clients’ access to needed urgent medical care. In June, two additional interim measures petitions were filed by LCL lawyers before the European Court of Human Rights were granted (ECtHR).

INTERIM MEASURES GRANTED BY EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

In the first case, LCL represented a 21 year-old Syrian national who had arrived in Lesvos in September 2019 with her family and suffers from severe treatment resistant epilepsy as a result of a major head trauma and injuries from an airstrike in Syria. The Applicant had been living for the past 21 months first in Moria and then in Mavrovouni camp during which time her health had deteriorated. After all her medical documents were lost in the fires that destroyed Moria camp in September 2020, she was officially referred twice by the General Hospital in Mytilene for an electroencephalogram and for a digital angiography of the spinal cord at a specialised hospital in Athens in October 2020 and in March 2021 respectively – since neither procedure could be carried out on the island. The state of health of the applicant and the need to be treated in Athens had also been certified by the Hellenic National Public Health Organisation (EODY) in May 2021. Despite this, the family was still forced to live in Mavrovouni camp more than seven months after her first post-fire referral from Greek public health authorities for urgent and specialised medical care in Athens

– In the second case, LCL represented a 24 year-old Syrian national, in her sixth month of pregnancy, who arrived in Lesvos in January 2020 and suffers from a degenerative condition in her shoulders, chronic asthma and, owing to her living conditions, inflammation and an infection in her lungs – causing her to be severely limited in her breathing and mobility. Her 4 year-old daughter, who  stopped talking after the trauma of the fires that destroyed Moria camp, also suffers from physical disabilities, including a weakness to her legs, and lack in balance and movement control allowing her only to walk short distances. This woman and her family were living for the past 17 months in Moria and Mavrovouni camp during which time, their health had further deteriorated. In August 2020, the Applicant had been referred to treatment in a hospital in Athens by the General Hospital of Mytilene for further examination of her degenerative shoulder condition and in February 2021 EODY confirmed that she had to be moved to better living conditions, due to the impact that living in the camp has on her breathing difficulties. In January 2021, her daughter had also been referred by Mytilene hospital for urgent transfer to Athens for neurological examination. Nevertheless the pregnant woman and her children were still forced to live in the inhuman and degrading conditions of Mavrovouni camp almost a year after they were first identified by Greek public institutions as persons in need of urgent transfer to safe accommodation and medical care in Athens.

In both cases the Greek authorities in charge of the identification and transfer of vulnerable persons to the mainland had failed to proceed with the transfer of the concerned families for months despite the repeated requests by the families and LCL to the Greek authorities. Over months of waiting for treatment, they meanwhile had their asylum claims rejected on the grounds that Turkey was a safe third country for them (a factually inaccurate claim, as detailed in previous LCL posts). Because they were no longer considered asylum seekers, their transfer was further delayed and denied.

The ECtHR granted both applications, recognising that, due to their severe health situation and the living conditions in the camp, both applicants were at imminent risk of irreparable harm. We reiterate – and as confirmed by the ECtHR – that the right to health and life are fundamental rights that must be guaranteed for ALL, regardless of legal status.

These cases are only two examples among hundreds of people in need of urgent care and assistance, who have been contained for months or years in immiserating conditions in the EU hotspots on the Greek islands, and left there without sufficient medical attention or basic protection. The ongoing and flagrant institutional indifference towards the needs of  migrants seeking asylum in Greece demonstrate that the living conditions in those camps are not a random occurrence but rather the demonstration of a deliberate treatment imposed on racialised migrants denied safe and legal routes of migration. The swiftness with which individuals are transferred following successful petitions before the European Court of Human Rights demonstrate that the Greek state has the capacity, but lacks the will to provide adequate medical care and housing to those with the most urgent needs. 

A woman and a man in a wheelchair sit outside a tent in Mavrovouni camp, 
Photo Credits: EPA/Vangelis Papantonis

(2) Asylum procedures 

  • 7 June – Greek authorities declare Turkey safe for Afghan, Bangladeshi, Syrian, Somali and Pakistani Nationals, instituting further mass exclusion from asylum in Europe 

On 7 June, the Greek authorities furthered Europe’s border externalisation policy through the formal designation of Turkey as a safe country for Afghan, Syrian, Somali, Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals. Announced in a Joint Ministerial Decision, this means that all new asylum claims made by people of these nationalities are now facing expedited and superficial procedures that assess the “admissibility” – rather than the substance – of their claim. These mirror the procedure for Syrian nationals on the Eastern Aegean islands applied since the EU-Turkey Statement of March 2016, which has been found to offer insufficient protection against refoulement. Nonetheless, as confirmed by Minister of Migration and Asylum N. Mitarachis, this is a further step towards “the full and unconditional implementation” of the EU-Turkey Statement.    

Following the Joint Ministerial Decision, people of those nationalities are no longer asked in their personal interview as to the reasons they left their home country,  but only about their experience in Turkey. As a consequence, all cases relating to nationals of those countries (with some rare exceptions) are currently being rejected as “inadmissible” on the grounds that Turkey is a safe country for them. The populations affected by this Joint Ministerial decision are by no means surprising: as of June 2021, the majority of the migrant population arriving to the Aegean islands in 2021 were from Afghanistan (45.3%), Somalia (23%), and Syria (5.8%). 

This measure adopted in Greece constitutes an abusive and dangerous misapplication of the  safe third country concept, provided for by Article 38 of the European Union’s Asylum Procedures Directive. , not least because Turkey is not a safe third country for migrants. The Asylum Procedures Directive requires, among other things, that “safe” third countries offer asylum seekers the potential of being recognised as refugees and enjoying protection in accordance with international law, and that such countries ensure adequate protection against refoulement. In Turkey, neither of these criteria is met. s  Moreover, the decision is an explicit and unapologetic endorsement of Europe’s drive to exclude migrants from its territory, which are manifest in its ongoing deals with third countries (such as the EU and Italy’s ongoing cooperation with and funding of the Libyan Coast Guard), policies of systematic violence, and continued, fatal disregard for migrant lives.

For more details, read our statement here, and a joint letter in which we participated alongside other legal organisations and published on 14 June here

  • Expedited procedures, mass rejections, no access to lawyers: “business as usual”. 

Denial of legal aid to new arrivals: New arrivals to Lesvos, who are not pushed back to Turkey, have been detained in a quarantine camp in the north of the island and then rushed through their asylum procedure, within a few days of their release and without access to legal aid.   This is despite efforts by lawyers and the Lesvos Legal Aid Sub Working Group to gain access to the site. Efforts to distribute the contact information of legal aid actors were denied by UNHCR and the Greek authorities controlling the camp. Most of the new arrivals, therefore, have been rushed to their asylum interview without being able to see a lawyer or get any legal information about the complex and ever-changing procedures that they are subject to. The denial of access to legal information and from the possibility of accessing a lawyer of their choice is a severe violation of their rights to a fair asylum procedure, and of the State’s specific obligation to guarantee that applicants “shall not be denied the opportunity to communicate with UNHCR or with any other organisation providing legal advice or other counselling to applicants.”

Copy-paste rejection of asylum claims: In parallel, the asylum service  continued its expedited processing  of ongoing asylum claims, issuing an increasing number of negative decisions. Within the negative decisions reviewed by the Legal Centre Lesvos team, there have been gross procedural irregularities, including “copy-paste” decisions issued by the Greek Asylum Service and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), for instance indicating that Afghan nationals could “return to (their) country of origin, Turkey,” or that a Iraqi national could “return to (his) country of origin, Afghanistan”. 

Denial of effective legal representation on appeal: Since January 2021, people who have been rejected in the asylum procedure have access to a State appointed lawyer to represent them on appeal. Following years of advocating that the State fulfils its obligation – under Greek and EU law – to provide free legal aid to those lodging a first-instance appeal, we welcome the introduction of state appointed lawyers. However, the current system often continues to prevent effective assistance of counsel. People seeking counsel at the Legal Centre Lesvos have reported difficulties or impossibility in contacting their state appointed lawyers. Those that have met with their lawyers, are in some cases not informed of all the reasons for their rejection, and are not provided with a translation of the Greek decision, so often are not able to provide information or evidence that could support their asylum claims. 

As has been the case for years, often the Appeals Committee simply rubber stamps the decisions made at the first instance by the Lesvos Regional Asylum Office (RAO), regardless of legal representation provided. One of LCL’s clients who had faced persecution in his home country due to his political activity, received a rejection on appeal with identical argumentation as to that he had received from the Lesvos RAO. The additional evidence submitted by LCL on appeal was not even considered when the Appeals Committee made its decision.

Delayed registration of subsequent asylum claims: Since March 2020, those in Lesvos who have had their asylum applications rejected on appeal are no longer recognised as asylum seekers and have been stuck in an ongoing procedural limbo: unable to leave the island, owing to ongoing COVID restrictions; unable to return to Turkey, owing to the suspension on deportations and voluntary returns; and, for the most part, unable to lodge a subsequent application for asylum.

