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Over 2 years of systematic and widespread violent attacks against migrants in Greek seas carried out by the Hellenic Coast Guard and Frontex

Extracted image from the Forensic Architecture platform showing the drift-back incidents recorded from and off the shores of Lesvos island. Source: https://forensic-architecture.org/investigation/drift-backs-in-the-aegean-sea

On 15 July, Forensic Architecture and its partners published an interactive cartographic platform named “Drift-backs in the Aegean Sea” mapping over two years of material evidence of violent and illegal collective expulsions carried out against migrants in the Greek seas. 

This impressive work constitutes, to date, the most complete compilation of documentation evidencing the state violence carried out against migrants forced to take the already perilous crossing of the Aegean Sea in order to reach Europe. The platform maps out and displays the locations, modes of operation, actors involved and consequences of over 1,000 illegal collective expulsions or “drift-backs” of over 27,000 migrants by the Greek authorities.

The Legal Centre Lesvos (LCL) is proud to have contributed to this crucial project by sharing the evidence gathered over the last two years, as part of our continuous efforts to prevent, monitor, document, denounce and litigate illegal expulsions, inhumane treatment and abandonment of migrants at sea.

Undeniable illegal, systematic, widespread and dangerous attacks against migrants

Drift-backs, pushbacks, collective expulsions, attacks, abductions, or enforced disappearances, are all different ways to point at the same types of crimes carried out in the Aegean sea by the Hellenic Coast Guard and Frontex against migrants. Those crimes put people’s lives at risk and expose them to inhumane and ill-treatment often leading to irreversible traumas, severe injuries and drownings. Over a year and a half ago, in January 2021, the LCL demonstrated that these pushbacks are not only always dangerous per se, they also contravene a laundry list of treaties and protocols, and constitute Crimes against Humanity, due to the systemic and widespread nature of the attack being carried out against migrants. The platform released by Forensic Architecture reconfirms this finding and is a key tool demonstrating and exposing, once again, the scale of those illegal practices at EU sea borders. The platform is a significant contribution to the collective efforts mobilised over the last years by media, investigative projects, activists, civil society and solidarity groups advocating for accountability and an end to these illegal practices. It also confirms the importance of those sustained joint efforts.

The Forensic Architecture platform also highlights cases where particular intention to endanger people’s lives and  induce torture or ill-treatement by the authorities were recorded and evidenced. For instance : “26 cases were recorded where people were thrown directly into the sea by the Hellenic Coast Guard, without use of any flotation device. In 2 of these cases, the people were found handcuffed. 11 people were documented to have drowned during the drift-back, and at least 4 more went missing”. 

The platform is non-exhaustive and will be updated as long as those crimes continue, however, it is worth highlighting that out of all the drift-backs recorded in the Greek seas, over one third of them (386) took place from or off the shores of Lesvos Island. This is also a reminder that the work of legal and civil society actors on the “hotspot” islands, like LCL, should continue. The platform is, among others, a great support for the ongoing cases of pushbacks brought before the European Court of Human Rights against Greece

A further confirmation of Frontex direct involvement, complicity and cover up

In July 2022, Le Monde, Lighthouse Reports and Der Spiegel reported on the conclusions of a year-long investigation of the European Anti-Fraud Agency (OLAF) regarding the involvement of Frontex in migrants’ pushbacks in Greece. Their report, which was issued in February 2022 – but until now has not been made public – had already led to the fall of the Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri on 28 April 2022, who resigned before being submitted to further internal investigations and sanctions for mismanagement and long-lasting cover up of human right violations.

According to the revelations by Le Monde, Lighthouse Reports and Der Spiegel, the OLAF investigations establish that for more than two years, Frontex was aware that pushbacks were occurring in Greece, but decided to cover up the Greek State and to participate financially in these operations. Der Spiegel underlined that “instead of preventing these pushbacks, former boss Fabrice Leggeri and his staff covered them up. They lied to the European Parliament and hid the fact that the agency supported some pushbacks with European taxpayers’ money“. 

All the above revelations also finally led the European Parliament to block the FRONTEX budget in May 2022 by 492 votes in favour, 145 against and eight abstentions.

The recently published Forensic Architecture platform also shows, once more, the clear and direct involvement of Frontex, the European Border Coast Guard Agency in those illegal practices, and concludes that the agency “was found to have been directly involved in 122 cases, while it has acknowledged of 417, having logged them into their own operational archives codified and masked as ‘preventions of entry’. In 3 cases, the German NATO warship FGS Berlin was present on the scene.” 

Mounting political pressure

Political pressure is mounting in the last months as evidence of Greece’s crimes continues to be exposed. The EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson warned Greece on 30 June 2022, that “violent and illegal deportations of migrants must stop, now”. The United Kingdom Minister for the Armed Forces, testifying in the Defence Committee of UK Parliament on 12 July 2022, referenced the “successful employment of pushback tactics” in Greece, which the UK rejected because it considered that every migrant boat entering UK waters is a boat in distress that the UK is obligated by law to rescue.

Additionally, on 7 July 2022, Greece was unanimously condemned by the European Court of European Rights in the tragic case of Safi and Others v. Greece (application no. 5418/15), regarding the sinking on 20 January 2014 of a boat transporting 27 migrants in the Aegean Sea, off the Greek island of Farmakonisi, resulting in the death of 11 people. According to the applicants, the Greek coast guard vessel caused the fishing boat to capsize by travelling at very high speed in order to push the migrants back towards Turkish waters. The Court condemned Greece for, among others – not having “done all that could reasonably be expected of them” to actively protect their lives, in violation of Article 2 of the Convention. This case confirms the inherently dangerous character of any pushbacks at sea, which always  causes a risk to people’s lives.

It is worth noting that the European Court of Human Rights does not operate in isolation, and the issuing of this condemnation of Greece now, for a case filed over seven years ago, comes at the same time as the increased condemnation of Greece’s violent border policies by European institutions.  

Despite the overwhelming and compounded evidence of Greece’s systemic policy of forcing migrants back across the border and abandoning them at sea – the official stance of the Greek State continues to be one of categorical denial. Even after the publication on this report, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi commented that the OLAF report, “does not directly blame Greece”, while adding “we have the right to protect our borders”.

As those who have suffered pushbacks know best, pushbacks are happening. There is no room for denial, inaction, or shifting of responsibility. We hope that the recent revelations, condemnations, and advancement of court cases will lead to a change in policy in Greece and the numerous other borders where pushbacks are carried out. However, we are well aware that the current wave of condemnation from European institutions happened only after organised and persistent efforts by political movements, human rights and grassroots organisations. 

While we will continue to pursue accountability through the European Court of Human Rights, we will not wait for a decision that could take years to come, and whose outcome we cannot predict. Until there is a change in policy, more must be done now to stop the pushbacks that are still happening, often in plain sight, or only a few kilometres from city centres. As Legal Centre Lesvos, we will continue to work with other organisations and movements to document, denounce, and advocate to stop violence against migrants at Europes’ borders, and we will continue to directly intervene to prevent pushbacks, by provide emergency legal support to migrants who arrived in Greece, defending their basic human rights to be free from this cruel and deadly policy, to access critically needed medical care and to access the asylum procedure. 

 

Submission of Legal Centre Lesvos to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in Greece

Following an official visit to Greece between 13 to 22 June 2022, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, published a statement presenting her preliminary observations and recommendations. During her visit, she met with the Legal Centre Lesvos and other human rights defenders across Greece.

In her statement she adopted one of Legal Centre Lesvos’ primary recommendations: to bring the current law on anti-smuggling (Migration law) fully in compliance with the UN Protocol on Smuggling. As demonstrated in our submission, the Greek legislation currently in force is overly broad and vague, which gives the opportunity for its misuse in criminal proceedings and has led to the prosecution and conviction of human rights defenders for their legitimate human rights work.

Among others, she expressed being “concerned by reports of human rights defenders, in particular those supporting migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, being targeted by hostile comments, including by key stakeholders in the government. They are described as traitors, enemies of the state, Turkish agents, criminals and smugglers and traffickers. Such statements, especially when coming from high level officials, contribute to overall negative attitudes towards the role and work of human rights defenders, both by the larger population and by the police and other relevant agencies. This is turn further diminishes the available space for human rights defenders to operate in and may impact upon their activities and contribute to their self-censorship. Vilification of individual human rights defenders in the media, smear campaigns and death threats online and offline place serious burdens on those who the State should be championing as allies in complying with their obligation to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.”

Legal Centre Lesvos’ full submission to the Special Rapporteur can be read here:

Another miscarriage of justice from Mytilene’s Courts: Guilty verdict confirmed for the two children arrested following the Moria fire

PRESS RELEASE (στα ελληνικά)

Once again, the courts of Mytilene flouted the basic rules of a fair trial and the rights of the accused, by affirming the conviction of A.A. and M.H. on appeal. The two were minors when they were arrested, and among the six who were accused of the fire that destroyed Moria’s Reception and Identification Centre in 2020. Twenty-six prosecution witnesses paraded through the court today, and none of them identified the two defendants. The court nevertheless decided to confirm the conviction of the two on appeal, without credible evidence.

The only evidence against A.A. was based on the testimony of a “ghost” witness – who was neither summoned by the investigating magistrate nor appeared before the trial court – who named A.A.only by his first name and identified him when his specific photograph was arbitrarily shown to him by the police. As for M.H., the only identifying evidence was a video, which the Athens forensic laboratory said was of such poor quality that no forensic conclusions could be drawn.

The Mytilene Juvenile Court of Appeal finally recognised the defendants’ mitigating circumstances, reducing their sentence because of good behaviour during their time in prison. However, contrary to the usual judicial practice, which is to reduce the sentence by half, the court reduced their sentence by only one year, from five years to four years imprisonment. 

Fortunately, the Athens Juvenile Court of Appeal – which was in parallel deciding on a petition for the two teenagers’ provisional release from prison – today decided in favour of A.A., who will finally be released from prison, following the Kafkaesque suffering he has endured since his arrival in Greece. The same court will decide on 5 July on the petition for the release of M.H.

“The court of Mytilene considers that they can make decisions with no accountability. Fortunately there is the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights” said Vicky Angelidou who, together with Vasilis Psomos and Natasha Dailiani, represent the two minors as lawyers of the Legal Centre Lesvos.

Further information on the trials of the six accused of the Moria fire can be found at: 

ΔΕΛΤIΟ ΤYΠΟΥ: AΛΛΗ ΜΙΑ ΑΤΥΧHΣ ΣΤΙΓΜH ΓΙΑ ΤΑ ΔΙΚΑΣΤHΡΙΑ ΤΗΣ ΜΥΤΙΛHΝΗΣ: EΝΟΧΟΙ ΚΑΙ ΣΤΟ ΕΦΕΤEIΟ ΟΙ ΔYΟ ΑΝHΛΙΚΟΙ ΠΟΥ ΣΥΝΕΛHΦΘΗΣΑΝ ΓΙΑ ΤOΝ ΕΜΠΡΗΣΜO ΤΟΥ ΚΥΤ ΜOΡΙΑΣ.

Ακόμα μια φορά τα δικαστήρια της Μυτιλήνης επέλεξαν να κινηθούν πέρα από κάθε έννοια νομιμότητας καταστρατηγώντας με ευκολία τόσο τους κανόνες μιας δίκαιης δίκης όσο και τα δικαιώματα των κατηγορουμένων, καταδικάζοντας σε δεύτερο βαθμό τους δύο ανήλικους, Α.Α. και Μ.Χ., που είχαν κατηγορηθεί για τον εμπρησμό του ΚΥΤ Μόριας το 2020. Είκοσι έξι μάρτυρες κατηγορίας παρέλασαν σήμερα από το δικαστήριο, και κανένας από αυτούς δεν αναγνώρισε τους δύο κατηγορούμενους. Το δικαστήριο παρ’όλα αυτά αποφάσισε να τους καταδικάσει χωρίς στοιχεία και σε δεύτερο βαθμό. 

