Category: Monthly Reports

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).


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 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. 


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.  


Photograph by Yousif Al Shewaili, Mytiline, Greece, 14 July 2020.

In the past month, Greek authorities have extended the discriminatory lockdown on migrant camps for a seventh time, depriving residents of Moria and Kara Tepe refugee camps in Lesvos of respite outside the camps or access to basic services – and further paving the way towards closed camps, for which the European Commission has approved €130 million funding. Illegal collective expulsions continue in the Aegean, while new arrivals are quarantined with little access to legal support or other services, and then hurried through the hostile border procedure. The ongoing harassment of non-governmental organisations continues, and administrative fines combined with the threat of criminal charges has forced Médecins Sans Frontières’ COVID-19 isolation unit outside Moria refugee camp to close. Protests, organised across the political spectrum, have increased – while police violence against migrants, and particularly migrant-led protests, goes on. 

In essence, the Greek government – with the varying complicity or active support of European Union Member States – continues the violent assault on migrants, illegal and life-threatening expulsions, and the harassment of civil society organisations to further its fundamental goals: the detention, deportation and deterrence of migration from the global South to Europe. 


The unlawful lockdown on migrant camps, described by MSF as “toxic,” “blatant discrimination,” and “absolutely unjustified from a public health point of view”, has been extended until 31 August – despite national movement restrictions ending some three months ago, and tourists, many coming from western European countries with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, being welcomed to Greece. The increased number of visitors has been linked to a rise in COVID-19 infections – and yet the lockdown continues to apply only to migrant camps, despite the fact that MSF and others have confirmed there is no public health justification for such measures. In Lesvos, in fact, no cases have been documented in Moria refugee camp. Such flagrant discrimination violates national, regional and international law, including Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. 

Migrants living in Moria and Kara Tepe refugee camps still require authorities’ permission to leave the sites. Permission, granted by the Reception and Identification Services, is given to just 120 people each day – less than 1% of the Moria refugee camp’s population – and for specified purposes (such as accessing medical support). Requests must be made the day before the individual wishes to leave camp. Same-day permissions can only be granted by the Hellenic Police, for individuals with urgent medical issues.

Those found outside without authorization face fines of €150, and there has been a notable increase in police street presence and discriminatory racial profiling and conducting such checks on migrants – including outside the Legal Centre Lesvos’ offices. Rather than serving any public health objective, the prolonged lockdown ensures two things: migrants’ isolation from support services, and their removal from public view. 

Moreover, the lockdown has exacerbated tensions in Moria refugee camp, where two people were fatally stabbed in July. There are currently over 17, 000 people living in and around the camp, including 6, 000 children, who – due to movement restrictions – are now deprived of any respite away from the site. The ongoing disregard for migrant lives – whether manifest in the inhumane, overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the hotspots; authorities’ failure to intervene in fatal fights, or investigate arbitrary losses of life; or the inhibition of migrants’ access to adequate healthcare facilities – further demonstrates the insincerity of any attempt to justify ongoing restrictions to the camps by reference to COVID-19 prevention.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not only being instrumentalised to detain migrants, but it also appears that the continued prolongation of the lockdown is paving the way towards the Greek government’s long and publicly-held objective of creating closed centres for migrants. Conveniently, on 3 August the European Commission approved €130 million in funding for “closed controlled centres” that will be constructed in Samos, Leros and Kos. The first, in Samos, is expected to open in late September. 


There remains a profound lack of information regarding the conditions of quarantine camps in Northern Lesvos, where new arrivals are quarantined – ostensibly for fourteen days, and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – before being transferred to Moria refugee camp.

The quarantine camps have included at least four temporary sites on arrival beaches, where Mare Liberum report that ‘the authorities sometimes took several days to install tents and portable toilets.’ The practice of detaining people at unprepared sites adjacent to their arrival, documented in Lesvos since March, has consistently deprived new arrivals of the basic necessities for their safety and personal hygiene – again exposing the fallacy of the government’s COVID-19 response. Furthermore, many individuals have been detained in the Northern camps for over a month, without any justification. Not only does this result in unnecessary delays to the registration of their asylum claim, but it further isolates individuals and deprives them of access to legal support and other services around Mytiline and Moria refugee camp.

Several individuals have contacted Legal Centre Lesvos upon their release from quarantine, having been given a date for their personal asylum interview in just a matter of days. Under Article 12 of EU Directive 2013/32, the recast Asylum Procedures Directives (rAPD), Member States should guarantee that asylum seekers’ access to organisations providing legal aid is not inhibited – yet it is almost impossible for such new arrivals in Lesvos, who have been quarantined and are then subjected to an ongoing and discriminatory lockdown, to access such support. Denied the time or opportunity to prepare for their interviews, they are instead hurried through an accelerated, hostile and mismanaged asylum procedure. 


Following the Greek government’s administrative assault on civil society groups working with migrants earlier this year, which had the effect of de-registering or limiting the operations of several groups working with migrants in Lesvos, the harassment of non-governmental organisations working with migrants has taken a new and practical turn.

Pressure, including unannounced visits from government inspectors to several organisations, including the Legal Centre Lesvos, is rising. There has also been a regular police presence around the Legal Centre Lesvos’ offices, resulting in arrests of and fines issued to people seeking access to our services – and more broadly, intimidating clients and inhibiting them from accessing legal support, to which they have a right. The authorities’ imposition of over €35, 000 in fines and threatened criminal charges on MSF is a particularly egregious example of this harassment, and has forced the closure of the only COVID-19 isolation centre accessible to residents of Moria refugee camp. Should an outbreak happen in the camp, where simple prevention measures such as handwashing and social distancing remain inaccessible, the health infrastructure in Lesvos simply will not be able to cope. 

Last week, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants released a report, which condemns the global “toxic narrative” surrounding the work of organisations in solidarity with migrants, and notes authorities’ misuse of administrative, legislative and legal tactics to inhibit such organisations’ free operation – with dangerous results. 

“Where civil society organizations step back from provision of services to migrants because of fear of the legal consequences or harassment,” he wrote, the risks to migrants’ increase – and “criminal groups and traffickers step in.” The parallels to Lesvos, and the risks to migrants that this will pose, are evident. 


Following the lifting of movement restrictions for the general population, the last month has seen an increase of protests across the political spectrum, by locals and migrants alike.

On July 21st, between fifty and sixty far-right supporters gathered near the power station on the road between Mytiline and Moria refugee camp – a site that was frequently used for attacks earlier this year – after online posts blamed migrants for a large forest fire several kilometres away from the camp. The identities of some drivers passing the power stations were reportedly checked, though no formal roadblocks were established. 

On August 1st, a call was made by locals to gather in protest of the expansion of Moria refugee camp. Prior to the announced time of the gathering, police patrolled the road adjacent to the camp, instructing not only non-governmental organisations but also journalists to leave the area, in a clear violation of press freedom. Police buses ultimately blocked the protestors’ access to Moria refugee camp, and protestors dispersed after several hours.


Police have used excessive force to disperse migrant-led protests in Moria refugee camp and in Mytiline, which were organised in response to the fatal stabbing of a teenager from the Ivory Coast, and subsequently regarding the hostile asylum procedure and ongoing confinement of migrants to Lesvos. 

On July 6 and 7, the African community in Moria Camp organized protests in the aftermath of the killing of nineteen-year-old Karamoko Namori. Some 200 individuals gathered outside the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) in Moria camp, calling for safety and an end to their containment in Moria. EASO remained closed for some days, before police violently dispersed the protests, shooting volleys of tear gas, and sound and flash grenades into the crowd. At least two people had to be carried away from the protest, owing to their injuries. The mobilisation of such immense and violent resources to disperse protestors, following the police’s failure to act and prevent Karamoko’s death, thrust policing priorities in Lesvos into clear view once again. 

On July 14, approximately fifteen Syrian families and several Iraqis gathered in Mytiline in protest of the systematic rejection of Syrians’ applications for asylum (based on the untenable assumption that Turkey is a safe country for them) and the containment of migrants on Lesvos. The demonstration began in the ferry port of Mytiline, but police soon resorted to physical violence to forcibly remove protestors from the area. A video circulated that shows a police officer dragging and hitting a pregnant woman. The protestors then moved through Mytiline, and were intercepted by police at various locations; they were ultimately prevented from accessing the town’s main square, and corralled by at least fifteen riot police officers onto a waiting bus. 

Protestors were informed that their protest was shut down due to the lack of prior police permission (as required by a draconian bill passed by the Greek government in July 2020). However, given the sharp contrast between the police’s muted response to the aforementioned local gatherings – which took place undisturbed by references to the restrictions on protest – and the police’s violence and intimidation towards migrant protestors, it suggests that this new law will become a tool in the authorities’ arsenal of discrimination. 

One of the protestors, Z, summarised the event: “We went in protest of the recent decisions by the Greek government to reject Syrians’ asylum applications…The Greek police came and assaulted the men, and beat the women, and forcibly brought us back to [Moria] camp. We are Syrians – we have only one country, which is Syria. It is not safe there, and it is not safe to deport us to Turkey. We suffered a lot in Turkey, we lost our relatives and our children in Turkey, and because of that we came to Greece, asking for international protection. These were and still are our demands: we ask the European Union to save us from a slow death in Greece.

The case of the Moria 35: a 15-month timeline of injustice and impunity

Διαβάστε εδώ στα ελληνικά.

On Thursday 18th October, the last of the Moria 35 were released from detention. Their release comes one year and three months – to the day – after the 35 men were arbitrarily arrested and subject to brutal police violence in a raid of Moria camp following peaceful protests, on July 18th 2017.

While the Legal Centre Lesbos welcomes the fact that all 35 men have finally been released, we maintain that none of them should ever have been imprisoned to begin with –– let alone for the 10 to 15 months the majority of the Moria 35 spent in punitive, unlawful incarceration.

And while freedom from unjust imprisonment is one thing, freedom in any broader sense is a different matter. The legal status of all 35 men is precarious. Six of them have been granted asylum in Greece, but the majority are now fighting the rejection of their asylum cases; on appeal or through subsequent applications which are subject to admissibility. Three individuals have been deported. One individual was illegally deported without having exhausted his legal remedies in Greece, while another individual, having spent 9 months in pre-trial detention only to be subject to a gross miscarriage of justice at criminal trial, signed up for so-called ‘voluntary’ deportation.