Given the constantly changing context in the countries from which they came or through which they travelled, people have legitimate new grounds for international protection. However, the registration of subsequent asylum applications (new asylum applications based on new substantial evidence that an individual is eligible for international protection) has been  effectively frozen since early 2021. Registration of subsequent asylum applications resumed in early June 2021, but at a slow pace, leaving over a thousand people on the island outside the asylum procedure in legal limbo – unable to leave the island, and unable to access any services here that are reserved for officially recognised asylum seekers or “beneficiaries”  of international protection, including access to the public health care services, education, or cash assistance provided through UNHCR. As described above, the Legal Centre Lesvos has successfully filed interim measures with the European Court in Human Rights on behalf of two individuals with families who were denied health care, in part because they were no longer considered asylum seekers.

Given the above context, legal aid provided by the Legal Centre Lesvos and other actors remains essential, at all stages of the asylum procedure.

LEGAL AID PROVIDED BY LEGAL CENTRE LESVOS BETWEEN APRIL AND JUNE 2021

Legal Centre Lesvos’ Greek lawyers represented:
55 individuals in the asylum procedure, including cases of family reunification;
20 individuals on appeal of their asylum claims;
7 persons in detention.

LCL volunteer case workers carried out:
432 individual legal consultations;
26 interview preparations;
– 76 referrals to alternative housing services or protection services.

Furthermore, with the European Court of Human Rights, LCL filed:
1 application in representation of 11 survivors of a collective expulsion.
2 petitions for interim measures were made in representation of two individuals, due to imminent risk of irreparable harm for failure to provide needed medical treatment and accommodation.
  • Families remain separated for months and even years after arrival to Europe

European Regulation No 604/2013 (commonly known as the “Dublin III Regulation”), sets out criteria for determining “as quickly as possible” the country in Europe responsible for assessing an individual’s asylum claim. Part of the purpose of this regulation is to allow family members who are present in different European countries to reunite as soon as possible after entering Europe, and without having to wait for procedural delays such as the processing of asylum claims, and production of IDs and travel documents. In practice however, the process is fraught with delays, in part due to COVID-19 related restrictions on travel, but also due to bureaucratic delays and other failings by Greek and other European  authorities.  

Between April and June 2021, several of the families represented by the Legal Centre Lesvos had their applications for family reunification under the Dublin III Regulation granted, and several others finally travelled to join family members in other European countries.

Many of these families have had to wait for reunification for over a year, and have had to endure unbearable periods of uncertainty after first having their claims rejected, necessitating representation by LCL in requests for reconsideration, and cooperation with lawyers other European member states to litigate and advocate with national authorities there  for the right of these families to reunite. 

DUBLIN “SUCCESSES” FOLLOWING UNWARRANTED REJECTIONS AND DELAYS

SV finally traveled to Germany in May 2021 together with her children, to join her minor son who was just seven years old at the time of their separation. Germany initially rejected her request to reunite with her minor son, and her reunion in May this year followed a two-year struggle, requiring litigation in German court (in cooperation with Equal Rights Beyond Borders). This is one of several families whose cases LCL has had to litigate in German courts following a rejection by the German Dublin Unit, which requires unreasonable documented proof of family relationships from families who have fled their countries in the midst of war and persecution, and have been separated in unstable and often insecure circumstances.

Other families represented by LCL had to wait months, and sometimes over a year to be reunited even AFTER their applications for family reunification were approved. FH arrived to Lesvos in November 2019, and first came to the Legal Centre Lesvos that month. With LCL’s assistance, FH submitted an application for family reunification to join his partner and their daughter, who live in Finland. In June 2020, Finland accepted his request; his transfer, therefore, should have taken place within the six months before December 2020 according to Dublin III Regulation. Legal Centre Lesvos made repeated interventions on his behalf with the Greek Dublin Unit; still, it was not until 8 June 2021 – a year after his acceptance – that he was finally issued with tickets to travel. He is now reunited with his partner and daughter, in Finland. 

AK arrived with his family to Greece in September 2019. His wife had survived severe trauma in their home country and on their journey to Greece, and she found life in Moria camp impossible. AK’s wife managed to travel to Switzerland with one of their young daughters, and seek asylum there. Despite the vulnerable mental and physical health of both AK and his wife, they were denied reunification for months, due to the fact that AK and his wife had separated only after they reached Greece, and it was well after the strict three month deadline in which requests for reunification must be sent according to the Dublin III Regulations. However, following months of advocacy by LCL, Switzerland finally accepted on humanitarian grounds (Article 17 of the Dublin III Regulation) the right of AK and his children to join his wife, and the childrens’ mother. Following their acceptance, however, it took a further 8 months (two months passed the deadline) for them to actually be able to travel to Switzerland and reunite, during which time AK and he and his wife’s children were forced to live in Mavrovouni camp, with limited access to needed health care and other services.
  • Continued failure by the Greek State to proceed with age assessments of minor children wrongly registered as adults

The age assessment procedures have been suspended since January 2021 in Lesvos and resumed only in mid-June after a five month gap due to a pending training of the Greek National Health services (EODY). As a consequence, newly arrived minors who had their birth date incorrectly registered by Frontex have been unable to correct their dates of birth if they do not have original identification documents from their countries of origin. The failure to recognise the minor status of these children has had severe impact – as they are denied the protections guaranteed to minor asylum seekers – such as special reception conditions including housing separate from adults they are not related to, access to public education, and the right to reunite with family members in other European states under the Dublin III regulations. 

The denial of these rights run contrary to Greece’s own age assessment procedure, which provides that individuals should benefit from the presumption of minority, and “should be treated as a child until proven otherwise.” 

In mid-June, EODY finally began conducting age assessments again, however, many of the minors had already been waiting over six months to be assessed, and as time passed they of course became older. Besides being untimely, the age assessments themselves were superficial and cursory. According to the minors’ statements, the age assessment procedure lasted between 3 and 15 minutes. Age assessments are currently being carried out by an urologist, employed by EODY.

Between April and June 2021, LCL represented 15 alleged minors victims of those registration “errors”, including the lack of possibility to request an age assessment. In one of those cases, LCL represented an Afghan boy who arrived in Lesvos as a 15-year old unaccompanied minor in January 2021. He has an adult brother in Germany with refugee status, with whom he could potentially reunify under the Dublin regulations. However, while he gave his correct age and birth date at the initial registration in February 2021, and holds a copy of his Afghan National ID stating his actual date of birth, he was registered by Frontex as 18 years old instead of 15. During his asylum interview, he attempted to correct his age, yet the interview was continued by the EASO caseworker. Due to the lack of age assessments being conducted in Lesvos at that time, the unaccompanied child was exposed to inadequate and dangerous conditions in Mavrovouni camp, where he was forced to live the past four months. He was also at risk of missing the deadlines applicable for his family reunification with his brother in Germany. With the help of LCL lawyer, the minor was referred for an age assessment to EODY on 1 March 2021 – which was finally carried out at the end of June – but for which no decision has yet been issued. Thanks to the legal support he received, Germany exceptionally accepted his request for family reunification on humanitarian grounds notwithstanding the pending age assessment decision. 

(3) Advocacy efforts increase against continued policy of collective expulsions in the Aegean

  • 12 April – New case filed against Greece before the European Court of Human Rights, for massive pushback operation of over 180 migrants caught in a storm near Crete  

On 12 April 2021, LCL filed its fifth complaint before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) regarding “pushback” operations in the Aegean Region by the Hellenic Coast Guard. In the present case, LCL’s lawyer represents 11 Syrian nationals who were part of a group of 180-200 people violently expelled from Greece to Turkey on 20-21 October 2020. The group included at least 40 children and one pregnant woman, who Greek authorities collectively expelled to Turkey in a violent and massive coordinated operation carried out for over more than 24 hours in the Mediterranean Sea, and involving multiple vessels of the Hellenic Coast Guard including one Search and Rescue vessel. The case was reported in the international press and on social media and includes extensive evidence corroborating survivors’ testimonies, such as GPS locations, media reports, photographs and video footage. 

As already highlighted by LCL and several other monitoring and human rights groups, the illegal acts committed by Greek authorities in this case are not isolated and instead form part of an ongoing systemic and widespread practice implemented by the Greek authorities over the last year (in particular since March 2020), which amount to crimes against Humanity. Despite extensive evidence, reports, investigations and denunciations at both national and international levels, the Greek authorities continue to deny that pushbacks are taking place. Greece is one of the few European countries that has not explicitly prohibited collective expulsions, and Greece’s legal system does not provide adequate criminal remedy to redress the gravity of the international and human rights law violations entailed in collective expulsions, much less the political interest to seriously investigate these crimes. The ECtHR has thus become a court of last resort for a growing number of survivors. The ECtHR timelines mean that it could take years for such applications to even be considered, while the individualised character of human rights violations as adjudicated at the ECtHR normally fail to capture the systematic nature of collective expulsions. However, in the current context of absolute impunity for these atrocity crimes it is worth pursuing all remedies available for pushback survivors. This does not change the fact that meaningful justice for survivors of collective expulsions must include safe and legal routes to Europe, and a decisive end to fortress Europe’s border regime of deterrence at any human cost, which has as its logical endpoint the spectacular violence of push backs such as this one. → Read the LCL full statement about the case here

  • 28 April, the Greek Ombudsman published an interim report on pushbacks

Following its own initiative investigation of alleged cases of pushbacks at the Greek-Turkish land border (Evros region) between the summer of 2017 through the end of 2020. The report acknowledges a constant flow of complaints received regarding illegal pushbacks which in the Ombudsman’s opinion creates “concerns regarding the level of protection of human rights in Greece”. It also urged for investigations by the Greek police and authorities, as claims of pushbacks are persistently accompanied by a denial from the country’s authorities. Full report is available here.