Όσον αφορά τον Α.Α, βασίστηκε στη κατάθεση ενός μάρτυρα “φαντάσματος” -που ούτε κλήθηκε από τον ανακριτή ούτε εμφανίστηκε στο πρωτοβάθμιο δικαστήριο- ο οποίος τον κατονόμασε  μόνο με το μικρό του όνομα και τον αναγνώρισε, όταν ως δια μαγείας του επιδείχθηκε από την αστυνομία η φωτογραφία του. Όσον αφορά δε τον Μ.Χ, στηρίχθηκε σε ένα βίντεο, για το οποίο το εγκληματολογικό εργαστήριο της Αθήνας ανέφερε ότι είναι τόσο κακής ποιότητας ώστε δεν μπορούν να εξαχθούν εγκληματολογικά συμπεράσματα. 

Το Τριμελές Εφετείο Ανηλίκων Μυτιλήνης, εντέλει, αναγνώρισε στους κατηγορούμενους το ελαφρυντικό της καλής συμπεριφοράς για μεγάλο διάστημα μετά την πράξη, αν και, παρά την συνήθη δικαστηριακή πρακτική, μείωσε την ποινή τους κατά ένα μόνο χρόνο. Περαιτέρω, το Τριμελές Δικαστήριο Ανηλίκων Αθηνών αποφάσισε θετικά σήμερα, μετά από αίτηση, για την υφ’ όρον απόλυση του Α.Α, ο οποίος επιτέλους θα βρεθεί σύντομα εκτός φυλακής μετά την καφκικού τύπου ταλαιπωρία που υπέστη από την στιγμή της άφιξης του στην Ελλάδα. Το ίδιο δικαστήριο θα αποφασίσει στις 5 Ιουλίου για την υφ’ όρον απόλυση του Μ.Χ.

“Τα δικαστήρια της Μυτιλήνης θεωρούν ότι η κρίση τους είναι ανέλεγκτη. Ευτυχώς υπάρχει ο Άρειος Πάγος και το Ευρωπαϊκό Δικαστήριο Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων” δήλωσε η Βίκυ Αγγελίδου που μαζί με τον Βασίλη Ψώμο και τη Νατάσα Νταϊλιάνη εκπροσωπούν τους δύο ανηλίκους, ως δικηγόροι του Legal Centre Lesvos. 

Περισσότερες λεπτομέρειες σχετικά με τις δίκες:

Press Release: We demand justice and freedom for the Moria 6!

Ελληνικά

On Tuesday 7 June 2022, A.A. and M.H, two of the six Afghan teenagers who were accused and convicted for the fires that destroyed Moria refugee camp in September 2020, will have their conviction and sentence re-examined before the Juvenile Appeal Court of Mytilene.

At the time of their arrest in September 2020, the two teenagers, now 18 and 19 years old, were both unaccompanied minors – i.e. children alone without their parents or other caretakers.  On 9 March 2021, in a trial that flouted basic procedural standards, they were found guilty of “arson with risk to human life” by the Three Judge Juvenile Court of Mytilene, despite a blatant lack of credible evidence presented against them. Both were convicted to 5 years in prison, with no recognition of mitigating factors, and have already spent nearly two years in Korinthos Minors prison and later Avlona prison for minors and young adults. Further details on their initial trial can be found in the Legal Centre’s previous publication following the trial. 

A petition for the release of the two young men was submitted by the Legal Centre Lesvos lawyers at the beginning of March 2022, since both are eligible for release due to time earned through working and attending school in prison, and both have a confirmed place to live and a support network outside prison when released.  However, in yet another cruel twist of fate, the hearing to decide on their eligibility to be released from prison based on these petitions was scheduled for the same day as their appeal trial, on 7 June 2022, in an Athens three-judge Juvenile Court, stretching the capacity of the Legal Centre Lesvos team, who will provide legal representation and defense to the two teenagers in both courts.

To further burden the teenagers and their lawyers from the Legal Centre Lesvos, the appeal trial was scheduled with less than 3 weeks notice, due to an error by the court secretary, who apparently forgot to send the first instance decision to the appeal court’s secretary until recently.

As a reminder, the fires that destroyed Moria camp in September 2020 came four and half years after the EU-Turkey Deal turned the Aegean islands into prison islands for those forced to cross the border from Turkey, and Moria camp became the notorious symbol of the EU’s migration policies. The destruction of Moria camp was the inevitable outcome of the cruel policies of dehumanisation and exclusion that created it. In September 2020, the number of people living in the camp had reached over 12,000 persons (despite an official capacity of 3,100), when movement restrictions had been in place for almost six months, and a growing fear of COVID-19 was spreading inside the camp – with government policies exacerbating these fears rather than providing any measures to protect people forced to live there from contracting the virus. The Greek authorities had violently cracked down on camp residents’ protests against the lack of public health measures by blocking the roads around the camp, isolating its residents, and firing tear gas and smoke bombs. Just one week prior to the fires, on 2 September 2020, the first person in the camp tested positive for the virus. Instead of moving infected people out of the camp, deploying medical staff or adopting hygiene measures for the people trapped inside, the Greek authorities announced the total lockdown of the camp, and the very next day signed a contract with a construction company to turn Moria Camp into a detention centre.

The inhumane living conditions in the hell of Moria – otherwise recognised by all participants in the trial – were ignored by the court to reduce the defendants’ sentence. Rather than recognising that the fires of Moria camp were the inevitable consequence of the “hotspot approach” and of the clear mismanagement of those deadly camp infrastructures, in particular during the COVID-19 pandemia crisis, the Greek state conveniently arrested six young Afghan teenagers, the “Moria 6” and presented them as the sole culprits of the fires. 

All six Afghans accused of the fire which destroyed Moria camp in September 2020 had been arrested arbitrarily and declared guilty by the Greek authorities, before their trials even took place, in full disregard of the fundamental principle of presumption of innocence. The Minister of Migration and Asylum himself announced on 15 September 2020, that “Moria arsonists are detained” the day before the arrest warrant was executed for the two minors, and the next day stated in an interview that “the camp was burned by six Afghani refugees who have been arrested”.  In addition to representing the two young minors accused of starting the fire, Legal Centre Lesvos lawyers were among the lawyers that represented the other 4 teenagers who were tried and convicted by the Mixed Jury Court of Chios in June 2021, and sentenced to ten years of imprisonment, despite extensive evidence that mitigated against their guilt. Both trials constituted  gross miscarriages of justice

The lawyers of Legal Centre Lesvos representing both young men hope that despite the complete disregard to basic principles of justice for any of the six young men of the Moria 6 up until now, the two men will finally receive a fair trial next week, and that the two will be released, so that one can join his family in Finland, and the other can continue his asylum procedure in Greece.

**

Δελτιο Τυπου: Απαιτουμε δικαιοσυνη και ελευθερια για τους 6 της Μοριας!

Την Τρίτη 7 Ιουνίου 2022, οι Α.Α. και Μ.Χ., δύο από τους έξι Αφγανούς εφήβους που κατηγορήθηκαν και καταδικάστηκαν για τις πυρκαγιές που κατέστρεψαν τον προσφυγικό καταυλισμό της Μόριας τον Σεπτέμβριο του 2020, θα εμφανιστούν ενώπιον του Εφετείου Ανηλίκων Μυτιλήνης όπου θα επανεξεταστεί η καταδίκη και η ποινή που τους επιβλήθηκε στον πρώτο βαθμό.

Κατά τη σύλληψή τους τον Σεπτέμβριο του 2020, οι δύο έφηβοι, ηλικίας σήμερα 18 και 19 ετών, ήταν ασυνόδευτοι ανήλικοι, δηλαδή παιδιά μόνα τους χωρίς τους γονείς τους ή άλλον κηδεμόνα. Στις 9 Μαρτίου 2021, σε μια “άδικη” δίκη που περιφρόνησε βασικές διαδικαστικές και ουσιαστικές εγγυήσεις, κρίθηκαν ένοχοι για “εμπρησμό με κίνδυνο για ανθρώπινη ζωή” από το Τριμελές Δικαστήριο Ανηλίκων Μυτιλήνης, παρά την παντελή έλλειψη αξιόπιστων στοιχείων εναντίον τους. Και οι δύο καταδικάστηκαν σε 5 χρόνια περιορισμό σε κατάστημα κράτησης ανηλίκων, χωρίς να τους αναγνωριστούν ελαφρυντικά, και έχουν εκτίσει σχεδόν δύο χρόνια, αρχικά στις φυλακές ανηλίκων Κορίνθου και αργότερα στις φυλακές Αυλώνας για ανηλίκους και νεαρούς ενήλικες. Περισσότερες λεπτομέρειες σχετικά με την δίκη του πρώτου βαθμού μπορείτε να βρείτε σε προηγούμενη δημοσίευση του Legal Centre Lesvos, που ακολούθησε μετά την δίκη.

Στις αρχές Μαρτίου 2022, οι δικηγόροι του Legal Centre Lesvos υπέβαλαν αίτηση αποφυλάκισης των δύο νεαρών ανδρών, δεδομένου ότι υπήρχε αυτή η δυνατότητα, καθόσον είχαν εκτίσει ήδη τον απαιτούμενο χρόνο προσαυξημένο από την εργασία και τη φοίτηση τους στο σχολείο εντός της φυλακής, ενώ και οι δύο έχουν επιβεβαιωμένο τόπο μόνιμης διαμονής και δίκτυο υποστήριξης εκτός φυλακής, όταν αποφυλακιστούν. Ωστόσο, κατά περίεργη σύμπτωση, η ακρόαση για να αποφασιστεί αν θα αποφυλακιστούν βάσει των ανωτέρω αιτήσεων προγραμματίστηκε για την ίδια ημέρα με τη δίκη της έφεσής τους, στις 7 Ιουνίου 2022, σε δικαστήριο της Αθήνας (Τριμελές Δικαστήριο Ανηλίκων), δυσχεραίνοντας το έργο των δικηγόρων του Legal Centre Lesvos, το οποίο θα παρέχει νομική εκπροσώπηση και υπεράσπιση στους δύο εφήβους και στα δύο δικαστήρια.

Προς περαιτέρω επιβάρυνση των εφήβων και των δικηγόρων τους, η δευτεροβάθμια δίκη ορίστηκε μέσα σε λιγότερο από 3 εβδομάδες, κατόπιν κραυγαλέας κωλυσιεργίας της γραμματείας του πρωτοβάθμιου δικαστηρίου, η οποία καθυστέρησε να στείλει την πρωτοβάθμια απόφαση στη γραμματεία του εφετείου, ώστε να προσδιοριστεί η εφετειακή δίκη.