Despite an abject lack of evidence against any of them, 32 of the Moria 35 were convicted of the crime of Dangerous Bodily Harm against police officers in grossly unjust criminal trial proceedings that took place in Chios in April 2018. Although their criminal conviction is being appealed, these men now live under the shadow of 26-month suspended prison sentences. By contrast, despite numerous videos, reports and eyewitness testimonies evidencing brutal police violence against the Moria 35, the public prosecutor decided to closed its investigation into police brutality in June 2018. Their basis for closing the investigation was that any use of force on the part of the police was justified, because the Moria 35 had resisted arrest. This despite the fact that all 35 men had just been found innocent on the charge of resisting arrest.

From the Greek police’s brutally violent, racist mass-arrest of these 35 men; through the grossly unjust, punitive criminal procedure that they were subject to; to their release from pre-trial detention in April only for the majority to be transferred directly into immigration detention in Moria; the case of the Moria 35 over the past 15 months constitutes a catalogue of the forms of institutional racism and gross human rights abuses with impunity that are enabled by the intersection of violent immigration and criminal justice systems in Europe. The following timeline sets these out to the best of our knowledge, with links to more detailed reports.


  • 18 July 2017: Police brutality and arrests

At approximately 10:00 on Tuesday 18th July 2017, refugees of different nationalities gathered in Moria for the second day in a row of peaceful protests, denouncing inhumane living conditions and demanding the right to freedom of movement for everyone trapped in Lesvos. The protest remained peaceful and calm until police arrived at around 13:00 and began to use tear gas. Many refugees were trapped outside the camp, some were trapped inside, there was confusion and inside Moria there were clashes between a handful of protesters and police officers shooting teargas and throwing rocks. By 15:00 the camp was calm. However, at approximately 16:00 several dozen riot police who had just arrived on the scene entered Moria and violently raided the African section of the camp. They pulled people out of the iso-box containers they lived in, brutally assaulted seemingly anyone they encountered including a pregnant woman, and by 16:15 had made 35 arrests. 34 of the 35 individuals arrested were black. One of the arrestees was urgently hospitalized due to severe injuries sustained at the hands of arresting officers.

=> Detailed reports, video footage, and an Amnesty International report urging investigation into police violence amounting to possible torture can be found here:

  • 19 July: Criminal proceedings initiated

The 34 individuals who had spent the night in Mytilene police station were brought into Mytilene court in order for the public prosecutor to initiate criminal proceedings against them. The individual who had spent the night in hospital due to police violence remained in hospital. Arrestees reported having been beaten by the police again in the police station overnight. Some of the men were still bleeding from visible injuries and had been denied medical attention. Many were brought into the courthouse barefoot. Criminal proceedings against the Moria 35 were initiated by the public prosecutor, on a catalogue of identical charges:

  1. Arson with intent to endanger life – contrary to Article 264 of the Greek Penal Code
  2. Dangerous bodily harm – contrary to Article 309
  3. Damage of foreign property – contrary to Article 382
  4. Using or threatening violence to force an authority or public official to execute an act within his capacities or to refrain from a legitimate act – contrary to Article 167


  • 21-22 July: Preliminary inquiry

Interrogations by the Investigating Judge took place over the course of two days. Four of the Moria 35 had this procedure postponed due to the state’s inability to produce translators in their languages. The procedure was also postponed for the individual who remained hospitalized.

There were solidarity protests outside the courthouse on both days. Many of the 35 arrested had not even been present at the morning’s peaceful protest, let alone the clashes between a small number of protesters and riot police that ensued following the police’s excessive use of tear gas. This led witnesses to conclude the arrests were arbitrary: that people were targeted because of race, nationality, and location within the camp at the time of the police raid; which itself seemed intended to collectively punish refugees for organised, peaceful resistance. There was an absolute lack of evidence against any of the Moria 35.

However, despite all this, the 30 individuals who were interrogated by the Investigating Judge were formally indicted on the catalogue of exaggerated crimes detailed above and the case was referred to trial. Many still had visible injuries and their access to food, water and medical care had been limited. Given the 48-hour window between arrests and preliminary inquiry, and the lack of lawyers on Lesvos, all 30 defendants were represented by one lawyer from the Legal Centre.

12 of the defendants filed official complaints in court against the police for excessive use of force. Many had vulnerability status and/or serious mental and physical health conditions that should have precluded pre-trial incarceration, which in any case should be a matter of last resort under both Greek and International law. Yet pre-trial detention was ordered for all 30 men pursuant to Article 282 of the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure due to the gravity of the charges and their deemed lack of appropriate address, despite all being registered residents of Moria camp.


  • 25-26 July: Transfer to prisons outside Lesvos

Amidst misinformation, lack of translation and defendants’ reports of police intimidation and racism, the 30 individuals for whom pre-trial detention had been ordered were transferred from Lesvos and divided between a prison on the island of Chios, and Korydallos and Avlona prisons in Athens, which were ill equipped to deal with non-Greek speakers and made visits from friends, family and lawyers extremely difficult.

  • Late July: Preliminary inquiry

Immediately upon being discharged from hospital, the individual hospitalized for a week due to police violence faced the investigating judge. Though indicted with the same charges, he was not given a pre-trial detention order and was released pending trial – though confined to the island of Lesvos with reporting conditions.

  • September – November: Conclusion of pre-trial proceedings

The right to free trial under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) makes it an obligation on the state to provide translation in a language a defendant understands. However, given the Greek state’s continued failure to do so in the case of 4 of the Moria 35, by the end of September, the Wolof-speaking defendant himself produced a translator and was interrogated by the Investigating Judge. By November, the 3 Bambara-speaking defendants had done the same. Thanks to arguments from the defense team coordinated by the Legal Centre and HIAS, regarding residency in Moria, health conditions, and the fact that these men had duly showed up to court once a month for as long as the state had failed to produce appropriate translators, the 4 defendants were released with restrictive conditions pending trial.

All 5 defendants – including the individual hospitalized by police violence – who had been given restrictive measures were forced to remain within the open-air prison of Lesvos, and to live in Moria camp: the very place they had been subject to brutal police violence.

=> Section 5

=> Section 6

  • 13 December: Pre-trial detention extended

Despite applications for release on the basis of severe health conditions being made by defense lawyers, the Municipal Court renewed the pre-trial detention conditions for 30 defendants for a further 6 months. There was no legal basis for denying the 30 defendants their right to liberty and presumption of innocence (Article 5 and Article 6(2) ECHR) by ordering pre-trial detention to begin with, particularly given that none of the defendants had previous convictions and the prison-like character of the island of Lesvos itself precludes flight. Pre-trial detention is disproportionately used against foreign national defendants in Greece. Renewing such pre-trial detention was unduly harsh and unlawful. The trial date had still not been announced.


  • Late February 2018: Trial date and location announced

The trial date was finally set for 20 April 2018, before a ‘mixed jury Court’ in Chios. There was no apparent explanation for authorities’ decision to move the trial of the Moria 35 to the island of Chios: away from the solidarity groups that had been supporting them and the many witnesses to the events on the day of their arrest present in Lesvos.

  • 14 March: Joint statement

The five members of the Moria 35 under restrictive measures on the island of Lesvos released a collective statement ahead of their trial.


 “Our humanity has been denied since we stepped foot in Europe, the supposed cradle of democracy and human rights. Since we arrived we have been forced to live in horrible conditions, our asylum cases are not taken seriously, and most Africans are denied residency in Europe and face deportation. We are treated like criminals, simply for crossing a border that Europeans can freely cross.

Now 35 of us have been accused of rioting, destroying property, and violence, however it was actually the police who attacked us in a violent and racist raid on the African section of Moria… It was the police in full riot gear who attacked unarmed migrants with stones, batons and tear gas… It was the police who damaged property by breaking the windows and doors of the containers where we were living. Without concern for people who were inside they threw tear gas into the closed containers. They dragged people by their hair out of the containers. They beat anyone they found with batons, their boots, their fists, including a pregnant woman. It seems we were targeted only because of our skin colour – because we are black.”


  • 10-17 April: International solidarity

In the week running up to the Moria 35 trial there were events, protests and documentary screenings in solidarity with the Moria 35 across Europe, using the hashtag #FreetheMoria35.

The mobilisations in Greece linked the case of the Moria 35 to the case of the Petrou Ralli 8, which was on trial the week after the Moria 35 and which shared many characteristics: refugees detained in inhumane conditions in a notorious detention centre peacefully raising questions in protest at their conditions, a police response of brutal violence causing serious injury (broken bones, head injuries), followed by seemingly arbitrary arrests, indictment on a catalogue of extreme criminal charges, and dispersal across prisons in Greece for unlawfully lengthy periods of pre-trial incarceration. These cases were also linked to a further analogous case known as the ‘Moria 10’, which involved 10 individuals indicted for clashes in Moria one week before the Moria 35 arrests. The patterns of state violence and institutional racism in these cases, which shared similar timelines, were seen as evidencing the systematic nature of repression and criminalization of migrant resistance to border violence in Greece.






  • 20-27 April 2018: Trial in Chios

The Moria 35 trial finally began on 20th April 2018, before the ‘Mixed Jury Court’ on Chios. There were only 4 days of proceedings, which ended on 27th April. The Legal Centre Lesvos coordinated the defense and at trial the legal defense team was made up of 6 lawyers from the Legal Centre, Musaferat, HIAS, Lesvos Solidarity, and Aitima. All defendants were acquitted of the following charges:

Arson with intent to endanger life – contrary to Article 264 of the Greek Penal Code

Damage of foreign property – contrary to Article 382

Using or threatening violence to force an authority or public official to execute an act within his capacities or to refrain from a legitimate act – contrary to Article 167

However, 32 defendants were found guilty of the following charge:

Dangerous bodily harm – contrary to Article 309

All convicted defendants were given a 26-month suspended prison sentence.

A trial observation committee representing 6 international human rights organisations attended proceedings, and published a detailed Trial Observation Report of their findings. Greece is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and is therefore obliged under international law to ‘secure to everyone within (its) jurisdiction the rights and freedoms’ contained therein. The Trial Observation Committee found gross breaches of the ECHR to have taken place in respect of the defendants in the Moria 35 trial. In brief these were as follows––

Article 3 – Prohibition of inhuman treatment

The Committee found the treatment of the Moria 35 defendants to breach the prohibitions of inhumane treatment under Article 3 ECHR. During the trial the defendants were given no breaks when they had to go to the toilet the trial continued without them. They were not provided with food by the authorities during the duration of each long trial day.

