The family reunification procedure under the European Union’s (EU) Dublin Regulation is one of the only safe and legal routes protecting family unity and allowing legal migration from Greece to other EU countries.
It provides for applicants or beneficiaries of international protection in Greece to reunite with their family members, where the relationship is that of spouses (or unmarried partners in a stable relationship), parents and their minor children, and for unaccompanied asylum seeking children with a wider range of persons. In addition, some dependency and discretionary criteria are applied that allow family members who do not meet these strict criteria to be reunited on humanitarian or other grounds – though, as will be demonstrated, success in such cases is particularly rare.
The fundamental right to a private and family life is recognised under international and European law. In practice, however, migrants’ enjoyment of their right to family life is often denied or obstructed by flaws in registration and asylum procedures, authorities’ failures to ensure the timely identification, substantiation and submission of family reunification requests, and, most critically, by the continued and knowing bad faith of other EU Member States in their implementation of the Dublin Regulation, through ungrounded or unfair rejections of family reunification requests coming from Greece.
Furthermore, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has both exacerbated many of these issues and been used by domestic and regional authorities to justify their own, independent failings.
Nonetheless, in recent months, ten families represented by the Legal Centre Lesvos have either had their family reunification requests accepted or, following an earlier acceptance, have finally travelled to join relatives in other European countries. These include:
– Mohammed*, an unaccompanied minor from Syria, who was reunited with his uncle and aunt in Germany after almost two years alone in Greece, in which Greece failed to submit his timely request for reunification or transfer him within the allotted time period, therefore requiring extensive advocacy efforts;
– Samir, an unaccompanied minor from Afghanistan who was first registered as an adult in Greece, and who – after months of living in a rub hall with unrelated adults in Lesvos’ Temporary Reception and Identification Centre – was ultimately given an age assessment, recognised as a minor, and granted reunification with his brother in Germany;
– Ziad, an unaccompanied minor from the Bidoon (stateless) community in Kuwait, who faced numerous challenges in proving his relationship to his brother in the UK due to their lack of official documentation, and whose transfer was then unduly complicated by Brexit.
These successes have been hard won. From the Legal Centre’s experience, the Greek Dublin Unit was generally collaborative and proactive in its approach to family reunification cases.
However, it has become – particularly over the past two years – an increasingly uphill battle for families applying to be reunited, with issues often stemming from Greek authorities themselves.
In the majority of the cases discussed in this report the Legal Centre has supported families for more than a year, with most requests refused in the first instance and requiring appeals, litigation, and/or other forms of advocacy.
The shortcomings of the Dublin Regulation itself, while both acute and at the crux of many of the issues discussed here, are outside the scope of this report. Instead, it will provide an overview of the challenges faced by migrants in accessing their rights to family life and the sources of these long delays in reunification, based on the Legal Centre’s experiences and the testimonies of those we have supported in their efforts to join relatives elsewhere in Europe.
Read the report in full by clicking through the PDF above, or download it here.
* All names have been changed to protect the individuals’ identities.