Υπενθυμίζεται ότι οι πυρκαγιές που κατέστρεψαν το καμπ της Μόριας τον Σεπτέμβριο του 2020 συνέβησαν τεσσεράμισι χρόνια αφότου η συμφωνία ΕΕ-Τουρκίας μετέτρεψε τα νησιά του Αιγαίου σε νησιά-φυλακές για όσους αναγκάζονται να περάσουν τα σύνορα από την Τουρκία και το καμπ της Μόριας έγινε το διαβόητο σύμβολο της απάνθρωπης μεταναστευτικής πολιτικής της ΕΕ. Η πυρκαγιά στο καμπ ήταν το αναπόφευκτο αποτέλεσμα των σκληρών πολιτικών αποκλεισμού που το δημιούργησαν. Τον Σεπτέμβριο του 2020, ο αριθμός των ανθρώπων που ζούσαν σε αυτό ξεπερνούσε τους 12.000 (παρά την επίσημα δηλωμένη χωρητικότητα των 3.100 ατόμων), όταν οι περιορισμοί μετακίνησης είχαν τεθεί σε ισχύ για σχεδόν έξι μήνες, και ένας αυξανόμενος φόβος για τον νέο κορωνοϊό εξαπλωνόταν (κυρίως λόγω έλλειψης ενημέρωσης και προστατευτικών μέτρων) με τις κυβερνητικές πολιτικές να επιτείνουν αυτούς τους φόβους. Οι ελληνικές αρχές είχαν καταστείλει βίαια τις διαμαρτυρίες των κατοίκων του καταυλισμού ενάντια στην έλλειψη μέτρων δημόσιας υγείας, αποκλείοντας τους δρόμους γύρω από αυτό, απομονώνοντας τους κατοίκους του και ρίχνοντας δακρυγόνα και χειροβομβίδες κρότου λάμψης. Μόλις μία εβδομάδα πριν από τις πυρκαγιές, στις 2 Σεπτεμβρίου 2020, επιβεβαιώθηκε το πρώτο θετικό κρούσμα στο καμπ. Αντί να μετακινήσουν, στο επόμενο χρονικό διάστημα, τα επιβεβαιωμένα κρούσματα από τον χώρο, να αναπτύξουν ιατρικό προσωπικό ή να υιοθετήσουν μέτρα υγιεινής για τους εγκλωβισμένους μέσα στο καμπ, οι ελληνικές αρχές ανακοίνωσαν τον πλήρη αποκλεισμό του χώρου και την επόμενη κιόλας ημέρα υπέγραψαν σύμβαση με κατασκευαστική εταιρεία για την περίκλειση του καμπ και  τη μετατροπή του σε κέντρο κράτησης.

Οι απάνθρωπες συνθήκες διαβίωσης στην κόλαση της Μόριας  -που κατά τα άλλα αναγνωρίστηκαν από όλους τους συμμετέχοντες στις δίκες- αγνοήθηκαν από το δικαστήριο με αποτέλεσμα να μη μειωθεί η ποινή των κατηγορουμένων. Το ελληνικό κράτος θα έπρεπε να αναγνωρίσει ότι οι πυρκαγιές στο καμπ της Μόριας (οι οποίες προφανώς δεν προκλήθηκαν από τους έξι κατηγορούμενους) προέκυψαν ως αναπόφευκτη συνέπεια των χαωδών συνθηκών που επικρατούσαν, ιδίως κατά τη διάρκεια της κρίσης της πανδημίας COVID-19. Αντ’ αυτού, συνελήφθησαν βολικά έξι νεαροί Αφγανοί, οι οποίοι κατηγορήθηκαν ως οι υπαίτιοι των πυρκαγιών.

Και οι έξι Αφγανοί που κατηγορήθηκαν για την πυρκαγιά που κατέστρεψε τον καταυλισμό της Μόριας τον Σεπτέμβριο του 2020 είχαν συλληφθεί αυθαίρετα και είχαν κηρυχθεί ένοχοι από τις ελληνικές αρχές, πριν καν διεξαχθούν οι δίκες τους, κατά πλήρη καταστρατήγηση της θεμελιώδους αρχής του τεκμηρίου της αθωότητας. Ο ίδιος ο Υπουργός Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου ανακοίνωσε στις 15 Σεπτεμβρίου 2020 ότι “οι εμπρηστές της Μόριας κρατούνται”, μία ημέρα πριν από την εκτέλεση του εντάλματος σύλληψης των δύο ανηλίκων, ενώ την επόμενη ημέρα δήλωσε σε συνέντευξή του ότι “το καμπ κάηκε από έξι Αφγανούς πρόσφυγες που έχουν συλληφθεί”.  Εκτός από την εκπροσώπηση των δύο νεαρών ανηλίκων που κατηγορήθηκαν για την έναρξη της πυρκαγιάς, οι δικηγόροι του Legal Centre Lesvos ήταν μεταξύ των δικηγόρων που εκπροσώπησαν τους άλλους τέσσερις εφήβους που δικάστηκαν ως ενήλικοι και καταδικάστηκαν από το Μικτό Ορκωτό Δικαστήριο Χίου τον Ιούνιο του 2021 σε δεκαετή κάθειρξη, παρά την προσκόμιση από μέρους τους ενώπιον του Δικαστηρίου πληθώρας στοιχείων που κατέρριπταν τα περί ενοχής τους. Και οι δύο δίκες κινήθηκαν στο όριο της κακοδικίας και παραβίασαν κατάφωρα τα δικαιώματα των κατηγορουμένων. 

Οι δικηγόροι του Legal Centre Lesvos που εκπροσωπούν και τους δύο νεαρούς ελπίζουν ότι παρά την πλήρη καταστρατήγηση των βασικών αρχών της νομιμότητας στον πρώτο βαθμό για τους “6 της Μόριας” μέχρι τώρα, οι δύο έφηβοι θα τύχουν επιτέλους δίκαιης δίκης την επόμενη εβδομάδα και θα αφεθούν ελεύθεροι, ώστε ο ένας να μπορέσει να συναντήσει την οικογένειά του στη Φινλανδία και ο άλλος να συνεχίσει τη διαδικασία ασύλου του στην Ελλάδα.

Legal Centre Lesvos Quarterly Newsletter: January – March 2022

Since the start of the year, the Greek Government has further obstructed access to asylum for most migrants seeking protection in Greece, through the implementation of unfair policies and dysfunctional asylum procedures. In doing so, Greece (like all other EU Member States) has unashamedly adopted a racist double-standard of protection and treatment towards people from the global South seeking safety in the EU compared with the swift provision of protection to Ukrainians. In stark contrast to the opening of borders to Ukrainian nationals, evidence continues to emerge showing that Greek authorities systematically perpetrate violent and illegal pushbacks in the Aegean, with the complicity of EU institutions and agencies. As a result, only a limited number of migrants have reached the Greek islands and managed to exercise their right to seek international protection, without being violently thrown back at sea on floating motorless liferafts. 

In parallel, the population in the Reception and Identification Centre of Lesvos (Lesvos RIC or camp) steadily declined since the start of the year. Despite this, the reception and living conditions imposed on migrants forced to live in Lesvos RIC over the winter remained inadequate to protect people from freezing winter temperatures and a dangerous and destructive series of fires. Under the pretext of COVID-19 prevention, arbitrary and unjustified restrictions on movement continue to be imposed on migrants trapped in Lesvos: amounting to effective detention. Such conditions have also increasingly gone unreported and unnoticed given the gradual exodus of major humanitarian organisations working in Lesvos, now re-focusing their funding and work towards the war in Ukraine. 

In this context, Legal Centre Lesvos (LCL) carried out its usual activities, including information sessions and individual legal consultations to improve people’s access to information and ability to exercise their rights in their asylum interviews, on appeal, or for subsequent applications for asylum. In addition, LCL continued documenting human rights violations through the publication of updates and reports denouncing the dreadful conditions imposed on hundreds of people forced to live in the Lesvos RIC. LCL lawyers also represented several migrants before national and international courts. For instance, interim measures filed by LCL on 14 February were partially granted by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), preventing the illegal removal of 11 unregistered asylum seekers from Greek territory and ensuring their access to basic needs. LCL also represented one of the two criminalised young Afghan men (Amir Zahiri and Akif Razuli) – wrongfully convicted of smuggling, despite being refugees themselves subject to smuggling operations, and sentenced them to 50 years in prison in the first instance. Their appeal trial before Greek criminal courts, was shamelessly interrupted and then postponed, leaving both unjustifiably in detention.

The month of March was also marked by the shocking news of the death of seven migrants, whose bodies were found by passersby, washed up on the beach in Mytilene. Despite several requests from civil society, Greek authorities have yet to publish an official report or announcement about the causes and circumstances of those seven persons’ deaths, leaving many questions unanswered. The fact that the tragedy received only passing attention in a few national and international media outlets, only demonstrates once again that such deaths have become part of an accepted normality at Europe’s borders. Tragic crossings like this one are not accidents. Subjecting people to danger and death is the inevitable – and therefore intentional – consequence of the European Union’s refusal to create safe and legal migration routes for racialised people from the global South. The rapid creation of safe, legal routes for people fleeing Ukraine only underlines how easily things could be different, how senseless the loss of those seven lives. We stand in solidarity with all those who loved these seven people and others missing or lost at sea, and we continue our struggle against Europe’s murderous border imperialism in their memory.

1. Updates on the situation for migrants in Lesvos

Children inside one of the prefabricated shelter structures of the “health quarantine” in the Lesvos RIC. February 2022, Photograph by a camp resident.

The population of the Lesvos RIC has continued to progressively decrease since the start of the year. Despite this, the living conditions imposed on people forced to live in the camp have not significantly improved. With the start of the war in Ukraine, most civil society actors, and in particular international NGOs, have either drastically reduced their capacity or closed their programmes and left Lesvos. This, alongside the Greek government’s imposition of onerous registration requirements for NGOs, has drastically limited the ability of civil society actors to bear witness to the Greek state’s inhumane treatment of migrants, let alone hold authorities to account. As a result, the deplorable and dangerous living conditions in the camp have gone widely unnoticed and undocumented during the winter months. 

  • 23 February 2022 – Winter months in deplorable conditions for those forced to live in the Lesvos Reception and Identification Centre

In Lesvos, the few asylum seekers who now manage to reach the island without being illegally pushed back to Turkey by Greek authorities, are brought to the Lesvos RIC, where they are systematically detained in deplorable conditions, unsuitable for medical isolation, in the so-called “COVID-19 health quarantine area” of the camp, before they are even officially registered as asylum seekers by the authorities. 

The lives and well-being of other residents of the Lesvos camp have also repeatedly been put at risk in this period, as several domestic fires (caused by dangerous electrical installations and lack of a centralised heating system) destroyed or damaged many of the unsafe and unwinterised rubhall shelters of the Lesvos RIC. 

  1. The “COVID-19 quarantine” area or the shameful jail of the Lesvos RIC

LCL has documented conditions in this “health quarantine area” of the Lesvos RIC, which were in no way compliant with COVID-19 preventive measures, unfit for medical isolation and left people exposed to extreme weather and inhumane conditions during the winter months. LCL has also reported on other parts of the Lesvos RIC where several rubhall structures, unfit for human habitation (especially in the winter) were destroyed by domestic fires, repeatedly putting people’s lives at risk.  

Picture of the prefabricated shelters of the quarantine prison in the Lesvos RIC,
February 2022, Photograph by a camp resident.

The “COVID-19 health quarantine” of the camp is a closed area under police and camera surveillance, surrounded by double fences with barbed wire, where new arrivals on the island are normally held for at least 10 days. In February, however, at least 19 unaccompanied minor children remained detained there for around 20 days – together with unrelated adults – despite the fact that they had completed their quarantine period and did not have COVID-19 – under the pretext that there was no space for them in either the “Safe Area” of the RIC or housing for unaccompanied minors provided by the NGO Iliaktida.

The living conditions for people effectively detained in this area over the winter months were deplorable. As shown in several pictures, new arrivals were forced to share prefabricated units with unrelated individuals living in the Lesvos RIC who were suspected to be infected with COVID-19. 

Various clients of the LCL, who had been detained in this quarantine area, explained that they were forced to sleep on the floor with their children, without a mattress or bed, and that they suffered from the cold, especially at night (see picture above). Contrary to the promises about preparing for winter made by European authorities last Spring no heating system had been installed in living units in the RIC by the start of the winter of 2021-2022, leaving residents no choice but to use individual heating systems.