Article 6  – Right to a fair trial

The disproportionate 9 month delay that the Moria 35 were subject to between arrests and trial constituted a breach of Article 6(1) of the ECHR, particularly given that 30 of them were subject to detention conditions which should entail prioritization.

The Greek state systematically failed to provide competent interpreters in a language the Moria 35 defendants understood. This was the case from the preliminary inquiry and through the course of proceedings at trial. At no point were any of the defendants ‘informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail of the nature and cause of the accusation against him’ Article 6(3)(a) and Article 5(2) ECHR. At the trial stage, none of the defendants were accorded their right to ‘have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court’ as per Article 6(3)(e) ECHR. Translation was grossly inadequate throughout proceedings. It was not individual: there was, for example, one translator for 20 French-speaking defendants; and it was not competent: none of the interpreters were trained or professional. At one point in proceedings the English translator left and was replaced by a police officer. There was no Bambara translator provided for the Bambara-speaking defendant, who was expected to understand the Wolof translator, himself a refugee, despite not speaking Wolof.

Lack of translation restricted defendants’ other rights under the right to free trial, such as their ability to present their case, equality before the law and equality of arms. These rights under Article 6(1) ECHR were further violated at trial by the shockingly limited amount of time each defendant was given to present their testimony. The president of the court only asked three questions of each of the 35 defendants and prevented them from saying more. Despite letting the prosecution witnesses speak for 45 minutes each on average, each of the 35 defendants was only given an average of 7 minutes to speak. Some spoke for only 3 minutes. Given that all 35 defendants faced maximum prison sentences of 10 years, and that half of the minutes they were permitted were taken up with translation; this was deeply unjust. In addition, the 35 defendants shared 6 lawyers. Each lawyer was limited to 11 minutes for the multiple clients they were representing. This amounted to an average of 108 seconds of legal defense per defendant.

The report also evidences breaches of the presumption of innocence under Article 6(2) and impartiality of the tribunal per Article 6(1) ECHR stemming from the fact that there was no prosecution case against individual defendants. Evidence on individualized circumstances and alibis was not permitted. Prosecution witnesses could produce no proof of the involvement of individual defendants. In the verdict, defendants were not mentioned individually. Instead the Moria 35 were treated throughout proceedings as a “guilty group”.

Article 14 – Prohibition of discrimination

Such treatment as a “guilty group” also goes to breaches of the prohibition of discrimination under Article 14 ECHR. The Committee report raises concerns that the police raid of solely the ‘African section’ of Moria despite individuals of various nationalities having participated in protests was racially biased. Official guidelines for identification and recognition of suspects were not followed. The report cites evidence of racist remarks made by the police during arrests: “black dog”, “this is not Africa”; and racist remarks made by police officers giving evidence at trial: “they all looked much the same”. In its conclusion, the Trial Observation Committee report states that “The 35 defendants were not treated in the way other defendants are treated before the Greek courts, or in the way the ECHR specifies that defendants should be treated in Europe”.


=> Trial Observation Report of the Moira 35 case:

  • 28 April: From pre-trial incarceration to immigration detention

Following the trial, 5 individuals who had been in prison in Avlona were transferred to Petrou Rally in Athens. 25 were transferred directly to detention in Moria, and the 5 who had been confined to Lesvos awaiting trial traveled back to the prison-like island of Lesvos. The Legal Centre took on the representation of the men in their asylum cases, with some support from HIAS.

  • 5 May: Release subject to immigration status

Only the 4 individuals among the Moria 35 who had been granted refugee status were freed from incarceration. All others were transferred from penal detention to administrative detention, with recommendations for their continued detention as asylum seekers because they were seen as a threat to public security, despite the fact that the court had granted suspended sentences for all individuals convicted.

  • 10 May 2018: Attempted deportations

The 7 individuals among the Moria 35 whose cases had been rejected on appeal were scheduled for deportation on 10th May. This despite the fact that: two of them had been denied legal representation on appeal, which is a right under Article 44(3) of Greek law 4375; none of them had exhausted their legal remedies; their criminal convictions were being appealed; and all of them had claims to residence permits on humanitarian grounds as victims and/or important witnesses to a serious crime (police brutality) that was the subject of ongoing proceedings, as per Article 19A of the amendments to Greek Law 4521 detailed in Law 4332.

However, the deportations of all 7 men were halted at the last minute thanks to a mobilization of the Legal Centre, the Free the Moria 35 campaign, interventions of the Ombudsman office and the UNHCR, and petitions to file subsequent asylum applications being made by the legal team.


  • 17 May: ‘Voluntary’ deportation

Having spent 9 months incarcerated only to be subject to a gross miscarriage of justice, one of the Moria 35 gave up on the Greek ‘justice’ system altogether, signed for ‘Assisted Voluntary Return’ and was deported to Turkey.

  • 13 June: Deportations

Another 2 of the Moria 35 were deported to Turkey on the morning of 13th June. Both men were had not exhausted their legal remedies in Greece. One individual was deported on this day despite still having the legal recourse of appealing in administrative court open to him. He had received new evidence in the form of original documents corroborating his claim for asylum or subsidiary protection. The other individual had been declaring his express desire to exercise his right to appeal the rejection of his asylum claim to police for days preceding his deportation. Lawyers had also spoken to the police department informing them of their intention to submit an appeal to the asylum service on his behalf. Yet despite this, both men were deported to Turkey and within a few weeks to their home countries.


  • June: Impunity in the police brutality case

Despite the fact that all of the Moria 35 had been found innocent on the charge of resisting arrest, and despite extensive evidence of police violence; in June the public prosecutor closed the investigation into the police brutality that took place on 18th July 2017, on the basis that there was a lack of evidence, and that the individuals who had submitted claims against the police had been resisting arrest so the police’s use of force was necessary.

  • May – July: Gradual release

In the months that followed the trial, 16 of the Moria 35 were gradually released. All of the individuals released within a year of their initial arrest still had pending asylum cases, either at first instance or on appeal. The 7 who remained incarcerated had cruelly had their imprisonment due to criminal proceedings seamlessly substituted for imprisonment due to asylum proceedings: one man whose case had been closed while he was in prison and unable to reopen it, and 6 who had been rejected at second instance, but had submitted subsequent applications.

  • 1 September

One of the Moria 35 was finally released, on his asylum case finally being reopened.

  • 5 September

Of the 6 of the Moria 35 who remained imprisoned in September, 2 men were particularly vulnerable. They were desperate, suicidal, and had both attempted suicide on different occasions during the 14 months they had been incarcerated. One of the individuals was quoted as saying; “We are not alive in here, so why would we continue to live?”

Both men were finally released on 5th September.

  • 9 – 18 October 2018

The final 4 of the Moria 35 were released over the course of 10 days.


The Legal Centre Lesvos will continue to document the institutionalized racism, impunity and gross human rights violations associated with this case, and to fight for justice for the Moria 35. The criminal convictions of 32 of the Moria 35 have been appealed. At the time of writing an appeal date has not yet been given.

…the authorities can not stop the truth from coming out about how Greece and Europe treat migrants in Lesvos. It is the violent attack by the police against African migrants which must be investigated. It is the police who must be brought to justice.”

(Statement of 5 of the Moria 35, March 2018)

Report on Rights Violations and Resistance in Lesvos

In the months since our last update on rights violations and resistance in Lesvos, our advocacy and campaigning resources were almost exclusively focused on the two trials for the Moria 35 and Moria 10 that took place in Chios in late April and early May 2018.

The situation has predictably worsened in Lesvos. On the 17 April 2018, the Greek Council of State (the highest administrative court in Greece) ruled that geographic restrictions imposed by the Asylum Service for asylum seekers arriving to the Greek islands was illegal. However, within a week, new legislation was proposed, which further limits the rights of asylum seekers and continues the practice of containing asylum seekers to the Greek islands. Moria Camp is now at three times its capacity, holding approximately 7000 individuals. Between 500 and 1000 Kurdish asylum seekers are still living outside Moria in temporary shelter provided by Lesvos Solidarity – Pikpa, and Humans 4 Humanity, as they fear for their safety in Moria. Procedures are now so delayed that even individuals who are recognized as vulnerable, and whose cases should be prioritized under Article 51 of Greek Law 4375, are being scheduled for their interviews nearly a year after their arrival. This means that they are prohibited from leaving the island of Lesvos, and are denied freedom of movement during this entire time.

In one case we are following, an eleven year old child has a serious, undiagnosed digestive condition that causes her constant pain and seizures. Because they have been unable to diagnose her illness, the hospital in Mytilene has referred her for testing and treatment in Athens. Even the Mytilene police department has recommended that geographic restrictions be temporarily lifted so that she can travel to Athens for further tests and treatment, but the Regional Asylum Office has denied this request without an appointment in the Athens hospital. Her family is now in a constant state of fear that given her critical condition, their daughter will be unable to receive emergency medical care when needed, given the lack of testing and treatment for her on the island. Already once, when she had seizures and attempted to get treatment at the hospital in Lesvos, she was not admitted because they do not have means to treat her.

The Green Party published a report on 6 June 2018 exposing the inhumane conditions that systematically violate refugee rights in the Greek hotspots. On the 1 June 2018 the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) also published preliminary observations of its visit to detention facilities in Greece from 10 to 19 April 2018, with damning findings. As Legal Centre Lesvos, we also submitted a report to the EU Commissioner for Human Rights, documenting the systematic human rights violations of asylum seekers in Lesvos.

Treatment of Moria35 defendants highlights lack of procedural safeguards for detained asylum seekers in Lesvos

In the last month and a half since the conclusion of the Moria 35 trial, we have been closely following the administrative process related to the detention and processing of the asylum claims of these individuals. It has become a near full time job of our Greek attorney based in Mytilene to ensure that Greek authorities comply by their own laws and respect the rights of these asylum seekers. Despite the fact that the UNHCR, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the Legal Centre have been closely monitoring their cases, there have been rampant violation of their rights at every step of their procedures. Unfortunately despite this close monitoring, two individuals were deported to Turkey on the morning of 13 June 2018. The violations we have observed in the individual cases of these 35 men highlight the lack of procedural safeguards to protect the rights of asylum seekers, particularly those who are being detained.

Below we outline some of the observed violations of Moria 35 defendants’ rights as asylum seekers:

  • Two individuals whose cases were rejected were denied the representation of a lawyer on appeal. The appeal of a rejected asylum claim is the one stage in the asylum procedure where asylum seekers have the right to a lawyer, under Article 44(3) of Law 4375. Although both requested the representation of a lawyer, the examination of their case on appeal occurred without them having been assigned an attorney.