  • 12 May, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants published report on pushbacks

The report addresses the human rights impact of pushbacks, and the growing body of evidence of the illegal practice of pushbacks across borders around the world. LCL contributed through submission in February 2021, documenting Greece’s practice of carrying out pushbacks to Turkey in the Aegean region. The full report is available here. 

Hellenic Coast Guard vessel patrolling the Aegean Sea off the coast of Lesvos island.
 A Hellenic Coast Guard vessel patrols the Aegean Sea off the coast of Lesvos island at dusk, August 2021.
  • June – Frontex under scrutiny of the European Parliament

In June, LCL participated in various other public initiatives to further raise awareness about the insurmountable amount of evidence of Greece’ pushback of migrants in the Aegean region including by joining the End Pushbacks Partnership and Abolish Frontex communication campaigns.

LCL also contributed to the fact-finding mission of the Frontex Scrutiny Working Group, which was established by the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs in March 2021. It was mandated to assess the functioning of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, following the increasing amount of media and NGOs reports evidencing that the agency was involved in pushbacks of asylum-seekers in the Aegean Sea. LCL was first involved in internal meetings with the Frontex Scrutiny Group members about Frontex’ complicity in human rights violations, and later submitted relevant evidence on pushbacks carried out by the Hellenic Coast Guard in the Aegean Sea, and on the connection between such pushbacks and Frontex’s operations in the region, following a call for evidence by European Parliament members. 

Those initiatives came in the continuity of LCL work initiated since the start of the year to denounce the complicity of Frontex and its Executive Director in the collective expulsions carried out by the Greek authorities in the Aegean region – where the agency operates as part of the Joint Operation Poseidon. The ongoing and inherent failure of Frontex’s internal reporting and monitoring mechanisms in relation to fundamental rights violations, and Frontex Direction’s failure to act in relation to fundamental rights and international protection obligations violations – despite well-documented and systematically carried out collective expulsions – are already unlawful and should lead to its accountability. 

LCL was also invited to participate in one of the meeting sessions of the Frontex Consultative Forum on Fundamental rights together with the Border Violence Monitoring Network to share its insights about human rights violations carried out by or with the complicity of Frontex. 

Abolish Frontex Campaign, Photo Credit: No Border Kitchen Lesvos.

(4) Criminalisation

  • 23 April – JUSTICE FOR K.S

On Friday 23 April 2021, in a trial that lasted less than four hours, the Mytilene Court convicted a young man from Syria, K.S., of illegal entry (art. 83 g.l. 3686/2005) and facilitating illegal entry (art. 30 par. 1 and 3 g.l. 4251/2014). Despite arguments made by Legal Centre Lesvos lawyers regarding numerous procedural irregularities, the lack of convincing evidence against him, and demonstrable mitigating circumstances, K.S. was sentenced to a total of 52 years in prison and a fine of €242,000. K.S. could be eligible for early release after 7 years; but this would nonetheless mean that K.S. will be incarcerated for the remainder of his three young sons’ childhood.

This disproportionate and scandalous sentence follows state violence inflicted upon K.S. and his family in Syria, Turkey and now Greece. After being shot in Syria and fleeing with his family, K.S. fled to Turkey. There, he was imprisoned and tortured, after resisting the draft to join Turkish military operations in Libya. In Greece, he has been subject to numerous violations of international law, and has already spent over a year in Korydallos prison, the country’s largest penitentiary. By the time of his trial, he had not seen his wife or three children for fourteen months. In early March 2020, K.S., his wife, and their three young children fled Turkey to seek international protection in Greece. Upon their arrival to the island of Chios, however, K.S. was arrested and accused of having driven the dinghy upon which he and his family had arrived. This formed the basis for the aforementioned criminal charges brought against him. 

The gross miscarriage of justice inflicted upon K.S. is not the first case of its kind. Less than a month later a young man from Somalia was sentenced to 142 years prison after having been arrested and convicted following a shipwreck in which two people died.

Since 2014, Aegean Migrant Solidarity, Deportation Monitoring Aegean and borderline-europe e.V. have documented the systemic punishment and incarceration of migrants accused of the same crimes that K.S. was convicted for. According to the Greek Ministry of Justice, in 2019 1,905 people were imprisoned in Greece on charges of facilitating illegal entry. They observed that: “While smuggling accusations against European sea rescuers such as the Sea Watch captain Carola Rackete gain a lot of media attention, which can lead to international pressure and courts eventually deciding to drop the charges, the everyday practice of incarcerating non-Europeans on the Greek islands goes almost unnoticed by the public.”

Legal Centre Lesvos lawyers have appealed K.S.’s unjust conviction and will continue to fight for his release from incarceration. Alongside comrades from solidarity movements in Lesvos and internationally, we will continue to denounce the systematic criminalisation and punishment of migrants, to fight for justice for K.S., and to stand in solidarity with everyone facing Europe’s punitive border regime. Read the full statement on the trial here.

  • 11-12 June – Trial of the Moria 6

On Friday 11 and Saturday 12 June 2021, the trial of four young Afghans, accused by the Greek authorities for the fire in Moria which resulted in the camp’s total destruction in September 2020, took place in Chios before a Mixed Jury Court. All four were unanimously sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, without recognition of any mitigating circumstances, and without their appeal having a suspensive effect. They were therefore taken back to Avlona prison, near Athens, where they have already been held in pre-trial detention for almost ten months.

The court’s intended result was evident from the outset of the trial. Upon entry to the court and on the order of the President of the Judges, the defence lawyers were first searched, including the case files and their personal belongings. After that, the court denied essentially every request made by the defense lawyers throughout the trial. The entry of trial observers and the press was denied on the pretext that COVID-19 measures prohibited the presence of more than 15 persons inside the court, despite a request by the defendant’s lawyers to allow entry to at least one legal observer. At the same time, 7 to 9 police officers were present inside the courtroom throughout the proceedings, supposedly in order to secure the court.  Furthermore, the fact that three of the four were minors at the time of the arrest, defense attorneys had presented to the court original documentation showing their age, and considerable documentation showing irregularities in the age assessment procedure – all four were tried as adults.

The conviction of the defendants was solely on a single witness, whose written testimony was read aloud in court, against the objection of defense counsel that this violated the defendants’ right to cross-examination. Other major procedural violations were documented, including: erroneous or incomplete interpretation; insults to and harassment of defence witnesses; violations of the rights of the defence witnesses; and violations of the right of the defendants to make a statement. Finally, the court unanimously decided to reject all mitigating circumstances in the defendants’ sentencing. This included a refusal to recognise their young age, despite the fact that the Greek state had already recognised this vulnerability by incarcerating them in a specific juvenile prison. Not even the inhumane living conditions of the defendants in the “hell” of Moria – otherwise recognised by all – were taken into account by the court to reduce the defendants’ sentence. 

All of the above leaves the undeniable impression that the trial in question was anything but fair, and that in matters of national interest and public opinion, such as the Moria fire, expediency and political exploitation subordinate the rule of law and the rights of the accused. 

Read the full statement of the defense lawyers here and the statement following the trial and conviction of the two minors who form part of the Moria 6 here. 

Police officer outside the Court in Chios, 11 June 2021. Photo credit: Free the Moria Six campaign, @freethemoriasix
  • 22-29 June: Vial 15 Trial in Mytilene

Following the discouraging and unacceptable results of the trial of four of the Moria 6 in Chios, a few weeks later, in Mytilene’s Mixed Jury Court, 14 of the 15 young men who were arrested following riots and fires that broke out in Chios’ Reception and Identification Centre in April 2020 were tried. The riots in Chios’ refugee camp had broken out following the death of one woman in the camp, who was suspected to have COVID-19. Unlike in Chios, the Mytilene Court accepted many of the petitions of the defense attorney, including requesting a larger courtroom so the trial was open to the public, and a petition to try one of the defendants at a later date in a court for minors. As in the case of the Moria 6, there was insufficient evidence to identify any of the defendants as having committed the crimes they were accused of. In the end 4 of the men tried were acquitted, and the remainder were found guilty only of minor offenses. All were ordered released, with suspended prison sentences for those found guilty of the lesser crimes. 

While the 14 should never have spent 14 months in pretrial detention, we welcome the result of this trial, and hope it can serve as precedent for future criminal proceedings.  The contrast to the results in Chios demonstrate the arbitrariness of the outcome of criminal trials, which should, by law, be made isolated from any political influences, such as those that overshadowed the prosecution of the Moria 6.  