Many LCL clients explained that there were no individual heaters available while they were detained there in December 2021.

Moreover, when temperatures have reached as low as 0 degrees celsius in Lesvos in January, the prefabricated units housing people in quarantine were not adequately winterised and unsuitable to protect people from the harsh weather conditions. People effectively detained there have been forced to hang blankets around the walls in an effort to insulate their otherwise non-winterised shelters. 

Apart from one week in the month of January, there was no hot water available during the whole winter for people to shower in the shower cabins – which are outside – despite near-freezing temperatures. People detained in the quarantine area also explained that no hygiene packs, no soap, shampoo or protective masks were distributed to them, leaving them without access to adequate hygiene and sanitation, or to effective protection from Coronavirus for themselves and others detained there.

Given the awful conditions of the quarantine area, clients of LCL revealed that many residents of the camp were deterred from mentioning that they were sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to the health services in the camp, for fear of being detained in such conditions. In the past, police officers operating in the camp have been known to forcibly transfer families from their containers to the quarantine area, where they were held in the conditions described above. 

During their time in “health quarantine”, new arrivals officially have no legal status in Greece and are not in a position to access external support, including access to legal information. Apart from one employee of the RIC and the public health agency EODY, no one was allowed access to this zone, not even UNHCR protection and detention officers, NGO medical staff, or authorised lawyers wishing to visit their clients. Until recently, the authorities were also refusing to provide people detained there with the list of lawyers and legal organisations available in Lesvos to support them in the asylum procedure. The detention of asylum seekers in this quarantine area for at least 10 days, added to the over-acceleration of the asylum procedure, which is highly problematic and unfair because it de facto denies asylum seekers access to individual information or legal advice after their release from quarantine, and before a final decision is taken in their case by the Regional Asylum Service. 

The Greek authorities have been using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to expand detention-like conditions in refugee camps throughout Greece, including discriminatory restrictions on movement in and out of camps and unjustified curfews. 

Our full report on these conditions included the publication of pictures of the so-called ‘health quarantine’ and was based on our regular communications with people detained there. As a result of such publications and the filing of this information in the context of interim measures before the European Court of Human Rights, residents of the camp reported that the living conditions and equipment within the quarantine area have slightly but notably improved, including through the delivery of bunk beds with mattresses. 

2. Dangerous fires destroying one rubhall after the other in the Lesvos RIC

Pictures of the 28 January 2022 fire which destroyed rubhall RH6 and damaged RH5 in the yellow zone of the Lesvos RIC at around 8pm leaving 49 persons without a shelter.

On 14 and 28 January 2022, severe and rapid fires broke out, once again in the Lesvos RIC, destroying entirely and in a matter of minutes, several of the large rubhall shelters accommodating hundreds of people in the “yellow zone”of the camp. This zone is where (most) single men who have had their asylum claim rejected are forced to live, and where living conditions remain most miserable and precarious. Most of the shelters there are large rubhalls (see picture) which only offer very rudimentary living conditions, without protection from the winter’s near-freezing temperatures or heavy rains. In case of fire, the polyester covering those rubhalls is capable of melting very rapidly, leaving only a very short amount of time for the 50 to 100 people living there to exit through one of the two openings at each end of the central corridor. 

As for the last series of fires that happened on 15 and 18 of November and destroyed two large rubhalls of the yellow zone in a matter of minutes, the rapidity of the January fires shows once again that these rubhalls constitute an unsafe and hazardous shelter. In all cases, the causes of the fires seemed to be linked to the use of individual heaters (inevitable given the lack of centralised heating) as well as repeated cuts of electricity due to the insufficient capacity of generators in the camp. 

Luckily, in those recent fires, no one was reported to have been hurt or harmed, except in the incident of 14 January where at least one resident was brought to the hospital due to toxic smoke inhalation during the fire. Until now, the men living in those rubhalls have managed to escape in extremis, however leaving most of their belongings behind them, including some of their personal documents which are crucial for their asylum claims. 

In most instances, people who were housed in the destroyed rubhalls were not immediately offered alternative housing by camp authorities but were told to find a place in someone else’s container.

Just like in the former Moria camp, where since March 2016 at least 6 people had died in container or tent fires or from carbon monoxide poisoning, such incidents have become routine in the Lesvos RIC since its construction in October 2020. Many of the residents of Lesvos RIC previously resided in Moria camp and were displaced by the massive fires that destroyed the site in September 2020. They have already experienced the fear and psychological trauma arising from the blaze and its aftermath, and families have reported how their children’s repeated exposure to such dangers has had a deleterious effect on their mental health. As per UNHCR data, children constitute a fourth of the population in the Lesvos RIC, out of whom nearly 4 out of 5 are younger than 12 years old. Instead of taking into account this reality, the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum has continued to concentrate its efforts on the closure of all existing alternative and safe accommodations available in Lesvos, including for minors, families and people with vulnerabilities or medical conditions. Neither the Greek nor the European Union authorities have taken any measures to host people in safe and dignified places, continuing to tolerate the fatal risk that camps like the Lesvos RIC represent for migrants. 

It should be recalled that the Ministry of Migration and Asylum has received at the end of 2020 an additional 5.36 million euros in emergency funding from the EU to upgrade the “Installations and infrastructures of temporary reception facility in the region of Kara Tepe – Mavrovouni, Municipality of Mytilene” in 2021. Yet, at the same time, in several cases filed by the Legal Centre Lesvos, the European Court of Human Rights has in 2021 repeatedly found that the living conditions in the Lesvos TRIC were “not compatible with Article 3 of the Convention”. That is to say, not guaranteeing the European standards on the prohibition on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, for over 25 clients of the LCL with health conditions or in need of specific healthcare. 

Read more about our report on those topics here.

  • 4 March – What happened to the 7 persons found dead on Lesvos shores? 
Picture of messages and candles left in Sappho square, Mytilene, on 1 March 2022, in memory of the persons found dead on Lesvos shores. Photo Credits: Women in Solidarity House – WISH Lesvos

In the morning of 1 March, Lesvos witnessed the shocking death of at least seven migrants, whose bodies without life jackets, were found by passersby, washed up on the beach of Epano Skala, a neighbourhood of Mytilene, just north of the centre, on the way to Lesvos´ Reception and Identification Centre, where migrants have been housed in effective detention since the fire that destroyed the notorious Moria camp. While search and rescue operations and investigations were deployed at land and sea to find survivors or other victims, no information about a proper investigation is known, and no official report has yet been released by the Greek authorities about the circumstances and cause of their death at sea which remain a mystery. 

Several media outlets already mentioned the hypothesis of another fatal shipwreck of a dinghy trying to reach the European shores in the hope to seek asylum, as the Greek islands have witnessed so often in the past years. However, no official explanations were yet provided and many questions remain unanswered: if those persons arrived on a dinghy from Turkey, where is their boat now ? Were those seven people accompanied by others, as is commonly the case for dinghies crossing from Turkey to Greece ? And if so, where are the others ? Who were these seven people whose lives were taken so unnecessarily?

These questions arise just after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, published a statement warning about the increased level of violence and human rights violations documented by their agency at European borders, and in particular at Greece’s land and sea borders with Turkey. This statement which directly and specifically targets Greece also reveals that “UNHCR has interviewed thousands of people across Europe who were pushed back and reported a disturbing pattern of threats, intimidation, violence and humiliation. At sea, people report being left adrift in life rafts or sometimes even forced directly into the water, showing a callous lack of regard for human life. At least three people are reported to have died in such incidents since September 2021 in the Aegean Sea, including one in January.”

As highlighted by the UNHCR as well as recent major media reports, pushbacks are well documented and have already led to several fatal incidents over the last months. The policy of pushbacks is also shown in UNHCR official numbers: whereas in 2021 arrivals registered in the Greek islands have decreased by 93% compared to 2019, the number of deaths and missing persons have remained the same on average from 2019 to 2021. 

Although the exact circumstances of the death of the seven migrants found on the Lesvos shore remain uncertain, there is no doubt that their deaths are the direct consequence of the inhumane and dangerous border regime implemented by Greece and the European Union. No person would drown at sea attempting to reach Greece, if legal and safe routes were available. 

The facility with which legal routes of migration can be established, if there is political will, has been demonstrated by the swiftness with which the Ministry of Migration established procedures for Ukrainian nationals to gain access to Greece via airport or road, who upon entry to Greece are eligible for Temporary Protection by the Asylum Service for one year, and have the right to access accommodation, work and medical care. The establishment of this procedure for Ukrainian nationals has also exposed the underlying white supremacy defining European migration policies.

Instead of ensuring that people can safely and legally access refuge and asylum via the Turkish border, Greece has over the last six years focused its efforts on deterring migration of racialised migrants from the global south, at any cost to human life or dignity, through the creation of “hotspots” on the Greek islands. Institutional violence and cruel disregard for the lives of migrants in border regions such as Lesvos have been silently tolerated in the European Union for years, if not directly caused by the European Union’s migration policies such as the EU-Turkey Deal. Given this tacit support, it is no surprise that Greece continues to escalate its cruel methods of maintaining its borders, through increased use of pushbacks. A radical reform to European migration policies, that would allow for nondiscriminatory legal and safe routes of migration for all, is needed if we hope to end the ongoing attack against migrants’ lives at Europe’s borders, which led to the tragedy we witnessed in Lesvos.

2.  Continued work to advocate for fair asylum proceedings

On 19 January 2022, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) was replaced by the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) with “the aim to achieve convergence of asylum and reception practices in the EU” and the attribution of a new mandate and mission as a European agency. Despite the agency’s continuous and major involvement in the asylum process in Greece over the last years, the asylum procedures implemented in Greece remain unfair and dysfunctional as shown below. 

  • 7 February 2022 – Resumption of the rights to file second and following subsequent application in Lesvos after 6 months disruption.

On 7 February, the Lesvos Regional Asylum Office (RAO) finally resumed the registration of second and following subsequent applications for international protection in Lesvos which had stopped for at least 6 months (from September 2021). For that entire time period, the RAO of Lesvos had stopped registering such applications, restricting access to international protection and impeding asylum seekers in Lesvos presenting any new or fresh evidence for their asylum case, in violation of the principle of legal certainty and Article 6 par. 1 of Directive 2013/32/ΕU. 

Individuals affected by this disruption were also left outside of any legal status and procedures, which in turn obstructed their access to social rights on the island, as well as forcing them to live in the Lesvos camp without remedies or alternatives. These people were forced into inhuman and degrading conditions for several months given that after the final rejection of their previous application and consequent deactivation of their social security number (P.A.A.Y.P.A.), they were deprived of access to healthcare and were not receiving even the inadequate financial support granted to asylum applicants, while being deprived of any other means of subsistence and facing the risk of arrest, administrative detention and deportation. Several months later, and without any information provided to those affected, RAO Lesvos resumed the registration of the aforementioned applications, however with new requirements and obstacles.

  • 2 March 2022 – Imposition of a 100 euros fee to access asylum from the second and every following subsequent application to applicants for international protection, including minors

Once the registration of second and following subsequent applications for international protection resumed, further obstacles were implemented by the Asylum Service, including the introduction of a new requirement to pay a 100 euro fee for each individual wanting to file their second and every following subsequent application (legislative regulation of par. 10 of Article 89 of Law 4636/2019). In fact, based on the Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD) no. 472687/2021. If the application is submitted on behalf of several members of one family, a separate deposit for each family member is required, including minor children. This translates to the fact that for a family of five – two parents with three minor children – a fee of 500 euros is required.