  • Another individual signed for voluntary departure, but then changed his mind and decided to continue his claim for international protection. He requested that his case be reopened. While that request was being processed, he was placed by police on the list to be deported on the 1 June 2018. It was only after advocacy from the Legal Centre that he was removed from the deportation list. He remains in detention, despite the lack of legal grounds to hold him there.

  • Another individual was held for over a month in detention, after transfer to Lesvos following the trial in Chios. There was no recommendation for his continued detention either from the Regional Asylum Office, as required by Article 46(3) of Law 4375. After daily follow up from the Legal Centre, eventually the police admitted that they were holding him by mistake and he was released.

  • Two additional individuals had their asylum cases rejected, but were unable to appeal because they were detained. With advocacy from UNHCR and Legal Centre lawyers, one of the individuals was able to lodge his appeal. However, he remains in detention, and it is not clear if the Appeals Committee will review his case on the merits or deny the appeal as untimely filed.

  • The second individual was deported on the morning of 13 June 2018. This was despite the fact that for days he had been expressing to the police his desire to appeal the rejection of his asylum claim. Lawyers from HIAS and the Legal Centre also spoke with the Mytilene police department the day before he was deported and informed the police that they would be filing an appeal on his behalf. On the morning of 13 June 2018, he was deported to Turkey. This individual, a Guinean national, claims that he was a victim of torture, and will be subject to persecution if returned to his country. Regardless of whether his claim is credible, he has the right to appeal the rejection of his claim. Even though untimely, it is not the police who have the authority to accept or reject his appeal, but the Asylum Service. His right to appeal was clearly denied, and his deportation was illegal as police were aware that he would be appealing the denial of his claim and they proceeded with the deportation in any case.

  • A second Moria 35 defendant was also deported on the 13 June 2018. His case had been rejected in the second instance. In 2017 this Ghanean national had been rejected and scheduled for deportation, but he lodged a subsequent application. It was the denial of this subsequent application that led to his deportation. While the Regional Asylum Service again scheduled for him to file a subsequent application on 14 June 2018, on 11 June 2018, we were informed that they would not accept a second subsequent application, since he had already submitted a subsequent application in 2017. However, he still had the option of appealing the denial of his claim in administrative court. Less than two days after being informed that he could not file a subsequent application, he was deported to Turkey. This individual has recently received original documents from Ghana that were not previously submitted to the Asylum Office. These documents corroborate his claim that he will be imprisoned 10-15 years if returned to Ghana. Prison conditions in Ghana according to human rights reports are “generally harsh and sometimes life threatening due to physical abuse, food shortages, overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care” meaning he should be eligible for subsidiary protection, if not refugee status. Both individuals that were deported on the 13 June 2018 are also eligible for humanitarian protection as important witnesses to a serious crime that is still being investigated in Greece (the brutal police attack against the 35 arrestees on 18 July 2017). The swift move of the police to deport these individuals show that while procedures to grant protection and ensure that refugee rights are respected are constantly delayed, the State is able to mobilize and act swiftly to deny these same rights.

The trampling of the rights of these individuals by the police has followed their brutally violent arrest, their unjust prosecution, and lengthy imprisonment in the case of the Moria 35. It is not clear if the police have targeted these individuals precisely because they were part of the Moria35 case, or if the violation of detained asylum seekers rights is systematic. What is clear is that there is a lack of sufficient transparency, oversight, and monitoring of detention and deportation practices.

Legal Centre Successes

Despite this hostile environment, we continue providing legal aid and individual consultation to all foreign nationals who seek our counsel. We conduct approximately 10 individual consultations daily, and through the assistance of our volunteer lawyers and interpreters, hundreds of individuals have been granted international protection in Greece, or have successfully had geographic restrictions lifted so they can legally travel to mainland Europe.

We also continue to have success in assisting individuals in reuniting with family members in second European States under the Dublin III Regulation. In one case, a single young man from Haiti who is seriously ill was approved to be reunited with his family in France. While in Haiti, he had attempted to apply for a visa to join his parents and younger siblings in France, but was denied because he was over 18. France finally admitted, through our advocacy, that he was dependent on the care of his family, and that he should be able to join them in France. The fact that this individual was forced to take a lengthy, expensive, and dangerous journey to Europe through Turkey and the use of smugglers, only to be later admitted as an asylum seeker in France, shows that European immigration policies are broken.

We will continue our work to assist and help navigate individuals through this broken system, and to monitor and expose the violations of these individuals’ rights when they occur.


January 2018 Report on Rights Violations and Resistance in Lesvos

Violations of Rights Exposed at Europe’s Borders

At the close of 2017 in the period since our last report, the inhumane treatment of migrants in Lesvos continues to be widely reported on and denounced by refugees and migrants, solidarity activists, the media, and human rights organizations. In response to this pressure, in November and December roughly 3000 asylum seekers were transferred from Lesvos to mainland Greece and Crete. However during the same time period approximately the same number of individuals arrived to Lesvos from Turkey.

Whilst the number of arrivals decreased somewhat in January, as a result of rainy, windy, and cold weather, an estimated 7000 migrants are still living in Lesvos. As recently reported by Amnesty International, for those trapped on the island, conditions remain unbearable; in violation of the right to adequate housing, health care, and freedom of movement. The European Union continues to blame Greece for the conditions in the hotspots. However, inhumane and crowded conditions are ensured so long as movement from the Greek islands to mainland Europe is prohibited for the majority of asylum seekers – something that has been enforced since the EU-Turkey Statement in March 2016.

Europe continues to measure success of the EU-Turkey deal in terms of curbing the total number of arrivals to Europe, but in effect this means that more individuals are stuck in unsafe and inhumane situations on the frontier of Europe – in Lesvos, but in even greater numbers in countries at Europe’s borders such as Turkey and Libya. As has been shown throughout history, halting migration is impossible, as borders will inevitably be crossed and individuals will continue to migrate in search of refuge.

Thirty-Year-Old Man Drowns Attempting to BOARD FERRY to ATHENS

The tragic consequences for individuals denied safe passage were seen this month in Lesvos as on 1 February 2018, an unidentified man’s body was found in the port of Mytilini. It was presumed that he drowned, having died 10 days earlier. The body was identified by authorities as that of a Moroccan man who had registered for international protection in Lesvos in July 2017.

Whilst he is yet to be formally identified, given that his friends have not been permitted to see his body, they believe that the man found was actually Saihi, a 30 year old Algerian, who ten days earlier had attempted to swim to climb aboard a ferry bound for Athens. His friends believe he registered his nationality as Moroccan because he feared that the authorities would discriminate against Algerians. However, even though registered as a Moroccan he found no protection in Greece. Even in death, his family is being denied the right to bury him and mourn appropriately; his body still lays in the Mytilini morgue due to their inability to pay the fees to expatriate his body to Algeria.

Saihi had recently celebrated his thirtieth birthday with friends and after over six months trapped in Lesvos he decided to take his chances to leave the island. Tragically, the dangerous journeys people make to reach Europe do not end when they reach Lesvos. Although they are in Europe, since the EU-Turkey deal, people who arrive to the Greek territories from Turkey are prohibited from leaving the islands until the lengthy asylum procedure has completed. If rejected, they face deportation to Turkey, where rights are systematically denied and where non-Syrians face certain imprisonment and likely deportation to their home countries.

Saihi was one of many people trapped on the island who risk their lives attempting to reach the European continent. As he did not have legal status in Greece, he was denied assistance by NGOs. He was left on his own in Lesvos; staying in an abandoned house in Mytilini, without electricity, water, or any aid apart from food assistance provided through No Borders Kitchen. He had left Moria Camp approximately four months earlier, to get away from the unsafe environment where police violence and daily fights are routine. Employment opportunities in Lesvos are limited even for Greeks, and it is even more difficult for foreigners to support themselves given language barriers and discrimination. Many individuals trapped in Lesvos living either in the inhumane conditions of Moria Camp or on the streets and abandoned houses of Mytilini self-medicate with horribly addictive prescription drugs, such as the insomnia medication Flunitrazepam (commonly known as “Bubli”). Prescriptions for these drugs are illegally sold in the open in Moria Camp and the parks of Mytilini under the eye of Greek police, who rarely intervene. Saihi was one individual who self medicated in order to build up the courage to face the swim to board the ferry to Athens.

Instead of investigating the rampant sale of drugs to desperate migrants and refugees who have few options for survival in Lesvos, the Greek police operate an unchecked campaign of discrimination and violence against such marginalized persons. Systematic racial profiling by the police who regularly ask individuals for proof of their legal status means a life of constant stress, in particular for individuals denied protection by the Greek government and assistance by NGOs.

In Lesvos, assistance provided by many humanitarian NGOs is linked to legal status, in direct contrast to established humanitarian principles, such as a commitment to provide assistance with impartiality,

which requires that it be provided solely on the basis of need and in proportion to need. This reflects the wider principle of non-discrimination that no one should be discriminated against on any grounds of status.

Mercy Corps International, for example provides cash assistance only to those who the Greek government has designated as asylum seekers or refugees. This means that humanitarian aid is provided only when the Greek government legitimizes an individual’s presence in Greece. Individuals whose applications have been rejected in the second instance and individuals who have not made an application to the Greek Asylum Service (often due to delays in the processing of applications) are unable to receive this aid, regardless of their need. Similar requirements for UNHCR coordinated housing and other services prevent many individuals in need from being provided housing outside Moria Camp, in shelters run by other NGOs.

Saihi’s death is a tragic consequence of Europe’s illegal policies of exclusion and containment. While they are not responsible for their creation, humanitarian NGOs must do more to distance themselves from such policies and instead adhere to the principles of impartiality and independence if they are truly nongovernmental and humanitarian.

Arbitrary Detention in Lesvos Continues

In January 2018, the so-called “pilot” program to detain throughout the asylum procedure individuals from low recognition rate countries officially ended. Since its initiation, The Legal Centre has denounced the practice of detention based on nationality as illegal. While we welcome the end of this policy, Greek Authorities continue to arbitrarily detain individuals on arrival.

The police enforcing the detention, justify such action based on the individual’s responses during their initial registration, citing that these individuals have applied for international protection “in order to delay or frustrate the enforcement of a return decision”. While this is one of the legal grounds for detention under Greek Law, this reasoning is being used to detain individuals immediately upon arrival in Greece, before they have even completed their initial registration.