ΔΗΛΩΣΗ ΤΩΝ ΣΥΝΗΓΟΡΩΝ ΥΠΕΡΑΣΠΙΣΗΣ ΤΩΝ ΤΕΣΣΑΡΩΝ ΚΑΤΗΓΟΡΟΥΜΕΝΩΝ ΓΙΑ ΤΟΝ ΕΜΠΡΗΣΜΟ ΤΗΣ ΜΟΡΙΑΣ / FREE THE MORIA 6: A STATEMENT FROM THE DEFENCE LAWYERS ON THE UNFAIR TRIAL OF FOUR OF THOSE ACCUSED OF THE MORIA FIRES

Police officer outside the Court in Chios, 11 June 2021. Photo credit: Free The Moria Six Campaign, @freethemoriasix.

ENGLISH BELOW.

Την Παρασκευή 11/06 και Σάββατο 12/06 έγινε στη Χίο, ενώπιον του Μικτού Ορκωτού Δικαστηρίου, η δίκη τεσσάρων νεαρών Αφγανών, οι οποίοι είχαν κατηγορηθεί από τις Ελληνικές αρχές για τον εμπρησμό στη Μόρια τον περασμένο Σεπτέμβριο, που είχε σαν αποτέλεσμα την ολοκληρωτική καταστροφή του στρατοπέδου.

Και οι τέσσερις καταδικάστηκαν, ομόφωνα, σε ποινή κάθειρξης δέκα ετών, χωρίς  να τους αναγνωριστεί κανένα ελαφρυντικό και χωρίς η έφεσή τους να έχει ανασταλτική δύναμη και για το λόγο αυτό οδηγήθηκαν πίσω στη φυλακή Αυλώνα, όπου βρίσκονταν προφυλακισμένοι για δέκα σχεδόν μήνες.

Η διαδικασία που θα ακολουθούνταν από το δικαστήριο είχε διαφανεί από την πρώτη στιγμή. Κατά την είσοδο και με εντολή του προέδρου του δικαστηρίου, ελέγχθηκαν και οι συνήγοροι υπεράσπισης, στους οποίους ανοίχτηκαν οι φάκελοι της δικογραφίας και τα προσωπικά αντικείμενα (πορτοφόλια κ.λ.π.). Στη συνέχεια απορρίφθηκε το αίτημα τεσσάρων δημοσιογράφων (δύο από ελληνικά και δύο από διεθνή μέσα) καθώς και το αίτημα των συνηγόρων υπεράσπισης που αφορούσε σε δύο διεθνείς παρατηρητές (δικηγόρους διαπιστευμένους από διεθνείς ενώσεις νομικών) να παρευρίσκονται στη διαδικασία, ώστε να εξασφαλιστεί στο ελάχιστο η δημοσιότητα της δίκης, με το πρόσχημα των μέτρων για τον covid, ενόσω καθόλη τη διάρκεια της διαδικασίας παρόντες στην αίθουσα ήταν 7-9 αστυνομικοί, για την τήρηση μη αναγκαίων μέτρων τάξης. Αξίζει να σημειωθεί ότι από την παρακολούθηση της δίκης αποκλείστηκε και εκπρόσωπος της Ύπατης Αρμοστείας του ΟΗΕ για τους ίδιους λόγους.

Η διαδικασία ξεκίνησε με την υποβολή ένστασης αναρμοδιότητας του δικαστηρίου, βασισμένη σε επίσημα έγγραφα από τις χώρες καταγωγής, που ήδη από το στάδιο της ανάκρισης είχαν προσκομισθεί από τους 3 κατηγορούμενους, τα οποία αποδείκνυαν ότι οι κατηγορούμενοι ήταν ανήλικοι κατά την υποτιθέμενη τέλεση της πράξης και τα οποία, σύμφωνα με την Κοινή Υπουργική Απόφαση 9889/2020 άρθρο 1 παρ. 12 αίρουν κάθε αμφιβολία υπέρ της ανηλικότητας χωρίς καμία επιφύλαξη ενώ σταματά οποιαδήποτε διαδικασίας διαπίστωσης ανηλικότητας. Η συγκεκριμένη ένσταση θα είχε, στην περίπτωση που είχε γίνει δεκτή, καταλυτική σημασία στην ποινική αντιμετώπιση των 3, καθόσον θα έπρεπε να παραπεμφθούν σε δικαστήριο ανηλίκων. Παρόλα αυτά το δικαστήριο αποφάσισε την απόρριψη της ένστασης, άνευ ουσιαστικής αιτιολογίας, στηρίζοντας την απόρριψη σε μία αμφίβολης προέλευσης, ποιότητας, αξιοπιστίας και εγκυρότητας πραγματογνωμοσύνη, ενός αναρμόδιου πραγματογνώμονα (όχι γιατρού, αλλά κοινωνικού επιστήμονα –εγκληματολόγου/ανθρωπολόγου), ο οποίος υποτίθεται ότι κατάφερε να διαβάσει ακτινογραφίες και να διαπιστώσει ότι είναι ενήλικοι και επιπλέον παραβιάζοντας την εκ του νόμου προβλεπόμενη διαδικασία για την εκτίμηση της ηλικίας. Το δικαστήριο δεν έλαβε υπόψη του ούτε το ευεργέτημα της αμφιβολίας για την ηλικία των κατηγορούμενων, όπως αυτό προβλέπεται από τη Διεθνή Σύμβαση για τα Δικαιώματα του Παιδιού.

Περαιτέρω απορρίφθηκε παραχρήμα και η ένσταση περί επίδοσης όλων των εγγράφων της κατηγορίας στους κατηγορούμενους στα ελληνικά, χωρίς ούτε στοιχειώδη μετάφραση αποσπασμάτων του κατηγορητηρίου σε γλώσσα που να κατανοούν, παρόλο που αυτό προβλέπεται τόσο στις οδηγίες 2010/64/ΕΕ του ευρωπαϊκού κοινοβουλίου και του συμβουλίου της 20/10/2010 και 2012/13/ΕΕ του ευρωπαϊκού κοινοβουλίου και του συμβουλίου της 22/05/2012, όσο και στο άρθρο 237 ΚΠΔ.

Το τεκμήριο της αθωότητας των κατηγορουμένων και κάθε έννοια του κράτους δικαίου είχε καταλυθεί από την πρώτη στιγμή. Καίτοι από τα επίσημα έγγραφα της προανάκρισης σαφέστατα προκύπτει ότι όλοι συνελήφθησαν στις 15/09/2020 μεταξύ 22:50 και 23:00 (το βράδυ δηλαδή), εμφανίζονται (και πάλι στα επίσημα έγγραφα) να απολογούνται στις 15/09/2020 μεταξύ 13:00 και 13:30 (το μεσημέρι δηλαδή), πριν συλληφθούν. Την ίδια μέρα και πριν τη σύλληψή τους υπήρξαν δηλώσεις δύο υπουργών της κυβέρνησης, ότι οι δράστες του εμπρησμού της Μόριας συνελήφθησαν, κρατούνται, θα καταδικαστούν και θα απελαθούν. 

Η καταδίκη των κατηγορούμενων στηρίχθηκε αποκλειστικά στη γραπτή κατάθεση στην αστυνομία ενός και μοναδικού μάρτυρα-κατοίκου του στρατοπέδου, ο οποίος κλήθηκε (χωρίς συγκεκριμένο κριτήριο) αυτός και μόνο και κανένας άλλος κάτοικος, στον οποίο δόθηκε το δικαίωμα να καταθέσει χωρίς να δηλώσει μόνιμη κατοικία, ώστε να καταστεί ανέφικτος ο εντοπισμός του στα μεταγενέστερα στάδια της διαδικασίας. Περαιτέρω δεν έγινε καμία προσπάθεια ανεύρεσής του από την εισαγγελία, μέσω της υπηρεσίας ασύλου ή της αστυνομίας που έχει πρόσβαση στα στοιχεία της υπηρεσίας ασύλου, όπου κάθε αιτών άσυλο ή έχων καθεστώς πρόσφυγα είναι υποχρεωμένος να δηλώνει τη μόνιμη διεύθυνσή του. Η εισαγγελία αρκέστηκε να τον θεωρήσει ως αγνώστου διαμονής, να τον απαλλάξει από τη βάσανο της προφορικής διαδικασίας, με αποτέλεσμα να αναγνωσθεί η κατάθεσή του στο δικαστήριο, απορριφθείσας (χωρίς αιτιολογία) της σχετικής ένστασης που προτάθηκε από τους συνηγόρους υπεράσπισης, περί καταστρατήγησης του υπερασπιστικού δικαιώματος των κατηγορούμενων. Στη συγκεκριμένη κατάθεση, ο μοναδικός μάρτυρας κατηγορίας που ενοχοποιεί τους κατηγορούμενους, τους «αναγνωρίζει» μόνο με τα μικρά τους ονόματα, χωρίς να τους περιγράφει ή να δίνει κάποιο άλλο χαρακτηριστικό που να τους ταυτοποιεί. Ως εκ θαύματος, η αστυνομία του επιδεικνύει πέντε συγκεκριμένες φωτογραφίες (μολονότι τα μικρά ονόματα που αναφέρει είναι ιδιαίτερα κοινά στην αφγανική κοινότητα), από τις οποίες αναγνωρίζει ανεπιφύλακτα και με τον τρόπο αυτό καθιστά τους συγκεκριμένους ανθρώπους κατηγορούμενους. Μόνο αυτός και με αυτό τον τρόπο, καθώς πολλοί άλλοι μάρτυρες κατηγορίας, αστυνομικοί και πυροσβέστες, δεν ήταν σε θέση να τους αναγνωρίσουν, παρόλο που ήταν αυτόπτες μάρτυρες στην πυρκαγιά. Αξίζει να σημειωθεί ότι η κατάθεση του εν λόγω μάρτυρα ανατρέπεται με τον πλέον ξεκάθαρο και αξιόπιστο τρόπο από την ίδια την Έκθεση της Πυροσβεστικής Υπηρεσίας Μυτιλήνης, καθώς ο ίδιος εμφανίζεται να «αναγνωρίζει» άτομα να βάζουν φωτιά σε συγκεκριμένη μέρα και περιοχή του ΚΥΤ, που σύμφωνα με την Έκθεση όχι μόνο δεν είχε καεί την κρίσιμη ημέρα αλλά την επομένη και μάλιστα όχι από ανθρώπινη ενέργεια αλλά εξαιτίας της φοράς του ανέμου.