On 2 March, the Legal Centre Lesvos together with 19 other civil non-profit organisations providing legal support in Lesvos co-signed a statement denouncing this development and reminding the Greek state of its obligation to provide unhindered and effective access to asylum procedures. The legislative provision making payment of fees a prerequisite is yet another obstacle for people who are otherwise eligible for international protection, and is be especially prohibitive for large families, and undermines the right of access to asylum, as enshrined in Article 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and Articles 6 par. 1 and 40-42 of Directive 2013/32/EU.

Restrictions on free and unhindered access at any stage of the asylum procedure is to the detriment of the fair and effective nature that must characterise the procedure as a whole. In 2021, a JMD defined Turkey as a “safe third country” for applicants from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia. The full implications of this decision can be read here. In short, applicants from these countries whose cases were rejected on the basis that Turkey is a safe third country, in particular should not be obliged to apply for international protection for the third time and pay 100 euros for this purpose, when they have never had the opportunity to have their asylum claims examined. Moreover, the fee also applies to asylum seekers from countries where a substantial change of circumstances has taken place, such as Afghanistan, despite the fact that there are clearly new and essential elements of their application.

LCL and the other signatories call on the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum to abolish the legislative regulation of par. 10 of Article 89 of Law no 4636/2019 and JMD No. 472687/2021, as their content is contrary to the provisions of Article. 6 par.1 and 40-42 of Directive 2013/32/EU, which prohibit rules that will “render impossible the access of applicants to a new procedure or result in the effective annulment or severe curtailment of such access”. In addition, it conflicts with the provisions of Articles 25 par. 2 and 20 par. 1 of the Constitution of Greece, Articles 18, 47 and 52 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of EU law and the relevant case law of the ECtHR regarding the provisions of Articles 3, 8 and 13 of the ECHR, since it effectively makes it impossible for those refugees who do not have the financial means to pay the fee of  100 euros per person/family member.

We call on the competent authorities and  the RAO Lesvos to respect the European fundamental right to seek asylum and to refrain from actions that violate the rights of asylum seekers, violate national and EU law and may cause serious and irreparable harm to asylum seekers, violating the principle of non-refoulement fundamental to international law.

  • 8 March 2022 – Greece’s continuous implementation of the ‘safe third country’ concept is violating EU law and migrants’ rights

Legal Centre Lesvos together with other 27 civil society organisations addressed a joint letter to the EU commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, denouncing the implementation by Greece of the “safe third country” concept and urging the Commissioner to promptly take the necessary measures against Greece. 

Since the adoption on 7 June 2021 of a Joint Ministerial Decision 42799/2021 by the Minister of Migration and Asylum and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Greek asylum authorities arbitrarily and systematically consider that Turkey is safe for persons originating from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, without an examination of the merits of their asylum claim – i.e. the reason they left their home country. This Joint Ministerial Decision exposes applicants for international protection to a legal limbo whereby they are never granted access to an examination of their asylum applications on the merits, contrary to the purpose of the Geneva Convention and of the Asylum Procedures Directive. It also leads to their exclusion from reception conditions and to cater for their basic subsistence needs, including health care and food. 

It should also be mentioned that especially for Syrian citizens, the above procedure was in force even before the implementation of the Joint Ministerial Decision and resultantly, there are cases of applicants who had not been able to access a safe legal status for 3 years, as their claims were repeatedly rejected as inadmissible. 

As further described in the joint letter, this led to a large number of claims for international protection being rejected as inadmissible on this ground, and applicants being ordered to return to Turkey, without any prospect for such readmission. It should be recalled that Turkey is not a safe third country for migrants: most migrants are unable to access any form of protection in Turkey, owing to a geographic restriction that Turkey imposed to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, and migrants there are at grave risk of exploitation, inhumane detention, and deportation. Only Syrian nationals are able to obtain a form of temporary protection, which falls far short of refugee protection and, in practice, provides little protection against refoulement.

Through this joint letter, the co-signatories requested that asylum seekers to whom the ‘safe third country’ concept has been applied, see their international protection applications promptly examined on the merits and be provided with respective legal status and adequate reception conditions.

It is not the first time that the legality of this Joint Ministerial Decision is being challenged: on 8 October 2021, the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) had already requested the judicial review and annulment of the Joint Ministerial Decision before the Greek Council of State. The joint letter to the EU Commissioner Johansson can be downloaded here.  Further publication of LCL on the same topic can be found here.

  • Overview of the legal support provided by Legal Centre Lesvos between January and March 2022
Legal Centre Lesvos lawyers represented: 

★ 25 individuals in the asylum procedure, including cases of family reunification; 
★ 17 individuals on appeal of their asylum claims; 
★ 8 detained individuals facing criminal charges. 

Volunteer caseworkers with the Legal Centre Lesvos carried out: 

Between January and March of 2022, volunteer caseworkers, under the supervision of Greek attorneys, supported 43 new cases, and actively worked on over 267 cases over the course of three months. 

Legal aid in the above cases included:

★ 205 individual legal consultations; 
★ 34 interview preparations and preparation of legal memos in 33 cases; 
★ 24 referrals to alternative housing services or protection services;
★ 19 persons attended information sessions on the asylum procedure and asylum interview.

Over the reporting period, LCL also provided training on the asylum procedure in Greece to other solidarity groups and civil society organisations working on the island. Those training sessions were attended by around 20 volunteers and staff.

Legal Centre Lesvos filed 1 petition for interim measures on 14 February 2022 before the European Court of Human Rights, which was partially granted, and ensured that 11 unregistered asylum seekers newly arrived in Lesvos could finally – after 24 hours in the woods without assistance – access food, water and shelter, as well as be officially registered as asylum seekers by the Greek authorities. 5 of the adults represented before the ECtHR were also supported by LCL in their asylum procedure and have since then received subsidiary protection.

As shown on the diagram above, people who received legal aid from the Legal Centre this period were mainly from Somalia and Afghanistan and included people from throughout the Middle East and African continent, some of whom have been trapped on the island of Lesvos for 5 years without legal status since the EU-Turkey deal. The number of asylum seekers from Somalia arriving on the island continued increasing over the reporting period and around 30% of the new cases supported by the Legal Centre in this period concerned individuals from Somalia. 

In light of this, as well as the increasingly unfair asylum procedures applied specifically to Somali nationals (see above), LCL worked on translating two of the “Know your Rights” Info sheets to Somali, specifically regarding rights in the asylum interview and rights after receiving a negative decision. LCL also published two new Infosheet “Know your Rights” to provide basic information about Family reunification in the European Union as well as Rights after a negative decision. All info sheets are available online here and in our office in four languages. 

The info sheets are not intended to be a replacement for direct and in-person legal assistance, they – in the present circumstances – represent an additional opportunity to reach out and provide information to more people in need of legal assistance. The Legal Centre Lesvos will continue to publish additional info sheets over the next months.

3. Litigation and criminal defence for the respect of migrants’ rights

  • 15 February 2022 – European Court of Human Rights acknowledges once again the imminent risks of irreparable harm faced by unregistered asylum seekers newly arrived to Greece
Picture of the 11 asylum seekers represented by the Legal Centre Lesvos before the ECtHR after their arrival on the island on 14 February 2022.
On 14 February 2022, the Legal Centre Lesvos made an emergency petition for interim measures to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) under Rule 39 of the Court, on behalf of 11 unregistered asylum seekers recently arrived on the island of Lesvos, given the imminent risk they faced of collective expulsion, or ‘pushback’ to Turkey. The next day the ECtHR partially granted the petition, recognising that the Applicants were at risk of irreparable harm - the standard used by the Court in granting interim measures.

The group of 11 asylum seekers, including 5 unaccompanied minors, had arrived in Lesvos from Turkey on a dinghy in the early hours of 14 February. The Greek authorities, including the Coast Guard police, the Reception and Identification Centre of Lesvos (RIC) and the Greek asylum service – as well as UNHCR – were informed about the group’s presence on the island and about their desire to seek asylum from the early afternoon of 14 February. Nonetheless, the group was left without assistance, including medical assistance, food or water, until 15 February in the afternoon – nearly 24 hours after the authorities were informed about the exact location of the Applicants and their need for assistance, and after the group had to resort to filing interim measures with the European Court of Human Rights.

At the time of filing the request for interim measures, the 11 Applicants had already stayed outside for at least 15 hours, without any assistance, without water and food, they felt cold and dehydrated, their clothes were wet from the crossing at sea and they did not have any change of clothes or blankets. Some had already suffered pushback to Turkey after previous crossings to Greece, and their situation of uncertainty and fear was causing them additional stress and anxiety which exacerbated their risk of dehydration and hypothermia. The temperatures in Lesvos, which ranged from 8 to 11 degrees celsius on that day, were dropping as night fell. This situation was putting their health and lives at risk as the only prospect for them in that situation was to spend another night outside in woods, without blankets, shelter, food or water supply.

In the present case of interim measures, the Legal Centre Lesvos lawyers argued that the lives and health of the 11 Applicants were at risk due to a lack of assistance by Greek authorities, and that they were at imminent risk of being illegally removed from the Greek territory, in light of the overwhelming evidence and reports demonstrating that Greece has systematically pushed back migrants to Turkey over the last years.

In its initial decision on 15 February, the ECtHR partially granted the measures, ordering Greece to provide the Applicants with “food, water, clothing, adequate medical care and temporary shelter until 22 February 2022”. It further suspended its decision until 18 February on the potential risk of expulsion from Greece, requiring that the parties provide updated information about the whereabouts and situation of the 11 Applicants. Fortunately, following the filing of interim measures with the ECtHR, the 11 asylum seekers were finally attended by the Greek authorities and taken to the Lesvos RIC  ‘Health quarantine area” on 15 February. Although the Applicants had still not officially been registered as asylum seekers, they had been provided with a very minimum of assistance including a provisionary shelter, food and water, as well as medical check for a few of them.  

Additionally, in its 15 February decision, the ECtHR required the Greek State to provide information about what steps “[have] Greek authorities taken regarding the allegations of pushbacks that the applicants refer to?”. In response to this question of the Court, the counselor of the Greek government asserted that “[t]he Greek authorities do not carry out any illegal “push back” expulsions”, and claimed that the allegations are “based on various unsubstantial publications”. This position is concordant with the denial of truth that Greek officials have repeatedly adopted while talking publicly about accusations of pushbacks. In response to the latest public statement of the UN High Commissioner for refugees, Filipo Grandi, warning about the increased level of violence and human rights violations documented by their agency at European borders, and in particular at Greece’s land and sea borders with Turkey, the Greek Minister for Migration and Asylum expressed his “surprise” at UNHCR concerns

Despite this continued denial by Greek authorities, the trend of the ECtHR shows that the Court is taking the abundant evidence of pushbacks from Greece to Turkey seriously. The order issued in this case is the third interim measure brought by the Legal Centre Lesvos on behalf of recently arrived asylum seekers, following a successful petition filed in October 2021.  In all three cases brought by the Legal Centre, the individuals represented were subsequently registered in the Reception and Identification Centre, and allowed to apply for asylum. Additional successful interim measures were brought on behalf of asylum seekers who had recently entered Greece in the Aegean and the Evros regions, demonstrating the very real and alarming risk of ill treatment asylum seekers face upon entering Greece.

  • 17-18 March 2022 – Justice for Amir and Razuli! #FreeAmirAndRazuli

In March, the lawyers of LCL and of the Human Rights Legal Project on Samos represented Amir Zahiri (27 years old) and Akif Razuli (24 years old) in their appeal trial initially scheduled to take place on 17 March 2022 in Mytilene Court in Lesvos. Both young Afghan men had been sentenced to 50 years in prison in a summary and unfair first instance trial on 8 September 2020, for “facilitating illegal entry” and “illegal entry” to Greece, while they were only trying to reach Europe in search of a life in safety.