While the stated reason for detention has changed, it seems that detention is still largely based on nationality, given that most of those detained upon arrival are from countries where the majority of citizens are denied international protection.

Further frustrating judicial review of these decisions, individuals are often detained without a written comprehensive order from the Police Director, stating “complete and comprehensive reasoning” for the detention, as required by Greek Law 4375, Article 46(3). The lack of such an order makes it difficult for individuals and lawyers alike to legally challenge the decision in court.

Additionally, Greece continues the practice of detaining individuals who have requested “voluntary” return to their home countries. Many individuals spend months in detention after they make the difficult decision to give up on their hope of receiving protection in Europe.

Under Greek and international law, asylum seekers cannot be detained simply because “he/she entered irregularly and/or stays in the country without a legal residence permit,” and detention should be enforced “exceptionally and if this is considered necessary after an individual assessment under the condition that no alternative measures” can be applied. [Greek Law 4375, Article 46]. While we condemn the containment policy as a violation of individuals’ right to freedom of movement, when most asylum seekers in Lesvos are in any case prohibited from leaving, there is no legal excuse for keeping individuals in detention upon arrival on the closed island of Lesvos, or when they are coerced into returning to their home countries.

Legal Centre Updates

Moria 35+2

Six months have passed since the police violently raided the African section of Moria Camp, and a trial date still has not been set for the Moria 35. On the 13 December 2017 the Municipal Court renewed for another six months the pretrial detention for the 30 defendants currently detained awaiting trial. This is despite petitions by the Legal Centre and Solidarity Now attorneys to release individuals with severe mental and physical health conditions. Since their arrest on 18 July 2017, these men have now been imprisoned for over six months, without any credible evidence against them.

Furthermore, it has been confirmed that two individuals arrested in Lesvos in the weeks following the 18 July raid of Moria Refugee Camp face identical criminal charges as the 35 originally arrested. These two men have been released with restrictive measures and continue to live in Lesvos. It is expected that they will be scheduled for trial together with the original 35.

While they are not in an official prison, the seven defendants who were released with restricted measures are still in an open air prison, restricted to Lesvos island and many still live in the militarized and inhumane Moria Refugee Camp; the same place where they were brutally attacked by the police on 18 July 2017. They are marginalized and have limited access to health care and humanitarian aid, making their life extremely difficult. Many still suffer health problems that were caused or aggravated by the police violence against them, and have ongoing health needs that they do not have funds to pay for. They are in a state of limbo, denied aid from organizations like Mercy Corps, because their asylum claims have been rejected in the second instance, yet they are prohibited from leaving the island (even if it were to return to their home country) due to the ongoing criminal case against them.

Despite the lack of justice found in the Greek court to date, there has been a growing solidarity movement to support these men and demand their freedom, as activists from around Europe have learned of their unjust arrest and continued detention.

At the Legal Centre, we have also launched a successful crowd funding campaign to both raise awareness and funds to ensure an effective legal defense.

Funding Updates

The Legal Centre continues to operate with the exclusive support of individual donations and entities that are not complicit in human rights or environmental abuses. Our ethical funding guidelines allow us not only to maintain our independence, but through our funders we have also begun to build relationships with solidarity organization outside Lesvos, in particular in Barcelona. We have renewed funding from both Fons Catalá and Fundación Heres for 2018, and received support from ASIC La Garriga‘s December fundraising campaign.

Thanks to this funding we are now are able to support a small team of two full time Greek attorneys, three part time interpreters, and a full time coordinator. Volunteer lawyers and legally trained individuals continue to serve as caseworkers in the Legal Centre and provide invaluable assistance to ensure that the Legal Centre can continue to have an open door policy and provide individualized consultation to any migrant in Lesvos who seeks our legal assistance. In 2017, through advocacy of our volunteers, interpreters, and lawyers, hundreds of Legal Centre clients were granted refugee status, subsidiary protection, and permission to leave Lesvos for the European continent.


  1. Moria Refugee Camp Unlivable and Containment Policy Unsustainable
  2. OPEN THE ISLANDS Campaigns initiated throughout Lesvos and Greece
  3. Sappho Square Sit-In
  4. Memorials Held for Refugees Killed at Sea and in Lesvos
  5. Legal Updates
    • Asylum Seekers Whose Right to Legal Aid Was Violated Forcibly Returned to Turkey
    • Detention Policy in Violation of International Law Extended to Syrian Men
    • Shifting Practices for Registration and Granting Permission to Leave the Island
  6. Legal Centre Lesvos Updates
    • Moria 35 Update
    • Legal Centre Lesvos Founder Receives Paris Pro Bono Award

1. Moria Refugee Camp Unlivable and Containment Policy Unsustainable

In October over 2260 individuals arrived in Lesvos from Turkey. During the same period, only 1189 asylum seekers were allowed to leave Lesvos and provided with accommodation on the mainland. This brings the total population of refugees and asylum seekers in Lesvos to approximately 8000, with an estimated 6000 staying in or around Moria Refugee Camp. Last month we reported on the inhumane conditions in Moria, and this month these problems have only compounded, putting asylum seekers lives in acute danger. Now, over 1000 children are living in Moria, unaccompanied minor children are living together with adults, and 3000 individuals are living in summer camping tents without heating. Reception conditions do not come close to “ensur[ing] . . . a dignified standard of living,” as required by EU Regulations (Recast Reception Conditions Directive 2013/33/EU).

Tragedy has already befallen asylum seekers in Lesvos. Two residents of Moria died in October – a five year old Syrian girl, and a 43 year old Iraqi man. While both reportedly suffered from prior medical conditions, the access to health care for asylum seekers remains appallingly inadequate.

The Greek State has received 700 million Euros to manage the arrival of refugees, and it is the obligation of the Greek State to ensure adequate standards of living and health care. However, solidarity and volunteer groups continue to be the key actors working daily directly with refugees and asylum seekers. Boat Refugee Foundation (BRF) and Emergency Response Centre International (ECRI) are the main providers of health care in the camp, and both are volunteer based organizations. Volunteer and donation based organizations such as Attika warehouse have also provided many of the tents in Moria and winter products distributed among the refugees.

2. OPEN THE ISLANDS Campaigns INitiated throughout Lesvos and Greece

As a result of the abysmal conditions refugees face in Lesvos and other Greek Islands, October saw the convergence of many different actors in the Greek islands and throughout Europe joining forces to call on the Greek government to open the islands and allow asylum seekers to travel to mainland EU. On 12 October, the Legal Centre Lesvos joined a collective of what has now grown to over 100 solidarity groups and grassroots organizations from the Greek islands, mainland Greece, and abroad, calling for urgent action from Greek government to address the untenable situation for refugees on the Greek islands. We demand that the EU government protect the rights of asylum seekers and immediately cancel the inhumane EU-Turkey deal, and allow refugees free movement rights.

On 23 October, the call to open the islands was echoed by larger NGOs and human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who the Legal Centre Lesvos joined in issuing an additional statement recommending that the Greek state allow asylum seekers free movement throughout Greece.

Lesvos LGBTIQ+ Refguee Solidarity also published a damning report on the complete lack of protection for LGBTIQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in Lesvos. Many face continued persecution and revictimization within Moria, on the streets of Lesvos, and from Greek authorities. They also demand that the islands be opened to allow LGBTQI+ refugees to reach safety on mainland Europe.


3. Sappho Square Sit-In

On the 20 October, due to the insecure, inhumane conditions, many families – the majority from Afghanistan – fled Moria Refugee Camp with all of their belongings. That night they slept in the street, rather than return to Moria Camp. The next day, despite attempts by the police to block their passage, they walked to Mitilini and occupied Sapfous square in central Mitilini. The occupation of Sapfous Square appears to have happened organically without prior organization or planning, in reaction to insecure conditions that refugees face when they arrive in Lesvos and are forced to stay in Moria Refugee Camp. Since 21 October, Afghan families and Kurdish and Iranian refugees have staged a sit-in in Sappho Square. Their central demand is to be allowed free movement rights to travel throughout Greece. The demands of those occupying Sapfous Square are in line both with international law and the Greek constitution which recognize free movement rights.

Throughout the past twenty days of protest, the police continue to have an intimidating presence in and around the Square. They routinely stop Europeans who are present in Sapfous Square, asking for IDs, threatening arrest, and demanding information about what individuals are doing in Greece. The attempt to intimidate Europeans from speaking with the protesting refugees and documenting their testimonies plays into a practice throughout Europe of keeping refugees out of the public eye, in refugee camps far from urban centres, where systematic violations of refugee rights can take place with impunity.

Despite the attempts by the police to silence the protesters and solidarity groups, Greek activists and solidarity groups including from Musafarat collective against detention centers, Κατάληψη στο Μπίνειο (Binio Squat), Εργατική Λέσχη Λέσβου (Workers Union Lesvos) and No Borders Kitchen Lesvos have led solidarity actions and provided support to the protesting refugees throughout the past twenty days.

In addition to organizing to put pressure on Greek and European authorities to open the islands, the Legal Centre Lesvos will continue to monitor the police’s response to the occupation of Sapfous Square so that the right to protest is respected, and that any violation of this right is documented.

4. Memorials Held for Refugees Killed at Sea and in Lesvos

Welcome to Europe held a memorial in Thermi, Lesvos on 25 October in remembrance of the victims of Fortress Europe, who died at sea attempting to reach the safety of Europe, or who died while trapped on Lesvos.

A second memorial was held in Eftalou organized by Phillipa and Eric Kempson of the Hope Project, to mark two years since the preventable tragedy in 2015 when dozens were lost at sea attempting to reach Europe.

The Legal Centre Lesvos condemns the EU policies of exclusion which continue to arm the repressive Turkish regime, and fail to provide safe passage to individuals fleeing war, persecution and imperialist policies of economic and environmental exploitation.

5. Legal Updates

  • Asylum Seekers Whose Right to Legal Aid Was Violated Forcibly Returned to Turkey

In July and August we reported on the lack of legal aid available for asylum seekers on appeal, in direct violation of their right to legal aid on appeal under Greek Law 4375, Article 46. Two months later, the individuals who appealed the rejection of their cases without a lawyer are now being rejected on appeal and deported to Turkey. This includes one individual who was politically involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and faces persecution if returned there. As is the case for many sub-Saharan Africans, his claim was rejected on credibility after being interviewed by a European Aslum Support Office (EASO) “expert”. In theory, EASO does not make decisions, but issues an opinion after the interview(s) which, along with the interview transcript, forms the basis of the Greek Asylum Service decision. This is particularly concerning when it comes to determinations of credibility. Often, minor inconsistencies and a detached manner of recalling events are used to find individuals non-credible – when these are the very symptoms that a survivor of trauma might express.