Κατά τη διάρκεια της διαδικασίας υπήρξαν και άλλες μείζονες παραβιάσεις (διερμηνείας, προσβολής των μαρτύρων υπεράσπισης, δικαιώματος στην απολογία των κατηγορουμένων κ.λ.π.) και άλλα διάφορα παράδοξα (δόθηκε η πολυτέλεια σε μάρτυρα κατηγορίας, του οποίου το κτήμα είχε σε άλλη χρονική στιγμή καεί να περιγράφει με λεπτομέρειες  την απώλεια της περιουσίας του, μολονότι δεν υπήρχε κατηγορία για τους συγκεκριμένους κατηγορούμενους επ’ αυτού).

Τέλος, δεν αναγνωρίστηκε ομόφωνα από το δικαστήριο στους κατηγορούμενους κανένα ελαφρυντικό, ούτε καν αυτό του νεαρού παραβάτη, καίτοι η ελληνική πολιτεία ήδη τους είχε αναγνωρίσει ως τέτοιους προφυλακίζοντάς τους σε ειδικό κατάστημα κράτησης, πόσο μάλλον αυτό των μη ταπεινών αιτίων, στηριζόμενης της επ’ αυτού κρίσης στις πραγματικά απάνθρωπες συνθήκες διαβίωσης των κατηγορούμενων στο «κολαστήριο» της Μόριας, όπως αναγνωρίστηκε από όλους μετά την καταστροφή του.

Όλα τα παραπάνω καταλείπουν την αδιαμφισβήτητη εντύπωση ότι, η συγκεκριμένη δίκη κάθε άλλο παρά δίκαιη θα μπορούσε να χαρακτηριστεί και ότι η σκοπιμότητα και η πολιτική εκμετάλλευση σε ζητήματα εθνικού ενδιαφέροντος και τέρψης της κοινής γνώμης, υποσκελίζουν το οποιοδήποτε δικαίωμα των κατηγορουμένων.

Οι Συνήγοροι Υπεράσπισης

FREE THE MORIA 6: A STATEMENT FROM THE DEFENCE LAWYERS ON THE UNFAIR TRIAL OF FOUR OF THOSE ACCUSED OF THE MORIA FIRES

On Friday 11 and Saturday 12 June 2021, the trial of four young Afghans, accused by the Greek authorities for the fire in Moria which resulted in the camp’s total destruction in September 2020, took place in Chios before a Mixed Jury Court.

All four were unanimously sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, without recognition of any mitigating circumstances, and without their appeal having a suspensive effect. They were therefore taken back to Avlona prison, near Athens, where they have already been held in pre-trial detention for almost ten months.

The court’s intended procedure was evident from the outset of the trial. Upon entry to the court and on the order of the President of the Judges, the defence lawyers were first searched, including the case files and their personal belongings (wallets, etc.). After that, the request of four journalists (two from Greek press and two from international media) and two international trial observers (lawyers accredited by international legal associations) to attend the trial in order to ensure a minimum level of public oversight, were rejected under the pretext that COVID-19 measures prohibited the presence of more than 15 persons inside the court. At the same time, 7 to 9 police officers were present inside the courtroom throughout the proceedings, in order to maintain unnecessary order. It is worth noting that a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was also excluded from attending the trial for the same reasons.

The trial started with an objection, launched by defence lawyers, related to the court’s lack of jurisdiction. Three of the four defendants were minors at the time of the alleged commission of the crime, and provided the Public Prosecutor’s office with official documents from their country of origin that demonstrated their minority. Pursuant to Joint Ministerial Decision 9889/2020, Article 1, para. 12, this is sufficient to prove their juvenile status. Consequently, their case should have been heard before juvenile court. However, the court rejected this objection, without any substantial reasoning, based  on the “expert” opinion of dubious quality, reliability and validity issued by a social scientist with a criminology and anthropology background (instead of a competent doctor) who claimed, based on X-rays of the defendants’ hands, that the three were adults. This is in stark violation of the procedure for age assessment provided for by law (i.e. the aforementioned Joint Ministerial Decision). The court also failed to take into account the presumption of minority regarding the defendants’ ages, as provided for by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The trial continued with an objection, again launched by defence lawyers, concerning the issuance of the defendants’ indictment in Greek. No translation was offered to them, not even of the essential parts of the indictment. This objection was also rejected, despite the fact that EU Directives 2010/64/EU and 2012/13/EU, in addition to Article 237 of the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure, require indictment documents to be served in a language that the defendants understand.

In this case, the presumption of innocence of the accused and the rule of law were  dismantled from the very first moment. Official documents of the preliminary investigation state that all the defendants were arrested on 15 September 2020 between 22:50 and 23:00 (i.e. in the evening), and yet they appear (again in the official documents) to have been interrogated by the police on 15 September 2020 between 13:00 and 13:30 (i.e. at noon), before they were arrested. Furthermore, on the same day of their arrest and prior to their interrogation, the Minister of Migration and the Minister of Citizen Protection stated that the perpetrators of the fire in Moria had been arrested and detained, and that they would be tried and deported. 

The conviction of the defendants was solely based on the written testimony to the police of a single witness, who was another resident of the Moria camp. This person – and no other resident of Moria – was called (without any specific justification) and given the right to testify without declaring a permanent residence, which made it impossible to locate him in the later stages of the proceedings. Furthermore, no attempt was ever made by the public prosecutor’s office to locate this “witness,” be it through the asylum service or the police, before which all asylum seekers or refugees are obliged to declare their  permanent address. The Public Prosecutor’s office was content to consider him as an “unknown resident”, thus relieving him of the burden of the oral procedure before the court (and shielding him from cross-examination). The court rejected the defence counsels’ objection that this violated the defendants’ right of defence, admitted his testimony and read it aloud in court. 

In his written testimony, this man – the sole witness for the prosecution incriminating the defendants – “identified” them only by mentioning their first names, without offering a physical description or any other identifying characteristics. Even though the first names he mentioned are some of the most common ones in the Afghan community, the police miraculously showed him five specific photographs of the defendants based on which he unreservedly confirmed their identities, thereby making these people the accused. None of the other prosecution witnesses, be it police officers or firefighters, were able to identify the defendants, although they were eyewitnesses to the fire. 

Furthermore, this “witness” testimony is in direct contradiction to the report prepared by  the Mytilene Fire Service itself. The “witness” identified the defendants as setting fire to a specific area of Moria camp on a specific day – which, according to the Mytilene Fire Service, did not burn on that day and, in any case, was not set alight by people. Instead, that area of the camp was destroyed solely by fires spread by the wind. 

During the trial, other major procedural violations were documented, including: erroneous or incomplete interpretation; insults to and harassment of defence witnesses; violations of the rights of the defence witnesses; and violations of the right of the defendants to make a statement. Various other paradoxes manifested during the trial: for instance, a prosecution witness who had lost property in a separate fire to those in Moria camp on September 8 was given the luxury of describing, in detail and without interruption, this loss, even though it had no relation to the trial and there were no associated charges against the defendants. 

Finally, the court unanimously decided to reject all mitigating circumstances in the defendants’ sentencing. This included a refusal to recognise their young age, despite the fact that the Greek state had already recognised this vulnerability by incarcerating them in a specific juvenile prison. Not even the inhumane living conditions of the defendants in the “hell” of Moria – otherwise recognised by all – were taken into account by the court to reduce the defendants’ sentence. 

All of the above leaves the undeniable impression that the trial in question was anything but fair, and that in matters of national interest and public opinion, such as the Moria fire, expediency and political exploitation subordinate the rule of law and the rights of the accused.

THE DEFENSE LAWYERS

Greece deems Turkey “safe”, but refugees are not / “Ασφαλής” η Τουρκία, ανασφαλείς οι πρόσφυγες

Photo credit: No Border Kitchen, Demonstration in Lesvos against the EU-Turkey Deal in 2019

Ελληνικα

The substantive examination of asylum applications is the only safe solution for refugees.

Athens, 14 June 2021

With a new Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD) issued on 7 June,[1] the Greek State designates Turkey as a “safe third country” for families, men, women and children of five nationalities[2] seeking international protection in Greece. It is noted that the JMD applies even to those from countries with high recognition rates for international protection, such as Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.[3] This decision reinforces the policy established by the March 2016 EU-Turkey Statement that shifts the responsibility to protect refugees, including unaccompanied children,[4] arriving in Europe to third countries.