With Europe’s ever-increasing closure of borders and the lack of safe and legal ways to enter Europe and claim asylum, both men were forced to embark on the dangerous journey on a rubber boat across the Aegean Sea in March 2020. At that time, the Greek government had announced the suspension of one of the most fundamental human rights – the right to apply for asylum, and consequently charged people seeking protection with their own “illegal entry”, blatantly contradicting EU law and the Geneva Convention

In their first trial, on 8 September 2020, Amir and Akif testified that the Greek coast guard attacked their boat as soon as they had entered Greek waters and tried to push it back into Turkish waters using metal poles. In doing so, they punctured the boat, causing water to enter and putting the life of the people onboard at risk. As the boat was about to sink, the coast guard eventually took them on board. Following this deeply traumatising experience, the coast guard proceeded with heavily beating up Amir and Razuli, arbitrarily accusing the two of being the smugglers. According to Amir’s wife who had to witness all of this together with her daughter, they only stopped when she held up their young child in front of her husband begging the men to stop. As soon as they arrived at the Greek island of Lesvos, Amir and Razuli were separated from the rest of the group and brought to the police station. The coast guard accused them of their own entry, of facilitating the unauthorised entry of the other people on the boat and of having endangered the people’s lives. They were since then held in pre-trial detention and sentenced to 50 years in prison despite the absence of any evidence against them, apart from a statement of one officer of the Hellenic coast guard, accusing both defendants of “provoking a shipwreck”- accusation for which they were acquitted.

For the appeal trial scheduled on 17 March 2022, Amir and Akif were brought from their respective prisons in Chios island and Nigrita Serres (Greek mainland), where they had already been detained since their arrival in Greece, that is for nearly two years. While waiting for their appeal trial to take place, both defendants were seated handcuffed in the courtroom and were not given any information about if or when the trial would happen, in violation of the Greek criminal procedural law. After two days of waiting the appeal trial finally opened on 18 March at around 2:30 pm, just to be halted immediately after, due to the workload and limited working hours of the Court Secretary. A new date was scheduled to resume the trial 20 days later, on 7 April 2022. This postponement of their appeal trial constitutes a denial of justice and perpetuated the chain of injustice both defendants have been the victims of since their arrival in Greece. In addition, despite the Legal Centre Lesvos’ lawyers request for their client Akif Razuli to stay in Lesvos until the new date of trial (20 days later), he was unjustifiably and unnecessarily transferred all the way back to Nigrita Serres prison on the Greek mainland. He was taken on 21 March out of Lesvos police station and passed through different detention places in Athens and Thessaloniki before finally arriving in Nigrita Serres prison, 8 days later, on 29 March. He stayed only two days in detention there before being taken back again to Mytilene, Lesvos, on 31 March, where he arrived only on 2 April. 

The Legal Centre Lesvos, Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe e.V., You can’t evict Solidarity and Deportation Monitoring Aegean have and will continue to closely followed the trial and demand:

  • A thorough investigation, justice and the release of Amir and Razuli, as well as the dropping of all charges against them!
  • Freedom for all those imprisoned for “boat driving” and the end of criminalization of people on the move!
  • That the European Union must stop the arbitrary incarceration of refugees and migrants.

Almost every day, people seeking protection are criminalised for their own flight and arbitrarily sentenced to lengthy prison terms and heavy fines. Recently, a survivor of a shipwreck has even been criminalised for the death of his six-year-old son, who died when they tried to cross from Turkey to Greece (see the campaign Free the #Samos2). Suspects, or what we would deem ‘victims’ of this unjust legislation, usually have limited access to legal assistance. Judgments are often pronounced despite lack of evidence and poor quality of translation. In Greece, the average trial in these cases lasts only around 30 minutes, leading to an average sentence of 44 years and fines over 370.000 Euro. According to official numbers by the Greek ministry of justice, almost 2.000 people are currently in Greek prisons for this reason. People charged with similar smuggling offences constitute the second largest prison population in Greece. However, the fates of these people are seldom known. Arrested immediately upon arrival, most of them are locked away unnoticed, without their names known and no access to support from outside. We will continue to stand in solidarity with the defendants, no matter how long it will take to achieve justice for Amir and Razuli.Our press releases on this trial can be read here and here.

May 19: Trial in Kalamata – Criminalization against people on the move in Greece continues!

Common statement by Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe, Can’t Evict Solidarity, Iuventa-Crew, Legal Center Lesvos and Watch the Med Alarm Phone.

Source: watchthemed

Criminalization efforts in Greece continue: two migrants have to appear in front of the court in Kalamata, Greece, on May 19, 2022. Shortly after the trials against the Paros 3 and the Samos 2, two more people face trial in Greece. Over a year ago, in the evening hours of May 3rd, 2021, a group of around 180 people was brought to the Greek port of Kalamata after spending seven days at sea. On arrival, several people were arrested and accused of smuggling. Two of the accused have been imprisoned since the arrest and face trial next week. This is yet another story that shows the systematic attacks on people’s freedom by the Greek state. 

Ibrahim*, a Syrian man and one of the accused in Kalamata, defends himself with clear words against the accusation:

No, I did not try to repair the engine as I don’t know how to do it. I was not driving the boat. I got the money for the trip from my sons and friends. I spend six years in Turkey.  My children are all boys and grown up – I did not want them to go to war and get killed. In Syria I was a builder.” 

When the group of 180 was at sea, they reached out to the Alarm Phone as the motor stopped working. They were stuck in Greek waters on their way to Italy and had run out of water and food. For several days, however, the people refused help by the Greek Coast Guard as they were afraid of what would await them in Greece. They reported the following – (full report here): 

“The Greek Coast Guard – You will be shocked about the story you will hear about their aggression and inhumanity. Some people from our group were caught by them earlier, about two weeks ago. They tied them up with cable ties and threw them in the water, just like that. You might not believe this, but there are people with me here who can tell you the same story. We refuse any help from Greece, because they will torture us, they always play games on us.” 

This fear was justified: Several among the group had previously been pushed back and brutalized by the Hellenic Coast Guard, and several passengers said they would prefer to die at sea than to enter into the hands of the Hellenic Coast Guard again.

For Ibrahim, it was neither his first trip, nor his first traumatizing experience with Greek authorities:

I still feel dizzy from the previous boat trip and I can not see well, especially with my left eye. Four to five months ago, I had first tried to travel [to Europe] but they pushed us back. I had no life vest. Only a few had one. We sincerely risked to drown.” 

Until today, these systematic pushbacks and attacks against people on the move continue to happen, while the ones who are responsible for these crimes face no retribution.

On the contrary, Greek authorities systematically criminalize people on the move: For most boats that arrive in Greece, several people are arrested and afterwards legally prosecuted for steering the boat or for helping in other ways during the journey. The trials are often over very quickly, with decisions reached in a short time, and the sentences are draconic. Without sufficient evidence, people are usually arrested upon arrival and kept in pre-trial detention for months. When their case finally comes to court, their trials average only 38 minutes in length, leading to an average sentence of 44 years and fines over 370.000 Euro.

To us it is clear: boat driving and crossing borders can never be a crime. It’s a fundamental right – and one we will continue to uphold and support. The real crime is the border regime put in place by the EU and its partners along the different migration routes. 

WE DEMAND:

  • All charges against the accused to be dropped;
  • Freedom for all those imprisoned for “boat driving” despite the fact that there is no alternative to reach the European Union;
  • An end to the criminalization of migration and the incarceration of people on the move.

For media requests write to media(att)alarmphone.org

* name has been changed

Cruel and unjustified postponement of Amir and Razuli appeal trial

Press statement of the initiatives Legal Centre Lesvos, Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe e.V., You can’t evict Solidarity and Deportation Monitoring Aegean

#FreeAmirAndRazuli

The appeal trial of Amir Zahiri (27) and Akif Razuli (24) scheduled for today in Mytilene court, was, once again, postponed to a later date, 8 December 2022.

After being interrupted on 18 March due to the caseload of the court, the trial has now been postponed under the pretext that a witness, an officer from the Hellenic Coast Guard, was absent in court.

This witness was already absent from the first instance trial and had provided a written report which only related to charges of “causing a shipwreck”, for which both defendents were acquitted in the first instance. It is therefore highly questionable why his irrelevant testimony was a sufficient excuse to postpone the trial once again. Furthermore, the court had the authority to read his written testimony in court, rather than postpone the trial, as they had in the first trial.

Despite a request by the lawyers to free both men until their trial date in December,  with which the Public prosecutor agreed, the Court of three judges finally denied the petition, ordering that they remain in prison. 

Following today’s hearing, Amir and Razuli will thefore be forced back into prison for at least eight more months, away from their families and friends. To date they have already spent over two years behind bars, despite the lack of evidence against them. Razuli and Amir have already been transferred twice back and forth between Lesvos and detention centres in Serres and Chios respectively, each time with the hope of having a final decision in their case and being released. Causing extreme and uncessary distress, each postponement is an obstacle to the a fair and speedy administration of justice. This further delay is a denial of justice.

The repeated criminalisation of migrants, such as in this case, stands in stark contrast to the complete impunity for violence against migrants at Greece’s borders, despite the insurmountable evidence of systemic pushbacks carried out by the Hellenic Coast guard in coordination with the Greek police.

Vicky Angelidou, from the Legal Centre Lesvos, and one of the lawyers for the accused, stated “with shocking decisions such as today’s and the decision in the first trial, Greek courts are destroying the lives of people who only wanted a better future in Europe, showing their total detatchment from reality, and the lives of the people they are judging.”

A spokesperson for CPT-Aegean Migrant Solidarity said: “People charged with smuggling offences constitute the second largest prison population in Greece. We are glad that the spotlight is finally being put on these unjust procedures, but as today’s decision has shown, even this is not enough. On a regular basis migrants are swallowed into the prison system, convicted without anybody knowing or caring who they are.”

Annina Mullis, a representative of the Swiss Democratic Lawyers’ Association, who was observing today’s trial stated, “an 8 month postponement for no reason is a clear violation of procedural rights – based on the European Convention on Human Rights, courts are obliged to move procedures forward expeditiously, especially when defendants are in prison. What we have witnessed today was an arbitrary show of force in a politicised court room.”

Kim Schneider, spokesperson for the solidarity initiative You can`t evict Solidarity, pointed out: “It is unbelievable. Once again, the trial of Amir and Razuli has been postponed. We are so furious that we are speechless. We cannot explain this to the young men nor their families whose lives are being destroyed. We need to take political action now.”

The Legal Centre Lesvos, Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe e.V., You can’t evict Solidarity and Deportation Monitoring Aegean have closely followed the trial. We will continue to stand in solidarity with the defendants, no matter how long it will take to achieve justice for Amir and Razuli.

Press contacts:

  • Marion Bouchetel, Legal Centre Lesvos, marion@legalcentrelesvos.org, Phone: +30 697 761 9003, @Lesboslegal
  • Kim Schneider, You can’t evict Solidarity, cantevictsolidarity@riseup.net, Phone: +49 152 19255205, Twitter: @cantevict; #FreeAmirAndRazuli

National Transparency Authority should publish the full investigation regarding pushbacks in accordance with the principle of transparency / Να δημοσιευθεί η έρευνα της Εθνικής Αρχής Διαφάνειας για τις επαναπροωθήσεις σε συμμόρφωση με την αρχή της διαφάνειας

Logo of the Greek National transparency Authority, source: https://aead.gr/en/

7 April 2022

On the 29th of March, the Greek National Transparency Authority (NTA) issued a press release announcing the conclusion of a 3-month investigation on the management of migration flows to the Greek territory as well as the relevant international journalistic reports on informal forced returns (pushbacks).