The involvement of EASO experts in the Greek asylum procedure was challenged and upheld in the recent Council of State decision that found Turkey to be a Safe Third Country. However, we continue to condemn the lack of clarity regarding the extent of EASO’s mandate, particularly given ongoing concerns over the training and quality control of EASO “experts.”

As just one example of the callous institutional attitude of EASO, and the prioritisation of securitisation over upholding international human rights and refugee law, one EASO officer was overheard in a Mitilini cafe this month stating that “All Africans are lying”, and the primary role for EASO in Greece is to protect Europe from Isis.

“All Africans are lying,” - EASO Officer, Lesvos, October 2017.

Unfortunately, rejection on appeal is not limited to individuals without a lawyer and the Appeals Committee have served mainly to rubber stamp the initial decision made by the Greek Asylum Service. The recent European Commission report on implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement shows that ONLY 1 % OF DENIALS OF INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION WERE REVERSED ON APPEAL in cases made by non-Syrians from the Greek islands. This lack of effective remedy is a clear violation of asylum seekers right to access justice.

Given the large number of inconsistencies reported regarding interviews conducted and decisions made in Lesvos, these statistics are alarming and have tragic consequences for the individuals who have risked everything to reach the safety of Europe, only to be returned (via Turkey) to the countries where their lives may be at risk. Prohibitively expensive court fees and lack of sufficient legal aid actors on Lesvos has meant that asylum seekers are unable to challenge these routine violations in court and there has been no effective remedy or redress for violation of their rights.

  • Continued Detention in Violation of International Law Extended to Syrian men

The illegal practice of detention based on nationality for the duration of examination of applications for international protection continues, and has been extended to single Syrian men. This apparently is following the Council of State decision from last month which found that Turkey was a Safe Third Country for Syrians. HIAS successfully challenged the detention of three Syrian men, however, the three were released based on individual circumstances, and the general practice of detaining single Syrian men upon arrival continues.

Lawyers working with detained individuals have reported that detainees lack basic information about their rights – such as the right to appeal, and to information about their application in a language they understand. Lawyers have also reported that detained individuals do not have access to effective legal aid as police limit the amount of time detained individuals have to consult lawyers and often interrupt confidential consultations. The practice of keeping individuals in detention throughout the processing of their applications for international protection have horrifying consequences for the individuals detained, and due to limited access it is difficult to monitor the extent of violations taking place. There have been several reports of self harm and suicide attempts by individuals detained in Moria Camp. The Legal Centre has long denounced the illegal practice of detention based on nationality without individualized assessment, as this practice violates asylum seekers right to effective legal aid, and be free from arbitrary detention, and to be free from discrimination based on nationality.

  • Shifting Practices for Registration and Granting Permission to Leave the Island

During October 2017, the Greek Asylum Service changed its containment policies for asylum seekers who arrive to Lesvos. In the past several months individuals were made to wait until at least after their first interview with EASO or the Greek Asylum Service in order for their request to have geographic restrictions lifted considered. Thousands of asylum seekers are contained for months, some for over a year, on Lesvos awaiting the decision on their applications for international protection. For several weeks in October this practice shifted and individuals who were able to establish that they are vulnerable (a legal term under Greek law) at the full registration of their application for international protection were allowed to travel throughout Greece. Many of these individuals were transferred to the mainland and had their cases transferred for processing by the Greek Asylum Service in Athens and Thessaloniki.

As of the end of October, this policy has been rescinded, and once again individuals must appear for their first interview regarding their application for international protection in Lesvos before the Greek Asylum Service will consider lifting geographic restrictions.

The constantly changing policies and inconsistent and arbitrary treatment of asylum seekers has led to increased tensions within the refugee population in Lesvos as new arrivals have been allowed to leave the island and have been provided with housing on the mainland while many others face a second winter in Moria. “Vulnerability” under Greek law has been used as a criteria to lift geographic restrictions. But, as we have seen in many cases, non-visible vulnerabilities such as psychological problems and trauma frequently go unrecognised, despite being indicators of vulnerability under Greek Law 4375, Article 14(8). Moreover, while vulnerable asylum seekers are guaranteed certain safeguards and protections under Greek law, those found not-vulnerable also possess a significant bundle of legal rights which are currently being violated. All asylum seekers have the right to adequate reception conditions, to access a fair process, and to freedom of movement – all of which is being routinely violated in Lesvos, and in particular for those living in Moria Refugee Camp.

6. Legal Centre Lesvos Updates

  • Moria 35 Update

Three months after the July 18 arrests, the preliminary hearing procedure in the case of the Moria 35 has closed. A trial date has not yet been set. The three Bambara speaking defendants provided their own interpreter and agreed to be interrogated. With representation by HIAS and Legal Centre Lesvos, the three were ordered released with restrictive measures awaiting trial. With the conclusion of interrogation of all 35 defendants, the preliminary procedure now has closed and we await a trial date to be set.

While five of the 35 defendants are free in Lesvos awaiting trial, 30 have now been detained for three months, awaiting trial, despite lack of credible evidence against them.

Meanwhile, investigation of excessive use of force by the police against the 35 is ongoing. Several individuals who had filed complaints against the police for excessive use of force were visited by police while in detention, as part of the police department’s own internal investigation.

  • Legal Centre Lesvos Founder Receives Pro Bono Award

Each year since 2012, the Paris Bar organises a Pro Bono Award Competition which rewards solidarity actions led by Parisian lawyers. This year, among the thirty candidates who presented their projects, Norma Jullien, one of the co-founders of the Legal Centre Lesvos, was nominated.

On Tuesday 10th of October, the Pro Bono Award Ceremony took place in Paris and gathered nearly 400 lawyers and many representatives of the associative world. On this occasion the Henri Leclerc Prize dedicated to trainee and young lawyers has been awarded to Norma Jullien for her action in favor of the refugees of Lesvos and her work with the Legal Centre Lesvos.

After having dedicated her award to the entire team, Norma Jullien recalled the degrading and inhumane conditions in which the Moria camp population is staying, the systematic breaches of human rights they are subjected to and the crucial role of the international community of lawyers to fight these abuses.

Currently training at the Paris Bar School, Norma Jullien will be fully qualified to practice as a French lawyer next autumn 2018. Meanwhille she remains involved with the Legal Centre Lesvos from abroad as a volunteer coordinator.

September Report on Rights Violations and Resistance in Lesvos

  1. Inhumane and dangerous conditions in Moria camp
  2. Afghan community protest
  3. Anti-fascist demonstration in Mytilene
  4. EU Co-ordinator of the EU-Turkey Statement meets with resistance on his visit to Lesvos
  5. Legal Centre Lesvos Legal Updates

    • Family Reunification
    • Moria 35
  6. General Legal Updates
    • Decision of Greek Council of State sets dangerous precedent for forcible returns to Turkey under EU-Turkey Deal
    • Returns to Greece begin from Germany and other European States
    • Detention of 28 nationalities in accelerated procedure

  1. Inhumane and dangerous conditions in Moria camp

Living conditions in Moria camp have become unbearable over the past month as a dramatic increase in arrivals coincides with a deterioration in the weather and inadequate provision of food, shelter, healthcare and hygiene. Between the 1st and 26th of September 2017, 2,238 people risked their lives crossing the Mytilene Strait from Turkey to Lesvos, while during September 2016, 1068 people made this journey. Authorities have given estimates that the number of new registrations is over 200 people per day, which is the highest since March 2016. Moria camp is now at over double its capacity: at least 4,831 people are living in a camp equipped to accommodate no more than 1,800. In recent days, tents – which are fundamentally unfit for winter weather or long term accommodation – have been flooded from the rain.

Clients visiting the Legal Centre report that summer camping tents are crammed into every available space in Moria to accommodate new arrivals, that there are up to 20 people housed in containers meant for 5, that access to water gets cut off for days at a time, that there is no access to healthcare, that there are particularly vulnerable individuals – heavily pregnant women, people in wheelchairs, survivors of sexual, psychological, physical violence and torture, unaccompanied minors and pregnant minors – among those living in conditions unfit for human habitation; that there is widespread despair and mounting unrest.

In the winter of 2016-2017, in similarly crowded and inhumane conditions at least five people died in the cold in Moria Camp. When questioned about plans for ‘winterization’ of the camp for the approaching winter, a UNHCR representative responded that one solution would be increased returns to Turkey. Return to Turkey of asylum seekers violates the basic tenets of rights guaranteed to refugees and is clearly not a solution to the inhumane treatment that asylum seekers currently face in Lesvos.

The current reception conditions in Lesvos are in abject violation of the provisions of the Recast Reception Conditions Directive 2013/33/EU, Recital 11 of which demands “Standards for the reception of applicants that will suffice to ensure them a dignified standard of living”, and Article 17(2) of which mandates:

“Member States shall ensure that material reception conditions provide an adequate standard of living for applicants, which guarantees their subsistence and protects their physical and mental health. Member States shall ensure that that standard of living is met in the specific situation of vulnerable persons, in accordance with Article 21, as well as in relation to the situation of persons who are in detention.”

In the face of the deplorable violation of these requirements that current conditions constitute, removing geographical restrictions amounts to a binding legal obligation under Article 7(1) of the Reception Conditions Directive since the assigned area of Lesvos does not allow sufficient scope for guaranteeing access to all benefits under the Directive:

“Applicants may move freely within the territory of the host Member State or within an area assigned to them by that Member State. The assigned area shall not affect the unalienable sphere of private life and shall allow sufficient scope for guaranteeing access to all benefits under this Directive.”

Legal Centre Lesvos therefore calls on Greek and EU authorities to immediately remove geographical restrictions placed on applicants for international protection and permit free movement to mainland Greece, where other European states must respect relocation programs so that the minimum reception conditions required to safeguard human dignity can be met. The current situation in Moria only compounds the already well-documented fact that reception conditions under the Common European Asylum Procedure are being systematically violated in Lesvos.