For years, the effect of this externalisation policy has been to turn the Greek islands into a place of confinement for thousands of displaced and persecuted people, as authorities prioritised “containing” them on the islands to facilitate their return to third countries. This created places like Moria that became shameful symbols of Europe’s failure to protect refugees. But the solution is not to send displaced individuals to Turkey. In Turkey, people seeking asylum from non-European countries are not granted international protection per the 1951 Refugee Convention, while in March 2021 Turkey announced it would withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, and will thus not be protecting victims of gender-based violence, who are at an increased risk in case of return from Greece, based on the new JMD. People should not be returned to a country where their lives would be in danger, but multiple reports over recent years warn of the refoulement of refugees from Turkey, even to war zones in Syria.[5] Furthermore, the concept of a “safe third country” presupposes the existence of an essential connection between the asylum seeker and that country, as well as the consent of the third country to receive the returnee. These conditions are not met in the case of Turkey.

The decision to designate Turkey as a “safe third country”, should be revoked for the aforementioned reasons. Furthermore, the unworkability of this new law is highlighted, since as far back as March 2020, Turkey is not accepting the return of refugees and asylum seekers from Greece. This has been pointed out by Greece’s Ministry of Migration and Asylum as well as the European Commission.[6] Refugees whose applications have been rejected as inadmissible according to the “safe third country” principle, are already enduring a situation of protracted legal uncertainty, social exclusion, destitution, homelessness, and even prolonged detention in Greece, which is at risk of turning into a prison.[7] This JMD will serve only to increase the number of people in such a situation.

In fact, as has been pointed out in relevant interventions by the Greek Ombudsperson, and more recently in a reply by the Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission,[8] in these cases applicants must be able to re-apply for asylum, and have their applications examined on their merits, in accordance with EU and national law.[9]

In line with a recent announcement by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),[10] our organisations stress that “externalization simply shifts asylum responsibilities elsewhere and evades international obligations”. We once again call on the Greek and European authorities to honour their responsibility to protect refugees and to avoid further undermining the European asylum acquis and the fundamental principles and values for protecting human rights. To this end, we call on Greece to revoke the JMD issued on 7 June.

Signatories

Action for education 

ΑRSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth

Better Days 

Centre Diotima

ECHO100PLUS

ELIX 

Equal Rights Beyond Borders

Europe Must Act 

European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL)

Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid

Greek Council for Refugees (GCR)

Greek Forum of Migrants  

Greek Forum of Refugees (GFR)

Greek Helsinki Monitor

Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR)

HumanRights360

Human Rights Legal Project

Initiative for the Detainees’ Rights

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

INTERSOS

INTERSOS Hellas

Irida Women’s Center

Legal Centre Lesvos

Lesvos Solidarity

Lighthouse Relief

Médecins du Monde – Greece

METAdrasi- Action for Migration and Development 

Mobile Info Team (MIT)

Network for Children’s Rights

Network for the Social Support of Refugees and Migrants

Odyssea

Refugees International

Refugee Law Clinic Berlin

Refugee Legal Support (RLS)

Refugee Rights Europe (RRE)

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA)

Samos Volunteers

SolidarityNow

Still I Rise

Terre des hommes Hellas


[1] Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD) 42799/2021, Gov. Gazette 2425/Β/7-6-2021, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3gjEYcI.

[2] The JMD applies to nationals of Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Bangladesh and Pakistan

[3] Indicatively, in 2020, the rate of positive decisions issued by the Greek Asylum Service (GAS) for asylum applicants from Somalia was 94.1%, from Syria 91.6% and from Afghanistan 66.2%. RSA, “Asylum statistics for 2020 A need for regular and transparent official information”, 11 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3vcbC5K.

[4] According to the latest available statistics issued by the National Center for Social Solidarity (EKKA), 68% of unaccompanied children that have been identified in Greece are from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Accordingly, and in any case, the implementation of the JMD is not in line with the principle of the best interests of the child and the protective provisions of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.  On the latest available statistics see EKKA, Situation Update: Unaccompanied Children (UAC) in Greece, 15 May 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3wcByPw.

[5] Amongst others: EASO, Syria Situation of returnees from abroad: Country of Origin Information,June 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3weoZUn, pp. 12-13; AIDA, Country Report Turkey (May 2021 update), 31 May 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3gfnyzr; DW, “Amnesty: Turkey forced Syrian refugees back into war zone”, 25 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3pAOpc3; ECRE, “Human Rights Watch report: push backs of Syrian refugees by Turkey”, 30 March 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2T43XsK; Human Rights Watch, “Turkey: Syrians Pushed Back at the Border”, 23 November 2015, available at: https://bit.ly/3x2tPUA.

[6] Amongst others: Ministry of Migration and Asylum, “Request by Greece towards the EU for the immediate return 1,450 third country nationals under the Joint EU-Turkey Statement”, 14 January 2021, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3izPzmA; European Commission, Commission Staff Working Document: Turkey 2020 Report, 6 October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3xgt4aK, p. 48.

[7] It is noted that the majority (65.8%) of international protection applications that were submitted in Greece in 2020 regarded asylum seekers from the 5 countries that are stated in the JMD. Ministry of Migration and Asylum, Annual briefing 2020, 19 January 2021, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3wfCgfi, p.13.

[8] EN P-000604/2021, Answer given by Ms Johansson on behalf of the European Commission (1.6.2021), διαθέσιμο στα αγγλικά στο: https://bit.ly/3cuwEGb.

[9] Article 38, para. 4 Directive 2013/32/EU on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection (recast) and article 86, para. 5 L. 4636/2019 (also known as “IPA”).

[10] UNHCR, “UNHCR warns against “exporting” asylum, calls for responsibility sharing for refugees, not burden shifting”,19 May 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3v7EgEN.

“Ασφαλής” η Τουρκία, ανασφαλείς οι πρόσφυγες

Η ουσιαστική εξέταση των αιτήσεων ασύλου είναι η μόνη ασφαλής λύση για άτομα που χρήζουν διεθνούς προστασίας.

Αθήνα, 14 Ιουνίου 2021: Με νέα ΚΥΑ που εκδόθηκε στις 7 Ιουνίου,[1] η ελληνική Πολιτεία ορίζει την Τουρκία ως «ασφαλή τρίτη χώρα» για οικογένειες, άντρες, γυναίκες και παιδιά που αιτούνται διεθνή προστασία στη χώρα μας, προερχόμενοι από πέντε χώρες,[2] ακόμα και με υψηλά ποσοστά αναγνώρισης διεθνούς προστασίας, όπως η Συρία, το Αφγανιστάν και η Σομαλία.[3] Με αυτή την απόφαση πρακτικά παγιώνεται η πολιτική αποποίησης της ευθύνης προστασίας των προσφύγων στην Ευρώπη, ακόμη και των ασυνόδευτων παιδιών,[4] στο πλαίσιο που τέθηκε ήδη από την εφαρμογή της Κοινής Δήλωσης ΕΕ-Τουρκίας, το Μάρτιο του 2016.

Επισημαίνεται ότι η πολιτική αυτή έχει επί χρόνια μετατρέψει τα ελληνικά νησιά σε τόπο εγκλωβισμού χιλιάδων κατατρεγμένων και διωγμένων, με στόχο τη διευκόλυνση της επιστροφής τους σε τρίτες χώρες. Έχει δε γεννήσει ευρωπαϊκά σύμβολα ντροπής, όπως η Μόρια. Ωστόσο η λύση δεν μπορεί να είναι η επιστροφή εκτοπισμένων ατόμων στην Τουρκία. Η Τουρκία δεν παρέχει την διεθνή προστασία της Σύμβασης της Γενεύης του 1951 σε άτομα που αιτούνται διεθνή προστασία προερχόμενα από μη Ευρωπαϊκές χώρες, ενώ από το Μάρτιο του 2021 ανακοίνωσε ότι αποχωρεί από τη Σύμβαση της Κωνσταντινούπολης και ως εκ τούτου δεν θα προστατεύει πλέον τα θύματα έμφυλης βίας, που κινδυνεύουν σε περίπτωση επιστροφής από την Ελλάδα, βάσει της νέας ΚΥΑ. Τονίζεται, δε, πως σειρά αναφορών έχουν ανά τα χρόνια κρούσει τον κώδωνα του κινδύνου για επαναπροωθήσεις προσφύγων από την Τουρκία, ακόμη και προς εμπόλεμες ζώνες της Συρίας.[5] Περαιτέρω, η έννοια της ασφαλούς τρίτης χώρας προϋποθέτει την ύπαρξη ουσιώδους συνδέσμου του αιτούντα άσυλο με τη χώρα αυτή και τη συναίνεση της τρίτης χώρας, προκειμένου να είναι εφικτή η επιστροφή του ατόμου. Αμφότερες οι προϋποθέσεις στην περίπτωση της Τουρκίας δεν συντρέχουν.

