This month, to illustrate parts of the administrative kafkaesque nightmare faced by migrants going through the asylum procedures in Greece, we would like to talk about the case of Farhad (name changed) one of LCL clients.
Put in a nutshell, Farhad is from Iran and fled his country for Greece in 2019. Like thousands of other asylum seekers, he arrived in Lesvos and applied for asylum. Like thousands of others, he received multiple rejections from the Greek asylum service who concluded twice that, despite the evidence provided, his claim for asylum lacked credibility. Like thousands of other rejected asylum seekers, he got stuck on the island of Lesvos for several years with no realistic remedy or alternative, or ability to move off the island.
After having received multiple rejections, Farhad came to the Legal Centre Lesvos in the Summer of 2022 seeking legal assistance ahead of the oral hearing for one of his appeals. These hearings take place at Pagani, the local Asylum Office here on Lesvos. On 5 October 2022, Farhad arrived on time for his appointment and sat down in the waiting area, outdoors, surrounded by barbed wire fences. At Pagani, it is not unusual to wait outside for six to eight hours for an appointment. So when Farhad had to wait for hours, he was not alarmed. After a while though, the LCL lawyer that had come with him asked whether the appointment would still take place and was informed that his client had not shown up. In disbelief the lawyer pointed at Farhad and at the fact that he had been sitting there for several hours already. What had happened is that the officers at Pagani failed to note down Farhad’s information in the morning, assuming, most likely based on his appearance, that he was a lawyer and not an asylum seeker, and consequently concluded that he had not shown up for his hearing. As a consequence Farhad’s appeals hearing was rescheduled for two months later, which he attended, represented by the LCL.
Patience is a virtue, which is tested every day for asylum seekers on Lesvos. Those that get stuck for years on this island, like Farhad, better have a lot of it to survive. Following the rescheduled hearing, Farhad had to wait several months, until July 2023, to finally receive a decision by the Appeals Committee. This time, he received quite a special decision which expressly recognised him as a refugee but still rejected his claim. How can this be? The decision by the Appeals Committee is quite lengthy. It starts promising: Farhad’s claim is retold focusing on the right reasons. Reasons that show that he is eligible for international protection. And finally, it says those crucial words: Farhad fulfils the criteria for international protection and would face persecution in Iran based on the clear narrative and supporting documents he provided. But it then concludes that his asylum claim is still rejected. The justification for this rejection is a technicality: the Committee found that Farhad’s asylum seeker card had expired in the meantime, that he allegedly had not tried to renew it and concluded that he had implicitly withdrawn his application for international protection and that his case was already closed.
Apart from the absurdity of the legal reasoning in itself, the decision is consciously out of touch with the reality of its own administration. It is in particular in disregard with the administrative hurdles faced by Farhad, like thousands of other asylum seekers, when trying to renew their identification cards in Greece. In fact, Farhad had tried multiple times to renew his asylum seeker card. When he first requested the Greek Asylum Service to renew it, he was told that there were elections in Greece and that he should come back the week after. However, the journey of Farhad does not end here. When he returned the following week, he was once again told to come back the week after, since the systems were not working. During the Summer 2023, the renewal of asylum seekers cards were extremely difficult due to a months-long shutdown of the Greek asylum service online database and to the overcrowding in the camps leading to huge delays in the processing of cases. After a third attempt to renew his card, Farhad received the rejection, despite the fact that he clearly did not intend to withdraw his application. Neither implicitly nor explicitly. Contrary to the Committee’s decision, he had in fact tried several times to renew his asylum seeker card before it expired.
His case – which is not isolated – shows the living nightmare of going through the asylum procedure in Greece, like in many other countries. It also shows how resilient, stubborn and above all patient someone must be when applying for asylum. LCL lawyers who represent Farhad will file an Application of Continuation of the case which, if successful, would result in the case being reopened and the Appeals Committee’s decision to finally grant international protection being reinstated. Meanwhile, however, Farhad remains officially outside of the asylum procedure, with limited access to social services, including health care – despite the recognition of the Appeals Committee that he has a well founded fear of persecution in Iran.
In this series of stories, on a monthly basis we highlight the nonsense some of our clients have to endure throughout their asylum procedure. For more stories, come back next month.