Photo credit: Lesvos Solidarity – Pikpa Facebook

  1. Afghan Community protest

On Monday 28th August, the Afghan refugee community in Lesvos marched from Moria to Sappho’s Square Mytilene, protesting their confinement to the island for what in many cases has been over a year. Protesters wore T-shirts with their asylum status – “no decision” – and their dates of arrival in Greece marked in red pen – like the red stamp on International Protection Applicant documents that signifies geographical restriction to Lesvos. The protest echoed the demands of both the Afghan community protests in Athens the prior week, and the collective protests in Moria held on 17th and 18th of July. The Afghans participating in the protest issued the following statement:

“Today Afghan refugees are protesting our imprisonment on Lesvos. Many of us have been here for over a year trapped on this island, and we are still waiting for decisions. We join the struggle of protests held on 17 and 18 of July, and demand that the right to freedom of movement be granted for asylum seekers who have been here since 2016. We also join the call of Afghan refugees who protested last week in Athens, and call on Greece to halt all deportations of Afghans. From the recent massacres of unarmed civilians in Mirzaolang in northern Afghanistan, in which children, women, and elderly were ruthlessly killed, to the daily suicide bombings across the country, to the reckless US drone strikes in Nangarhar, Afghan Asylum Seekers in Greece say — Afghanistan is not a safe country, and all deportation should stop.”

The protesters camped in Sappho Square, waiting for the Greek Authorities respond to their demands. After police threats, harassment and detention of community leaders, two days after their protest began a representative of the European Asylum Support Office in Lesvos and the Commander of Lesvos Police met with the protesters. The representative of EASO reportedly promised them that the following Tuesday decisions would be issued for Afghans who had been waiting in Lesvos since 2016, so they decided to end their sit-in. The following Tuesday 5th September, representatives of the Afghan community were again told by EASO officials that they must wait for decisions.  The community attempted to meet with the Greek Minister of Immigration Policy – Ioannis Mouzalas – when he visited Moria Camp on 6 September, but he refused to meet with any refugees. They also submitted a letter to the Regional Greek Asylum Office, EASO, and the Greek Ministry of Migration on 7 September 2017, with two simple demands – first, the issuance of decisions and granting freedom of movement throughout Greece for all asylum seekers who arrived in Lesvos in 2016; and second, an end to all deportations to Afghanistan and Turkey. To date this letter remains unanswered and Afghan asylum seekers remain in limbo on Lesvos.


Photo credits: Joan Mas

  1. Anti-fascist demonstration in Mytilene

On Monday 18th September, Αντιφασιστικός Συντονισμός Λέσβου (Lesvos Antifa) organised a march through Mytilene to: “make it clear once again that any right-wing fascist logic has no place on the island of Lesvos”. The demonstration formed part of co-ordinated anti-fascist actions across Greece, commemorating four years since the anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas (Killah P) was murdered on 18 September 2013 by fascist George Roupakia, who worked for and publically supported Golden Dawn – the fascist party that currently holds 17 seats in Greek parliament. At the time, Fyssas’ murder sparked a wave of anti-fascist resistance across Greece and Europe. It is now central to ‘the biggest trial of fascist criminality since Nuremberg’, in which members of the Golden Dawn party leadership stand accused of directing criminal violence including Fyssas’ murder and other violent street attacks perpetrated by fascists against migrants and leftists, including against a group of Egyptian migrants and members of a communist-affiliated trade union. Proceedings in this politically charged trial began again at the beginning of September. While a ruling on the Golden Dawn party that casts it as institutionally criminal would be significant, in a post about resistance on September 18th, Αντιφασιστικός Συντονισμός Λέσβου (Lesvos Antifa) was careful to highlight the limitations of this form of justice in the struggle against fascism; by tracing the connections between fascist ideology, the state and the violent logic of borders:

Fascism has historically never been institutionally fought by state mechanisms, as it is the most violent and oppressive form of capitalism. And that is because it is the state that builds fences and minefields at the border, evacuates the occupations of migrants, creates concentration camps, attacks those who organise resistance “from the bottom”, i.e the same subjects that are the target of the fascists.”

“In contrast to this, our world is that of equality and solidarity, and we are willing and prepared to do everything we can to defend it.”


Photo credit: Αντιφασιστικός Συντονισμός Λέσβου Facebook

  1. EU Co-ordinator of the EU-Turkey Statement meets with resistance on his visit to Lesvos

On Thursday 21st September, Mr. Maarten Verwey, EU coordinator for implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, traveled to Lesvos and met with authorities in Moria Camp, Karatepe Camp, and the Mytilene mayor’s office. He did not, however, meet with any of the individuals best placed to brief him on the impact of the EU-Turkey Statement: the refugees and asylum seekers who know all too well how refugees are treated in Turkey, and as a consequence of the ‘deal’, have been trapped on Lesvos for months and years living in inhumane and degrading conditions in perpetual fear of deportation.

Mr. Verwey visited Lesvos just a few weeks after the European Commission issued its Seventh Report on the Progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement. As in previous reports, the European Commission recommends increased returns to Turkey, and notably omits information on conditions for non-Syrian refugees who are deported to Turkey under the “readmission” scheme despite clear evidence that Turkey systematically violates the rights of refugees returned from Greece.

The report also echoes previous recommendations by the European Commission to increase security, decrease risk of absconding, and recommends that Greece consider returning to Turkey vulnerable individuals and individuals applying for family reunification within European States under the Dublin III Regulation. It also recommends keeping vulnerable individuals restricted to the Greek islands throughout the asylum process. Until now, the Greek State has not returned to Turkey any individuals whose Dublin applications for transfer to a second European State have been accepted, and the Greek Asylum Service has granted freedom of movement throughout Greece to individuals who they find to be vulnerable. The European Commission putting continued pressure on Greece to refuse entry to even the most vulnerable refugees exposes their intention to prioritise maintaining Fortress Europe above respect for international human rights protections and basic humanity.


Local actors and refugees will continue to denounce, organize and protest against the EU-Turkey Statement and its devastating impact on the lives of individuals and families seeking protection in Europe.


  1. Legal Centre LesBos Legal Updates

  • Family reunification

The Legal Centre has had good news in the case of a client we have been representing for nearly a year. After rejecting the application twice, Germany has finally accepted an application for family reunification under the discretionary and dependency provisions of Articles 16 and 17 of the Dublin III Regulation 604/2013 thanks to the coordinated efforts of the Legal Centre team. The chances of success in such cases are vanishingly slim, particularly in light of Germany’s recent suspension of family reunification procedures. As such, we are very happy to announce that the client will soon travel to be reunited with her daughter and grandchildren in Germany. The case serves as an example of why it is always worth fighting to do everything possible de jure, irrespective of the de facto collapse of some parts of the applicable European legal framework.

  • Moria 35

The preliminary hearing procedure in the case of the Moria 35 has been ongoing for two months due to the Greek state’s failure to provide Bambara and Wolof language translators for four defendants. While this preliminary procedure is unconcluded, the 30 defendants interrogated by the judge in July and ordered detained awaiting trial, remain incarcerated in prisons in Chios and Athens despite a lack of credible evidence against them. However, the delay has contributed to a victory in the case of one of the four defendants. While it is the obligation of the State to provide interpreters, on 29th September 2017 the Wolof speaking defendant himself provided an interpreter and agreed to be interrogated. At conclusion of his interrogation and on application by the criminal defence team co-ordinated by the Legal Centre, the court ordered that he be released with restrictive measures awaiting trial. The defense team argued that because of his health conditions, his residence in Moria Camp, lack of any criminal history, and the fact that he has been duly reporting to authorities and showing up to court each week for two months, he should not be detained awaiting trial. Both the public prosecutor and judge agreed. The court still has not provided a Bambara translator for the remaining three defendants, which means the preliminary procedure remains unconcluded, and all 35 continue to wait for a trial date to be set.

  1. General Legal Updates

  • Decision of Greek Council of State sets dangerous precedent for forcible returns to Turkey under EU-Turkey deal

On 22nd of September, the Greek Council of State Plenary – Greece’s highest administrative court – ruled that Turkey is a safe country. By a vote of 13 to 12, the court decided not to refer the question as to whether Turkey can be considered a “safe third country” for determination by the European Court of Justice. If the ruling is enforced, the applicants in this case will be the first to be officially forcibly returned to Turkey on the basis that it is a safe third country since the EU-Turkey Statement of March 2016: setting an extremely dangerous precedent. The concept of a ‘safe third country’ for the purposes of the Common European Asylum System is set out in Article 38 of the Recast Asylum Procedures Directive 2013/32/EU, which lists five principles that competent authorities must be satisfied that applicants for international protection will be treated in accordance with:

(a) life and liberty are not threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion;

(b) there is no risk of serious harm as defined in Directive 2011/95/EU

(c) the principle of non-refoulement in accordance with the Geneva Convention is respected;

(d) the prohibition of removal, in violation of the right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as laid down in international law, is respected; and

(e) the possibility exists to request refugee status and, if found to be a refugee, to receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Convention

The Legal Centre has consistently denounced the EU-Turkey deal for its hypocritical, politically expedient reliance on the notion that Turkey – not even a signatory of the 1968 protocol to the Refugee Convention – can be considered a ‘safe third country’, given overwhelming evidence that each of five principles listed above are systematically violated by Erdogan’s repressive authoritarian regime. Indeed, the Greek Council of State’s decision came just as Amnesty International released a report documenting the heightened risk of violations of the principle of non-refoulement for refugees in Turkey since the state of emergency was put in place. 

  • Returns to Greece begin from Germany and other European states

The Legal Centre is concerned at recent moves made by Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, and other European states to resume returning refugees to Greece under the Dublin Regulation, which provides that the first European member state an asylum seeker enters is responsible for the examination of her application for international protection. Transfers back to Greece have been suspended since 2011, when decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union found that returns to Greece would amount to violations of the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3 ECHR, Article 4 European Charter) in combination with the right to an effective remedy (Article 13 ECHR, Article 47 EC), due to systematic deficiencies in asylum procedures and reception conditions. As systematic violations of these standards continue and conditions deteriorate, any European country returning refugees to Greece will risk acting in violation of non-derogable human rights.

  • Detention of 28 nationalities in accelerated procedure

The Legal Centre condemns the policy being used by Greek authorities that keeps applicants for international protection from countries with “low rates of recognition” detained for the duration of their asylum procedure, which is also accelerated. This policy is in violation of international human rights law: amounting to discrimination on the basis of nationality, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and precluding the right to effective access to procedures and effective remedy. The policy also violates procedural requirements of EU and Greek law, which explicitly prohibit holding people in detention for the sole reason that they have applied for international protection. Detention is only exceptionally permitted for limited time periods as a measure of last resort, under the specific circumstances set out in Article 46 of Greek Law 4375, which must be individually assessed in every case. The disturbing assumptions underlying this manifestly unlawful policy should be evident from the fact that a police circular describing the policy on 18th June 2016 termed people from “low rate of recognition” nationalities as “economic profile”, as opposed to “refugee profile” applicants.