Η απόφαση περί της Τουρκίας ως ασφαλούς τρίτης χώρας θα πρέπει να ανακληθεί για τους λόγους που αναφέρθηκαν. Έρχεται δε σε καιρό που, ήδη από τον Μάρτιο του 2020, η Τουρκία δεν δέχεται την επιστροφή προσφύγων και αιτούντων άσυλο από την Ελλάδα, όπως, εξάλλου, έχει επισημανθεί από το Υπουργείο Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου και από την Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή.[6] Αυτό έχει ήδη οδηγήσει πρόσφυγες, των οποίων τα  αιτήματα έχουν απορριφθεί ως απαράδεκτα, κατ’ εφαρμογή της έννοιας της «ασφαλούς τρίτης χώρας», σε ένα καθεστώς νομικής αβεβαιότητας, κοινωνικού αποκλεισμού, οικονομικής εξουθένωσης, αστεγίας, αλλά ακόμη και παρατεταμένης κράτησης στη χώρα μας, η οποία κινδυνεύει να μετατραπεί σε φυλακή.[7] Η εφαρμογή της ΚΥΑ θα εξωθήσει ακόμη περισσότερα άτομα στην ίδια κατάσταση.

Μάλιστα, όπως έχει επισημανθεί σε σχετικές παρεμβάσεις του Συνηγόρου του Πολίτη, αλλά και πιο πρόσφατα από την Επίτροπο Εσωτερικών και Μετανάστευσης της Ευρωπαϊκής Επιτροπής,[8] σε αυτές τις περιπτώσεις θα πρέπει να δοθεί εκ νέου πρόσβαση στη διαδικασία ασύλου, στην οποία θα πρέπει να εξετασθεί η ουσία των αιτημάτων, κατ’ εφαρμογή του ενωσιακού και εθνικού δικαίου.[9]

Σε πλήρη σύμπνοια με το πνεύμα πρόσφατης ανακοίνωσης της Ύπατης Αρμοστείας του ΟΗΕ για τους Πρόσφυγες,[10] οι οργανώσεις μας επισημαίνουν πως «η “εξωτερικοποίηση” είναι απλώς ένας τρόπος να μετατοπίζονται οι ευθύνες […] και να παρακάμπτονται οι διεθνείς υποχρεώσεις» και καλούν για μια ακόμη φορά τις ελληνικές και ευρωπαϊκές αρχές να σεβαστούν την ευθύνη προστασίας των προσφύγων, ώστε να αποφευχθεί και η περαιτέρω διολίσθηση του ευρωπαϊκού κεκτημένου για το άσυλο και των θεμελιωδών αρχών και αξιών προστασίας των Δικαιωμάτων του Ανθρώπου. Προς αυτό το σκοπό, καλούμε την ελληνική Πολιτεία να ανακαλέσει την από 7 Ιουνίου ΚΥΑ.

Οι υπογράφουσες οργανώσεις

Action for education 

Αλληλεγγύη Λέσβου

ΑΡΣΙΣ – Κοινωνική Οργάνωση Υποστήριξης Νέων

Better Days 

Γιατροί του Κόσμου – Ελλάδα

Δίκτυο για τα Δικαιώματα του Παιδιού

Δίκτυο Κοινωνικής Υποστήριξης Προσφύγων και Μεταναστών

ECHO100PLUS

ΕΛΙΞ

Ελληνική Ένωση για τα Δικαιώματα του Ανθρώπου (ΕλΕΔΑ)

Ελληνικό Παρατηρητήριο των Συμφωνιών του Ελσίνκι

Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες (ΕΣΠ)

Ελληνικό Φόρουμ Μεταναστών 

Ελληνικό Φόρουμ Προσφύγων

Equal Rights Beyond Borders

Europe Must Act 

European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL)

Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid

HumanRights360

Human Rights Legal Project

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

INTERSOS

INTERSOS Hellas

Ίριδα – Κέντρο Γυναικών 

Κέντρο Διοτίμα

Legal Centre Lesvos

Lighthouse Relief

ΜΕΤΑδραση – Δράση για την Μετανάστευση και την Ανάπτυξη 

Mobile Info Team (MIT)

Odyssea

Πρωτοβουλία για τα Δικαιώματα των Κρατουμένων

Refugees International

Refugee Law Clinic Berlin

Refugee Legal Support (RLS)

Refugee Rights Europe (RRE)

Samos Volunteers

SolidarityNow

Still I Rise

Terre des hommes Hellas

Υποστήριξη Προσφύγων στο Αιγαίο (RSA)


[1] Κοινή Υπουργική Απόφαση Αριθμ. 42799/2021 ΦΕΚ 2425/Β/7-6-2021.

[2] Συγκεκριμένα τη Συρία, το Αφγανιστάν, τη Σομαλία, το Πακιστάν και το Μπαγκλαντές.

[3] Ενδεικτικά, για το 2020, το ποσοστό θετικών αποφάσεων που εξέδωσε η Υπηρεσία Ασύλου για αιτούντες και αιτούσες άσυλο από τη Σομαλία ήταν 94,1%, από τη Συρία 91,6% και από το Αφγανιστάν 66,2%. RSA, «Στατιστικά στοιχεία για το σύστημα ασύλου το 2020», 11 Φεβρουαρίου 2021, διαθέσιμο στο: https://bit.ly/3wenF3R.

[4] Σύμφωνα με τα τελευταία διαθέσιμα στατιστικά του ΕΚΚΑ,  το 68% των ασυνόδευτων παιδιών που έχουν εντοπιστεί στην Ελλάδα προέρχονται από τη Συρία, το Αφγανιστάν και το Πακιστάν. Συνεπώς και σε κάθε περίπτωση η εφαρμογή της ΚΥΑ  δεν συνάδει με την αρχή του βέλτιστου συμφέροντος του παιδιού και τις προστατευτικές διατάξεις που προβλέπει η Διεθνής Σύμβαση για τα Δικαιώματα του Παιδιού. Για τα τελευταία διαθέσιμα στατιστικά, βλ. ΕΚΚΑ, Επικαιροποιημένη κατάσταση: Ασυνόδευτα Ανήλικα (Α.Α.) στην Ελλάδα, 15 Μαΐου 2021, διαθέσιμο στο: https://bit.ly/3zlsla0.

[5] Μεταξύ άλλων: EASO, Syria Situation of returnees from abroad: Country of Origin Information,Ιούνιος 2021, διαθέσιμο στα αγγλικά στο: https://bit.ly/3weoZUn, σσ. 12-13; AIDA, Country Report Turkey (May 2021 update), 31 Μαΐου 2021, διαθέσιμο στα αγγλικά στο: https://bit.ly/3gfnyzr; DW, “Amnesty: Turkey forced Syrian refugees back into war zone”, 25 Οκτωβρίου 2019, διαθέσιμο στα αγγλικά στο: https://bit.ly/3pAOpc3; ECRE, “Human Rights Watch report: push backs of Syrian refugees by Turkey”, 30 Μαρτίου 2018, διαθέσιμο στα αγγλικά στο: https://bit.ly/2T43XsK; Human Rights Watch, “Turkey: Syrians Pushed Back at the Border”, 23 Νοεμβρίου 2015, διαθέσιμο στα αγγλικά στο: https://bit.ly/3x2tPUA.

[6] Μεταξύ άλλων: Υπουργείο Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου, «Αίτημα Ελλάδος προς ΕΕ για την άμεση επιστροφή 1.450 αλλοδαπών βάσει της Κοινής Δήλωσης ΕΕ-Τουρκίας», 14 Ιανουαρίου 2021, διαθέσιμο στο: https://bit.ly/3izPzmA; European Commission, Commission Staff Working Document: Turkey 2020 Report, 6 Οκτωβρίου 2020, διαθέσιμο στα αγγλικά στο: https://bit.ly/3xgt4aK, σ. 48.

[7] Επισημαίνεται πως η πλειοψηφία (65,8%) των αιτήσεων διεθνούς προστασίας που υποβλήθηκαν το 2020 στη χώρα μας αφορούσαν αιτούντες και αιτούσες άσυλο από τις 5 χώρες που προβλέπει η ΚΥΑ. Υπουργείο Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου, Ετήσιο Ενημερωτικό Σημείωμα 2020, 19 Ιανουαρίου 2021, διαθέσιμο στο: https://bit.ly/3wfCgfi, σ.13.

[8] EN P-000604/2021, Answer given by Ms Johansson on behalf of the European Commission (1.6.2021), διαθέσιμο στα αγγλικά στο: https://bit.ly/3cuwEGb.

[9] Άρθρο 38, παρ. 4 Οδηγίας 2013/32/ΕΕ για τις διαδικασίες ασύλου, άρθρο 86, παρ. 5 Ν 4636/2019.

[10] Υ.Α. ΟΗΕ για τους Πρόσφυγες, «Η Ύπατη Αρμοστεία προειδοποιεί κατά της «εξωτερικής ανάθεσης» της διαδικασίας ασύλου, ζητά τον επιμερισμό και όχι τη μετατόπιση της ευθύνης για τους πρόσφυγες», 19 Μαΐου 2021, διαθέσιμο στο: https://bit.ly/3v7EgEN.