It is recalled that NTA’s investigation was launched at the request of the Minister of Migration and Asylum, following the publication of an 8-month journalistic investigation by Lighthouse Reports and nine more European media platforms, which referred to a “system” of illegal forced returns in Greece and Croatia and the direct involvement of special units of security forces assigned with the task to “chase asylum applicants away from the E.U.”.

It is also recalled that the issue of pushbacks in Greece has caused multiple interventions by the European Commission, which, in September 2021, vetoed the release of a € 15,83 million emergency fund to Greece, setting as a prerequisite the establishment of an independent mechanism for the investigation of allegations on human rights violations at the country’s borders. More recently, the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) decided by a qualified majority to postpone the decision on the discharge of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) 2020 accounts. CONT’s decision invoked, inter alia, the failure of the Agency to create a serious incidents reporting mechanism, as well as the fact that the Agency’s management was aware but deliberately avoided to report violations of fundamental rights at the EU’s external borders and specifically in Greece, as per the summary of a report by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), which was presented before the CONT on the 28th of February**.

In this context, it is deeply concerning that the NTA decided to announce the findings of its investigation through a press release, thus leaving a large amount of questions unanswered, such as if and to what extent it took into consideration the 540 cases of illegal pushbacks recorded by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Greece, the range of actors that were approached for the purposes of the investigation, as well as the broader methodology used to corroborate its findings. On the contrary, unexpectedly, NTA conducted part of the investigation with “the support of the Forensic Science Division (FSD)”, i.e. with the support of a Central Office of the Hellenic Police, officers of which, similarly to the Coast Guard’s, are the alleged perpetrators of the illegal pushbacks at the borders and in the Greek territory. Furthermore, it should also be mentioned that dozens of illegal pushback cases against Greece are pending before the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Committee of the UN.

Consequently, the NTA failed to provide essential information which might have provided an answer on the issue of pushbacks in Greece, as required from an independent authority. It is also noted that NTA is not a constitutionally established independent authority, does not meet the ten requirements/points of the UN institutions and the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) for the establishment of an independent and effective national border monitoring mechanism of fundamental rights at the Greek borders, while, as highlighted in a recent study, it does not have the required specialization on border issues.

In any case, while the NTA does not meet the criteria to conduct an independent investigation on the allegations regarding pushbacks, we request the publication of the full report of this investigation, in order for its methodology and conclusions to be available for evaluation, to ensure the accountability of the implicated actors and to preserve the public’s trust to national authorities*****.

** European Parliament, “MEPs withhold discharge of EU border control agency Frontex’ accounts”, 31 March 2022: https://bit.ly/3J8ZdGD and “EP committee asks for part of Frontex budget to be frozen”, 27 September 2021: https://bit.ly/38uSgTF; Marquardt, Question for written answer E-000861/2022 to the Commission, https://bit.ly/3uTGLfV; EfSyn, “They are hiding the findings on Frontex”, 2 April 2022, available (Greek): https://bit.ly/3j9J7C6; Der Spiegel, “Pressure Growing on Frontex Chief from Pushbacks Investigation”, 21 March 2022: https://bit.ly/37jdGT7

***** According to the relevant case-law of the ECtHR on the elements of an effective investigation,, “[t]here must be a sufficient element of public scrutiny of the investigation or its results to secure accountability in practice as well as in theory, maintain public confidence in the authorities’ adherence to the rule of law and prevent any appearance of collusion in or tolerance of unlawful acts” [Anguelova v. Bulgaria, no. 38361/97, § 140, ECHR 2002-IV]

Signatory Organizations

Action for Women

Amnesty International

Changemakers Lab

Diotima Centre

ECHO100PLUS 

Europe Must Act

Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid

Greek Council for Refugees (GCR)

Greek Forum of Migrants

Greek Forum of Refugees

Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR)

HIAS Greece

HumanRights360

Human Rights Legal Project 

I HAVE RIGHTS (IHR)

International Rescue Committee Hellas (IRC)

Irida Women’s Center

Legal Centre Lesvos

Melissa Network of Migrant Women in Greece

Mobile Info Team

Refugee Legal Support (RLS) 

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA)

Symbiosis-School of Political Studies in Greece, Council of Europe Network

Still I Rise

The HOME Project

7 Απριλίου 2022

Με δελτίο τύπου της στις 29 Μαρτίου, η Εθνική Αρχή Διαφάνειας (ΕΑΔ) ανακοίνωσε την ολοκλήρωση 3μηνης έρευνας που διεξήγαγε ως προς τη διαχείριση των μεταναστευτικών ροών στην ελληνική επικράτεια και τα διαλαμβανόμενα σε διεθνή δημοσιογραφική έρευνα περί άτυπων αναγκαστικών επιστροφών (επαναπροωθήσεων).

Υπενθυμίζεται πως η έρευνα της ΕΑΔ ξεκίνησε με αίτημα του Υπουργού Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου, μετά τη δημοσίευση 8μηνης δημοσιογραφικής έρευνας της ομάδας Lighthouse Reports και 9 ακόμη ευρωπαϊκών μέσων ενημέρωσης, η οποία έκανε λόγο για ένα «σύστημα» παράνομων επαναπροωθήσεων στην Ελλάδα και την Κροατία και για την άμεση εμπλοκή σε αυτό ειδικών μονάδων των υπηρεσιών ασφάλειας, επιφορτισμένων να «κυνηγούν αιτούντες άσυλο από την ΕΕ». 

Υπενθυμίζεται, επίσης, πως το ζήτημα των επαναπροωθήσεων στην Ελλάδα έχει προκαλέσει επανειλημμένως τις παρεμβάσεις της Ευρωπαϊκής Επιτροπής, η οποία τον Σεπτέμβριο του 2021 έθεσε βέτο στην αποδέσμευση εκτάκτων κονδυλίων  ύψους € 15,83 εκατομμυρίων προς την Ελλάδα, θέτοντας ως προϋπόθεση την ίδρυση ενός ανεξάρτητου μηχανισμού διερεύνησης των καταγγελιών για παραβιάσεις ανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων στα σύνορα της χώρας. Προσφάτως, δε, η Επιτροπή Ελέγχου του Προϋπολογισμού του Ευρωκοινοβουλίου (CONT) αποφάσισε με αυξημένη πλειοψηφία την αναβολή της απόφασης εκκαθάρισης των λογαριασμών του 2020 του Ευρωπαϊκού Οργανισμού Συνοριοφυλακής και Ακτοφυλακής (Frontex). Μεταξύ των επικαλούμενων λόγων για αυτή την απόφαση της CONT ήταν η αποτυχία του Οργανισμού να δημιουργήσει έναν μηχανισμό αναφοράς σοβαρών περιστατικών, αλλά και το ότι η Διοίκηση του Οργανισμού γνώριζε και σκοπίμως απέφυγε να αναφέρει τις παραβιάσεις των θεμελιωδών δικαιωμάτων στα εξωτερικά σύνορα της ΕΕ και δη στην Ελλάδα, σύμφωνα και με σύνοψη έκθεσης της  Ευρωπαϊκής Υπηρεσίας Καταπολέμησης της Απάτης (OLAF), η οποία παρουσιάσθηκε ενώπιον και της CONT στις 28 Φεβρουαρίου**.

Σε αυτό το πλαίσιο, προβληματισμό γεννά η επιλογή της ΕΑΔ να ανακοινώσει τα πορίσματα της έρευνάς της μέσω ενός δελτίου τύπου, αφήνοντας έτσι σωρεία αναπάντητων ερωτημάτων, όπως το αν και σε τι βαθμό έλαβε υπόψη τις 540 περιπτώσεις παράνομων επαναπροωθήσεων που έχει καταγράψει η Ύπατη Αρμοστεία του ΟΗΕ για τους Πρόσφυγες στην Ελλάδα, το εύρος των δρώντων στους οποίους απευθύνθηκε για τους σκοπούς της έρευνας, όπως και την ευρύτερη μεθοδολογία που ακολουθήθηκε προς επίρρωση των πορισμάτων. Απεναντίας, εντύπωση προκαλεί ότι η ΕΑΔ διεξήγαγε μέρος της έρευνας «με τη συνδρομή της Διεύθυνσης Εγκληματολογικών Ερευνών (ΔΕΕ)», δηλαδή με Κεντρική Υπηρεσία της Ελληνικής Αστυνομίας, στελέχη της οποίας, όπως και του Λιμενικού, αποτελούν τους φερόμενους ως δράστες των παράνομων επαναπροωθήσεων στα σύνορα και στο ελληνικό έδαφος. Σημειωτέον, δε, ότι δεκάδες υποθέσεις παράνομων επαναπροωθήσεων κατά της Ελλάδας εκκρεμούν ενώπιον του Ευρωπαϊκού Δικαστηρίου Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων και της Επιτροπής Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων του ΟΗΕ.

Κατά συνέπεια η ΕΑΔ απέτυχε να παρέχει απαραίτητες πληροφορίες που ενδεχομένως να μπορούσαν να παρέχουν μια απάντηση επί του θέματος των επαναπροωθήσεων στην Ελλάδα, ως απαιτείται στις ανεξάρτητες αρχές. Επισημαίνεται, δε, πως η ΕΑΔ δεν είναι συνταγματικώς κατοχυρωμένη ανεξάρτητη αρχή, δεν πληροί τα δέκα σημεία/συστάσεις οργανισμών του ΟΗΕ και του Ευρωπαϊκού Δικτύου Εθνικών Θεσμών Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων (ΕΝNHRI) για τη δημιουργία ενός ανεξάρτητου και αποτελεσματικού εθνικού μηχανισμού παρακολούθησης θεμελιωδών δικαιωμάτων στα σύνορα στην Ελλάδα, ενώ όπως επισημαίνεται και σε πρόσφατη μελέτη, δεν διαθέτει την απαραίτητη ειδίκευση σε θέματα συνόρων.

Σε κάθε περίπτωση, καίτοι η συγκεκριμένη Αρχή δεν πληροί τις προϋποθέσεις για έναν ανεξάρτητο έλεγχο των καταγγελιών σχετικά με τις επαναπροωθήσεις, αιτούμαστε τη δημοσίευση της εν λόγω έκθεσης έρευνας στο σύνολο της, προκειμένου να μπορεί να αξιολογηθεί η μεθοδολογία και τα αντίστοιχα πορίσματα αυτής, να διασφαλιστεί η λογοδοσία των εμπλεκόμενων φορέων αλλά και η διατήρηση της εμπιστοσύνης του κοινού στις αρχές****.

** Ευρωπαϊκό Κοινοβούλιο, “MEPs withhold discharge of EU border control agency Frontex’ accounts”, 31 Μαρτίου 2022: https://bit.ly/3J8ZdGD και “EP committee asks for part of Frontex budget to be frozen”, 27 Σεπτεμβρίου 2021: https://bit.ly/38uSgTF; Marquardt, Question for written answer E-000861/2022 to the Commission, https://bit.ly/3uTGLfV; ΕφΣυν, «Κρύβουν το πόρισμα για Frontex», 2 Απριλίου 2022: https://bit.ly/3j9J7C6; Der Spiegel, “Pressure Growing on Frontex Chief from Pushbacks Investigation”, 21 Μαρτίου 2022, διαθέσιμο (αγγλικά): https://bit.ly/37jdGT7.