August Report on Rights Violations and Resistance in Lesvos

  1. Freedom from Illegal Detention for Hunger Strikers
  2. Moria 35 Update
  3. Increase in Raids and Arbitrary Arrests
  4. One Year Anniversary of Legal Centre Lesvos
  5. Legal Updates:
    • Resumption of detention and accelerated procedure for individuals of certain nationalities
    • Continued violation of right to lawyer on appeal
    • Right to marriage for asylum seekers in Lesvos recognized


On Tuesday 8th August 2017, Behrooz Aresh and Kuzhin Hussein were released after enduring 35 days on hunger strike. With this victory, Arash Hampay ended his 41-day hunger strike, two weeks after his brother Amir Hampay was released from Moria Detention Centre on the 24th day of the hunger strike. The release of these three men from illegal, arbitrary detention is a victory for refugee rights in Lesvos and for the Lesvos solidarity movement. The hunger strikers victory also comes at an important time for resistance movements in Lesvos, given fear generated by authorities disproportionate response to demonstrations against human rights abuses, detailed in sections 2 and 3 below.

Amir, Behrooz, and Kuzhin are asylum seekers with cases pending in administrative court, and have committed no crime. On 28 June, after months in detention, and silenced by new restrictions limiting their contact with the outside world, the three prisoners were driven to start a hunger strike protesting their illegal detention. They were joined a day later by Amir’s brother, Arash Hampay, who made his protest in public view from the main square of Mytilene.

Over the past month activists around the world, including from Mosaik Centre and the Legal Centre, have mobilised in solidarity with Arash Hampay and the prisoners on hunger strike. Arash made daily statements on social media and for international press, communicated with the imprisoned hunger strikers and stationed himself in Sappho square around the clock with signs in Greek and English, to amplify the demand for freedom. Activists spread awareness through solidarity hunger strikes, fought to ensure hunger strikers received adequate medical attention and protection from intimidation, and put pressure on the Greek authorities to release them. Solidarity actions, including a march from Moria Detention Centre to Mytilene on 8 July, a rally on the main street of Mytilene on 1st August and a peaceful protest outside Moria Detention Centre on 5 August, led to increased coverage. One member of European Parliament issued a statement in support of the prisoners’ release.

The release of Behrooz and Kuzhin came just days after they broke their strike due to rapidly deteriorating health conditions. Behrooz had lost 30% of his body weight. Arash Hampay, whose health had been more closely monitored as he was not detained, decided to continue. He remained on hunger strike demanding the release of imprisoned hunger strikers for 41 days: breaking his hunger strike only when Behrooz and Kuzhin were finally released by court order, following petitions made by their Metadrasi lawyers.

The hunger strikers’ struggle and eventual victory has succeeded in raising local and international awareness about arbitrary detention in Lesvos. However, the unlawful practice that landed Amir, Behrooz and Kozhein in detention, of indiscriminately detaining all applicants for international protection whose cases are rejected on appeal, continues to be applied systematically. International pressure to end this practice must be maintained. As Arash said, in a statement on the day of Behroos and Kuzhein’s release:

“The heart of this victory is the people overcoming the state…The hunger strike ended today. We were victorious. [But] the struggle will always continue as long as injustice remains. Prisons still exist in our world and so do borders, which continue to separate people from each other.”


Photo credits: Arash Hampay’s Facebook


35 individuals were arrested on Tuesday 18th July 2017 in Moria Refugee Camp, Lesvos, in raids following clashes with riot police using teargas and violence. The individuals arrested have been charged with serious crimes including arson, damage to property, and rioting, which carry lengthy prison sentences and could signify exclusion from international protection. There is mounting evidence that individuals were arbitrarily arrested on the basis of their race, nationality and presence in the camp at the time of police raids. There is also considerable evidence that police used excessive force during and after the arrest of these individuals. Amnesty International Greece has urged authorities to investigate police violence possibly amounting to torture. See our previous report for further details.

The Legal Centre Lesvos, supported by Lesvos Solidarity, provided representation to all 35 in their preliminary hearings, and is now working with a larger coordinated group of organizations and criminal defense lawyers to ensure the 35 receive adequate representation both in their defense, and in their complaints against the police for excessive use of force.



On the mornings of Monday 17th and Tuesday 18th of July, before the mass arrests, refugee communities largely from Sub-Saharan Africa organized peaceful protests in front of the European Asylum Support office in Moria, demanding freedom of movement for those who have been trapped on the island for over six months. Their demands are in line with International, EU and Greek constitutional law, which guarantee free movement rights. In fact, a recent administrative court ruling in Spain, found that restriction of asylum seekers to Ceuta (a city on the Northern coast of the African continent that was colonised and is now part of the Spanish State) was in violation of their constitutional free movement rights.

The protests calling for freedom of movement followed months of organizing peaceful resistance to state policies that continue to violate basic human rights in Lesvos. Refugee communities sent letters to European leaders, met with Greek authorities and European Parliament members and held peaceful demonstrations. Community leaders announced collective demands on Greek radio. The protests of July 17th and 18th were organised to take place during a week when an Action Camp organised by Lesvos Solidarity and Amnesty International to “shine a spotlight on the dire situation facing refugees trapped on Lesvos” had brought the attention of international media and activists to the island. Many refugee community leaders in Lesvos participated in this Action Camp, which culminated in a symbolic action denouncing the EU-Turkey deal responsible for trapping refugees on Lesvos.

On Monday 24th July, a week after the peaceful protests and subsequent mass arrests of the Moria 35, police carried out a coordinated pre-dawn raid of Moria Refugee Camp, where approximately 3000 refugees are currently living. From 5am, police surrounded the camp, preventing humanitarian workers from entering and proceeded to systematically search the ISO-box containers and tents, demanding refugees show applicant for international protection identity documents. 54 people were arrested during this raid. 21 of the arrestees were later released, while 23 were incarcerated in the detention centre in Moria. The apparently arbitrary nature of these raids and arrests raise concerns that authorities are employing a policy of intimidation calculated to instill fear and put a stop to refugees collectively organising to protest brutal conditions on the island; which is difficult enough in the face of a legal procedure that functions to divide people on the basis of nationality.

Increasing ID checks in the streets, combined with these raids and mass arrests have led to an increase in refugees seeking legal counsel in the Legal Centre as fear of arbitrary arrest grows. In the past month, we have taken on over 50 new cases, and over 80% of these new clients were referred to the Legal Centre by other refugees.



The Legal Centre opened its doors inside Mosaik Support Centre one year ago, in August 2016. With a small dedicated team of interpreters, Greek attorneys, and longÍ-term legally trained volunteers, we have provided individual consultation to over 500 individuals and families seeking refuge in Europe. We have always operated an open door policy, providing legal aid and information to all who seek our help, regardless of legal status or strength of claims for international protection.

Over the past year our work has evolved as the challenges facing refugees in Lesvos constantly change. To meet these challenges, we have now hired two Greek attorneys, who provide representation to refugees not only in asylum procedures, but also to advocate for refugees rights wherever they are violated, such as in criminal and administrative proceedings.

In addition to providing individualized access to legal advice, we support refugee-led activities to advocate for human rights protections in Lesvos and organised with refugee communities, local activists and solidarity groups in the fight against the long-term structural injustices of the European Asylum System.


  • Resumption of detention and accelerated procedure for individuals of certain nationalities

Legal actors in Lesvos have raised collective concerns that authorities are detaining individuals upon arrival who come from countries with less than 25% acceptance rate for asylum. These individuals are also subject to expedited procedures for their asylum claim, sometimes to an extreme degree. In at least a few cases, the individuals arrived, had their interview the next day, were denied the day after the interview, appealed, and the examination of the appeal was scheduled a mere eight days after their arrival on the island. These individuals were detained throughout the process, with no medical attention and no access to legal services. Discrimination on the basis of nationality is prohibited by international law, while Article 46 of Greek Law 4375 provides that detention can be used only as a measure of last resort, for limited time periods, and must be individually assessed in every case. International law also mandates the right to due process and freedom from arbitrary detention.

  • Continued violation of right to lawyer on appeal

The Greek government continues to violate the rights of asylum applicants by not providing lawyers to represent them on appeal. Article 44 of Greek Law provides that “in procedures before the Appeals Authority, applicants shall be provided with free legal assistance”, transposing Articles 19-23 of the 2013/32/EU ‘Procedures Directive’, which requires the same. Though Metadrasi resumed taking cases some time in late July, with only five full-time and one part-time attorney, they are at reduced capacity. Refugees who have been denied on the first instance continue to be bounced around to all of the legal actors on the island looking for representation after being told that Metadrasi doesn’t have capacity to assist them. It appears that the situation will not improve in the near future. Metadrasi is funded at the current level through the end of 2017. The Greek government recently approved funding for 26 more lawyers to start in September nation-wide, but only one will be stationed on Lesvos. The funding level for legal aid was based on the needs assessment from 2014, before individuals arriving to Lesvos were prevented from travelling to the mainland.

Since late June 2017, the Legal Centre has consulted at least 17 individuals whose cases were rejected who have been told there is no lawyer available to represent them on appeal. Because the Legal Centre has limited capacity, we prioritize providing legal aid where people don’t have the right to a lawyer provided by the Greek State, as they do at this stage of the appeal. With only two Greek attorneys in our office, we also did not have capacity to assist these individuals. They are being denied their right to access to justice, and risk being denied on appeal and potentially deported to countries where they could face persecution.

  • Right to marriage for asylum seekers in Lesvos recognized

In late July, attorneys from HIAS won an important case regarding the right to marry. Previously, asylum seekers in Lesvos were denied marriage licenses, no matter the legal status of their intended spouse. The individuals that HIAS represented were an asylum seeker and an individual with legal residency as a refugee who had been denied a marriage license. The asylum seeker did not have a certificate of no impediment or any other document from her country of origin certifying her age. The court noted that refugees by definition have a damaged relationship with their home country, and should not be expected to provide these documents. It stated that the Greek State must be flexible and open-minded in these cases to protect the fundamental rights of refugees such as the right to family. In place of a certificate of no impediment, a statement that there is no impediment for the individual concerned is sufficient.