GREEK AUTHORITIES DECLARE TURKEY SAFE FOR AFGHAN, BANGLADESHI, SYRIAN, SOMALI AND PAKISTANI NATIONALS / ΟΙ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΈΣ ΑΡΧΈΣ ΚΗΡΎΣΣΟΥΝ ΤΗΝ ΤΟΥΡΚΊΑ ΑΣΦΑΛΉ ΓΙΑ ΤΟΥΣ ΥΠΗΚΌΟΥΣ ΑΦΓΑΝΙΣΤΆΝ, ΜΠΑΓΚΛΑΝΤΈΣ, ΣΎΡΙΟΥΣ, ΣΟΜΑΛΟΎΣ ΚΑΙ ΠΑΚΙΣΤΑΝΟΎΣ

Photo Credit: Deportation Monitoring Aegean

ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ

Yesterday, the Greek authorities furthered Europe’s border externalisation policy through the formal designation of Turkey as a safe country for Afghan, Syrian, Somali, Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals. 

Announced in a new Joint Ministerial Decision,* this means that all new asylum claims made by people of these nationalities may face expedited examination of their claim, and likely will have their application for asylum rejected as ‘inadmissible’ on the grounds that Turkey is a safe country for them – meaning that they could be “readmitted” (deportated) to Turkey, without an examination of the merits of their asylum claim – i.e.  the reason they left their home country. The populations targeted are by no means surprising: as of April 2021, the majority of the migrant population on the Aegean islands are from Afghanistan (50%), Syria (15%) and Somalia (8%). 

Turkey is not a safe third country for migrants. Most migrants are unable to access any form of protection in Turkey, owing to a geographic restriction that it imposed to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, and migrants there are at grave risk of exploitation, inhumane detention, and deportation. Only Syrian nationals are able to obtain a form of temporary protection, which falls far short of refugee protection and, in practice, provides little defence against refoulement.  

The EU-Turkey Statement had a clear mandate to exclude all new arrivals from obtaining international protection in Europe, and to confine those who did arrive in liminal European territory until they could be returned. However, since the codification of the EU-Turkey Statement into Greek law in 2016, only Syrian nationals have been found “inadmissible” on the (objectively erroneous) grounds that Turkey is a safe country from which they could seek and obtain international protection. This was despite political pressure from the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) to reject all asylum claims as inadmissible since the EU-Turkey Statement’s implementation. 

Yesterday’s decision expanding the notion that Turkey is “safe” for five additional nationalities is indeed a step further in “the full and unconditional implementation” of the EU-Turkey Statement, as confirmed by Minister of Migration and Asylum N. Mitarachis. Moreover, it is an explicit and unapologetic endorsement of Europe’s drive to exclude migrants from its territory, which are manifest in its policies of systematic violence and continued, fatal disregard for migrant lives.

* Αριθμ. 42799, Καθορισμός τρίτων χωρών που χαρακτηρίζονται ως ασφαλείς και κατάρτιση εθνικού καταλόγου, κατά τα οριζόμενα στο άρθρο 86 του ν. 4636/2019 (Α’ 169).

ΟΙ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΈΣ ΑΡΧΈΣ ΚΗΡΎΣΣΟΥΝ ΤΗΝ ΤΟΥΡΚΊΑ ΑΣΦΑΛΉ ΓΙΑ ΤΟΥΣ ΥΠΗΚΌΟΥΣ ΑΦΓΑΝΙΣΤΆΝ, ΜΠΑΓΚΛΑΝΤΈΣ, ΣΎΡΙΟΥΣ, ΣΟΜΑΛΟΎΣ ΚΑΙ ΠΑΚΙΣΤΑΝΟΎΣ

Χθες, οι ελληνικές αρχές επέκτειναν την πολιτική της Ευρώπης για την διεύρυνση των εξωτερικών συνόρων με τον επίσημο χαρακτηρισμό της Τουρκίας ως ασφαλούς χώρας για τους Αφγανούς, Σύρους, Σομαλούς, Πακιστανούς και Μπαγκλαντεσιανούς υπηκόους. 

Αυτό σημαίνει ότι όλες οι νέες αιτήσεις ασύλου που υποβάλλονται από άτομα αυτών των εθνικότητων μπορεί να αντιμετωπίσουν ταχεία εξέταση του αιτήματός τους, και πιθανότατα η αίτησή τους για άσυλο θα απορριφθεί ως “απαράδεκτη” με την αιτιολογία ότι η Τουρκία είναι ασφαλής χώρα γι’ αυτούς – πράγμα που σημαίνει ότι θα μπορούσαν να “επιστραφούν” (απελαθούν) στην Τουρκία, χωρίς να εξεταστεί η βασιμότητα του αιτήματός τους για άσυλο – δηλαδή ο λόγος για τον οποίο εγκατέλειψαν την πατρίδα τους. Οι πληθυσμοί στους οποίους απευθύνονται δεν αποτελούν καθόλου έκπληξη: από τον Απρίλιο του 2021, η πλειοψηφία του μεταναστευτικού πληθυσμού στα νησιά του Αιγαίου προέρχεται από το Αφγανιστάν (50%), τη Συρία (15%) και τη Σομαλία (8%). 

Η Τουρκία δεν είναι μια ασφαλής τρίτη χώρα για τους μετανάστες. Οι περισσότεροι μετανάστες δεν έχουν πρόσβαση σε καμία μορφή προστασίας στην Τουρκία, λόγω του γεωγραφικού περιορισμού που επέβαλε στη Σύμβαση του 1951 για το Καθεστώς των Προσφύγων, και παράλληλα εκεί διατρέχουν σοβαρό κίνδυνο εκμετάλλευσης, απάνθρωπης κράτησης και απέλασης. Μόνο οι υπήκοοι της Συρίας είναι σε θέση να αποκτήσουν μια μορφή προσωρινής προστασίας, η οποία υπολείπεται κατά πολύ της προστασίας των προσφύγων και, στην πράξη, παρέχει ελάχιστη άμυνα κατά της επαναπροώθησης.  

Η Δήλωση ΕΕ-Τουρκίας έχει σαφή πρόθεση να αποκλείσει όλους τους νεοαφιχθέντες από την απόκτηση διεθνούς προστασίας στην Ευρώπη και να περιορίσει όσους έφταναν σε οριακό ευρωπαϊκό έδαφος μέχρι να μπορέσουν να επιστραφούν. Ωστόσο, από την κωδικοποίηση της Δήλωση ΕΕ-Τουρκίας στο ελληνικό δίκαιο το 2016, μόνο οι Σύριοι υπήκοοι έχουν κριθεί “απαράδεκτοι” με την (αντικειμενικά λανθασμένη) αιτιολογία ότι η Τουρκία είναι μια ασφαλής χώρα από την οποία θα μπορούσαν να ζητήσουν και να λάβουν διεθνή προστασία. Αυτό συνέβη παρά τις πολιτικές πιέσεις της Ευρωπαϊκής Υπηρεσίας Υποστήριξης για το Άσυλο (EASO) να απορρίψει όλες τις αιτήσεις ασύλου ως απαράδεκτες μετά την εφαρμογή της δήλωσης ΕΕ-Τουρκίας. 

Η χθεσινή απόφαση που επεκτείνει την έννοια ότι η Τουρκία είναι “ασφαλής” για πέντε επιπλέον εθνικότητες αποτελεί πράγματι ένα βήμα προς την “πλήρη και άνευ όρων εφαρμογή ” της δήλωσης ΕΕ-Τουρκίας, όπως επιβεβαίωσε ο υπουργός Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου Ν. Μηταράκης. Επιπλέον, αποτελεί ρητή και αδιαμαρτύρητη έγκριση της προσπάθειας της Ευρώπης να εξοστρακίσει τους μετανάστες από το έδαφός της, η οποία εκδηλώνεται με τις πολιτικές της συστηματικής βίας και της συνεχούς, μοιραίας περιφρόνησης των ζωών των μεταναστών. 

H εφαρμογή της δήλωσης ΕΕ-Τουρκίας απέχει πολύ από τους αρχικούς στόχους της Ευρώπης. Ενώ οδήγησε σε βίαιες τουρκικές υποχωρήσεις και μέτρα απαγόρευσης που προκάλεσαν μείωση του αριθμού των νέων αφίξεων στα νησιά του Ανατολικού Αιγαίου από το 2016 και χρησιμοποιήθηκε ως πρόσχημα για τη συστηματική απόρριψη των αιτήσεων ασύλου που υπέβαλαν εκεί Σύροι υπήκοοι, δεν μπόρεσε -μέχρι στιγμής- να λειτουργήσει ως η γενικευμένη οδηγία επιστροφής που η ΕΕ σκόπευε να είναι. 

Τώρα, όπως προκύπτει από τις δηλώσεις του ίδιου του κ. Μηταράκη, η νέα αυτή απόφαση θα διευρύνει και θα επιταχύνει τους αρχικούς στόχους της δήλωσης ΕΕ-Τουρκίας. Σύμφωνα τόσο με αυτή όσο και με τις ευρύτερες συνοριακές πολιτικές της Ευρώπης, η Κοινή Υπουργική Απόφαση προβλέπει τον αυξημένο περιορισμό των μεταναστών σε μη ασφαλείς τρίτες χώρες και τον αποκλεισμό τους από τη διεθνή προστασία στην Ευρώπη – ανεξάρτητα από το κόστος που αυτό έχει για τη ζωή τους.