*****  Σύμφωνα και με σχετική νομολογία του ΕΔΔΑ για τα στοιχεία μίας αποτελεσματικής έρευνας, “[t]here must be a sufficient element of public scrutiny of the investigation or its results to secure accountability in practice as well as in theory, maintain public confidence in the authorities’ adherence to the rule of law and prevent any appearance of collusion in or tolerance of unlawful acts” [Anguelova v. Bulgaria, no. 38361/97, § 140, ECHR 2002-IV]

Οι Υπογράφουσες Οργανώσεις

Διεθνής Αμνηστία

Ελληνική Ένωση για τα Δικαιώματα του Ανθρώπου (ΕλΕΔΑ)

Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες (ΕΣΠ)

Ελληνικό Φόρουμ Μεταναστών

Ελληνικό Φόρουμ Προσφύγων

Ίριδα Κέντρο Γυναικών

Κέντρο Διοτίμα

Μέλισσα – Δίκτυο Μεταναστριών στην Ελλάδα

Συμβίωση-Σχολή Πολιτικών Σπουδών στην Ελλάδα, Δίκτυο Συμβουλίου της Ευρώπης

Υποστήριξη Προσφύγων στο Αιγαίο (RSA)

Action for Women

Changemakers Lab

ECHO100PLUS 

Europe Must Act

Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid

HIAS Ελλάδος

HumanRights360

Human Rights Legal Project 

I HAVE RIGHTS (IHR)

International Rescue Committee Hellas (IRC)

Legal Centre Lesvos

Mobile Info Team

Refugee Legal Support (RLS) 

Still I Rise

The HOME Project

Appeal trial against Amir and Razuli interrupted until 7 April 2022 after two days of waiting / Το Εφετείο κατά των Amir και Razuli διακόπηκε για τις 7 Απριλίου 2022 μετά από δύο μέρες αναμονής

“Justice for Amir and Razuli, Free them now!”
Family members and supporters carrying a sign for the two defendants in front of the Mytilene Court, Lesvos

The appeal trial of the two young Afghan men convicted in first instance of “facilitating illegal entry” and “illegal entry” to Greece has been interrupted. The defendants Amir Zahiri (27) and Akif Razuli (24) were brought respectively from Chios and Serres prisons, to Mytilene on Lesvos and forced to wait for two days. In violation of the Greek criminal procedural law, they were seated  handcuffed in the court room while awaiting their own trial. They were not given any information about if or when the trial would happen, until it was finally opened today, 18 March at 2:30 pm- just to be halted immediately after. All witnesses and international trial observers who had travelled to Mytilene from different European countries and the Greek mainland were also forced to wait along with Amir and Razuli, among them Amir’s wife and their two children. Also three Members of European Parliament came to testify and observe the trial, as well as the sea rescuer Iasonas Apostolopoulos.

The trial will resume in 20 days, on 7 April 2022. Thereby, the chain of injustice that Amir and Razuli were confronted with over the last years continues: Amir and Razuli were arbitrarily arrested on 12 March 2020, kept in pre-trial detention for seven months and convicted in September 2020 to 50 years imprisonmment without any evidence against them. Now their appeal trial was interrupted.

A Greek trial observer from Aegean Migrant Solidarity stated:

“The last two days were very difficult, especially for the people who are in detention without any evidence for so long. For these two days nobody knew if the trial will start or not. The court decided to start the trial today and continue at 7 of April 2022, because they acknowledged the fact that the trial must start in a reasonable time. Lets all be there on 7th of April!”

Marco Aparicio, trial observer from the Spanish Observatori DESC (ESCR Observatory) noted:

“Prolonging the process is prolonging the suffering, Amir and Razuli, their relatives and friends have the right to know about their future. This trial, indeed, shows that Europe is used not to criminalize those who cause the suffering but the people who suffer.”

Lorraine Leete from Legal Centre Lesvos, who defended Akif Razuli, explains:

“Amir and Razuli should never have been arrested, let alone convicted and imprisoned, given the lack of evidence that they committed the crime they are accused of. While Amir and Razuli will never get back the two years they’ve spent in prison, we hope this miscarriage of justice is rectified at the continuance of their appeal trial next month.”

The Legal Centre Lesvos, Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline-europe e.V., You can’t evict Solidarity and Deportation Monitoring Aegean have closely followed the trial. We will continue to stand in solidarity with the defendants, no matter how long it will take to achieve justice for Amir and Razuli.


Press contacts:

Marion Bouchetel

Legal Centre Lesvos

marion@legalcentrelesvos.org Phone: +30 697 761 9003


Kim Schneider

You can’t evict Solidarity

cantevictsolidarity@riseup.net Phone: +49 152 19255205

Twitter: @cantevict; @lesboslegal #FreeAmirAndRazuli

Το Εφετείο κατά των Amir και Razuli διακόπηκε για τις 7 Απριλίου 2022 μετά από δύο μέρες αναμονής

#FreeAmirAndRazuli


Το Εφετείο των δύο νεαρών Αφγανών που είχαν καταδικαστεί σε πρώτο βαθμό με τις κατηγορίες περί «διευκόλυνσης παράνομης εισόδου» και «παράνομη είσοδο» στην Ελλάδα διακόπηκε. Οι κατηγορούμενοι Amir Zahiri (27 ετών) και Akif Razuli (24 ετών) μεταφέρθηκαν από τις φυλακές Χίου και Σερρών αντίστοιχα, στο Αστυνομικό Τμήμα Μυτιλήνης, όπου αναγκάστηκαν να περιμένουν επί δύο μέρες για την πραγματοποίηση της δίκης τους. Κατά παράβαση του ελληνικού ποινικού δικονομικού δικαίου, οι κατηγορούμενοι κάθισαν με χειροπέδες μέσα στην αίθουσα του δικαστηρίου, περιμένοντας την έλευση της δίκης τους. Δεν τους δόθηκε καμία ενημέρωση για το αν και πότε θα γίνει η δίκη τους, μέχρι που τελικά ξεκίνησε στις 18 Μαρτίου, στις 14:30 μ.μ και να διακοπεί αμέσως. Όλοι οι μάρτυρες όπως και οι διεθνείς παρατηρητές της δίκης που είχαν ταξιδέψει στη Μυτιλήνη από διάφορες ευρωπαϊκές χώρες όπως και διάφορα μέρη της Ελλάδας, αναγκάστηκαν επίσης να περιμένουν μαζί με τον Amir και τον Razuli, μεταξύ των οποίων και η σύζυγος του Amir μαζί με τα δύο ανήλικα παιδιά τους. Επίσης, στην δίκη ήρθαν τρία μέλη του Ευρωπαικού Κοινοβουλίου, καθώς και ο διασώστης Ιάσονας Αποστολόπουλος, για να καταθέσουν και να παρακολουθήσουν την διαδικασία.

Η δίκη θα συνεχιστεί σε 20 μέρες, στις 7 Απριλίου 2022. Με τον τρόπο αυτό, η αλυσίδα της αδικίας με την οποία ήρθαν αντιμέτωποι τα τελευταία χρόνια οι Amir και Razuli συνεχίζεται. Οι Amir και Razuli συνελήφθησαν αυθαίρετα στις 12 Μαρτίου 2020, προφυλακίστηκαν για επτά μήνες και καταδικάστηκαν τον Σεπτέμβριο του 2020 σε 50 χρόνια φυλάκισης χωρίς κανένα στοιχείο εναντίον τους. Τώρα το Εφετείο τους διακόπηκε. 

Μια ελληνίδα παρατηρήτρια της δίκης από την οργάνωση Aegean Migrant Solidarity δήλωσε:

«Οι δύο τελευταίες μέρες ήταν πολύ δύσκολες, ιδιαίτερα για τους ανθρώπους που βρίσκονται υπό κράτηση χωρίς κανένα στοιχείο για τόσο πολύ καιρό. Δύο μέρες τώρα, κανείς δεν γνώριζε αν η δίκη θα ξεκινήσει ή όχι. Το δικαστήριο αποφάσισε να ξεκινήσει η δίκη σήμερα και να συνεχιστεί στις 7 Απριλίου 2022, επειδή αναγνώρισε το γεγονός ότι η δίκη πρέπει να ξεκινήσει σε ένα εύλογο χρονικό διάστημα. Ας είμαστε όλοι στις 7 Απρίλη!»

Ο Marco Aparicio, παρατηρητής δικών από το Ισπανικό Παρατηρητήριο DESC (ESCR Observatory) σημείωσε:

«Η παράταση της διαδικασίας παρατείνει τα βάσανα για τον Amir και των Razuli, των συγγενών και των φίλων τους που έχουν το δικαίωμα να γνωρίζουν για το μέλλον τους. Αυτή η δίκη, πράγματι, δείχνει ότι η Ευρώπη συνηθίζει όχι να ποινικοποιεί αυτούς που προκαλούν τον πόνο, αλλά τους ανθρώπους που υποφέρουν».

Η Lorraine Leete από το Legal Centre Lesvos, η οποία υπερασπίζεται τον Akif Razuli, εξηγεί: 

«Οι Amir και Razuli δεν θα έπρεπε ποτέ να έχουν συλληφθεί, πόσο μάλλον να καταδικαστούν και να φυλακιστούν, δεδομένης της έλλειψης αποδεικτικών στοιχείων ότι διέπραξαν το έγκλημα για το οποίο κατηγορούνται. Παρόλο που ο Amir και ο Razuli δεν θα πάρουν ποτέ πίσω τα δύο χρόνια που πέρασαν στη φυλακή, ελπίζουμε ότι αυτή κακοδικία θα αποκατασταθεί κατά τη συνέχιση της δίκης τους τον επόμενο μήνα».

Οι οργανώσεις Legal Centre Lesvos, Aegean Migrant Solidarity, borderline – europe e.V, You Can’t Evict Solidarity και η Deportation Monitoring Aegean παρακολούθησαν στενά τη δίκη. Θα συνεχίσουμε να στεκόμαστε αλληλέγγυοι στους κατηγορούμενους, ανεξάρτητα από το πόσος χρόνος θα χρειαστεί για να αποδοθεί δικαιοσύνη για τον Amir και τον Razuli.


Επικοινωνία:

Marion Bouchetel
Legal Centre Lesvos
marion@legalcentrelesvos.org Τηλ: +30 697 761 9003


Kim Schneider
You can’t evict Solidarity
cantevictsolidarity@riseup.net Τηλ: +49 152 19255205

Twitter: @cantevict; @lesboslegal #FreeAmirAndRazuli

Joint civil society letter to Yvla Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs

Greece’s implementation of the ‘safe third country’ concept is violating EU law and migrants’ rights

Download the joint letter here

Today a joint letter was sent by 27 civil society organisations to the European Commissioner Yvla Johansson denouncing the implementation by Greece of the “safe third country” concept and urging the Commissioner to promptly take the necessary measures against Greece.

Since the adoption on 7 June 2021 of a Joint Ministerial Decision 42799/2021 by the Minister of Migration and Asylum and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Greek asylum authorities arbitrarily and systematically consider that Turkey is safe for persons originating from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, without an examination of the merits of their asylum claim – i.e. the reason they left their home country. As further described in the joint letter, this led to a large number of claims for international protection being rejected as inadmissible on this ground, and applicants being ordered to return to Turkey, without any prospect for such readmission.

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

This Joint Ministerial Decision exposes applicants for international protection to a legal limbo whereby they are never granted access to an examination of their asylum applications on the merits, contrary to the purpose of the Geneva Convention and of the Asylum Procedures Directive. It also leads to their exclusion from reception conditions and to cater for their basic subsistence needs, including health care and food.

Through this joint letter, the co-signatories request that asylum seekers to whom the ‘safe third country’ concept has been applied see their international protection applications promptly examined on the merits and be provided with respective legal status and adequate reception conditions.

It is not the first time that the legality of this Joint Ministerial Decision is being challenged: on 8 October 2021, the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) had already requested the judicial review and annulment of the Joint Ministerial Decision before the Greek Council of State.