Category: Latest News

Legal Centre Lesvos Quarterly Report: October – December 2021

Download full report here.

Inside a burnt down rubhall in the Lesvos RIC, which used to host 80 to 100 people and was entirely destroyed after one of the fires that broke out in November 2021. Photograph taken by a camp resident.
  1. Advocacy and accountability for collective expulsions and other systemic human rights violations   
  • 29 October Interim measures granted by the European Court of Human Rights to ensure protection of the rights of newly arrived asylum seekers to Lesvos   
  • 20 December – European Court of Human Rights to examine 32 cases filed against Greece concerning illegal collective expulsions   
  • 13 October – One year after the “Golden dawn trial”, No room for complacency towards racist violence   
  • 8 December – Continued unjustified rejections from the NGO Registry in Greece       
  1. Abysmal conditions in Lesvos’ Reception and Identification Centre persist   
  • 1 October – An end to food distribution and cash assistance for many migrants stuck in the Greek camps   
  • 15 and 18 November – Fires a common occurrence in the Lesvos RIC   
  • 5 December – Migrants’ forbidden from leaving Lesvos’ RIC during the Pope’s visit to Lesvos   
  1. Continued work to advocate for fair asylum proceedings   
  • Overview of the legal support provided by Legal Centre Lesvos between October and December 2021   
  • 8 October – Legal Centre Lesvos participates in Expert Hearing on the European Union’s new Pact on Migration, arranged by MEP Cornelia Ernst   
  • 12 November – LCL reports on “Family reunification from Greece: a few hard wins among many bureaucratic and systemic obstacles”   

1. Advocacy and accountability for collective expulsions and other systemic human rights violations

  • 29 October – Interim measures granted by the ECtHR to ensure protection of the rights of newly arrived asylum seekers to Lesvos.

On 29 October, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ordered Greece to guarantee adequate living conditions and access to medical care to a group of newly arrived Somali and Ethiopian asylum seekers at imminent risk of collective expulsion, in response to an urgent request for interim measures filed by LCL. 

The group arrived in Lesvos in the early hours of 29 October, and contacted LCL to request legal assistance in accessing registration and asylum procedures in Greece. Several members of their group were in need of urgent medical care, including a ten-year-old girl who had a pre-existing heart condition and who had not had food or water for over twenty-four hours. In turn, LCL informed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and competent Greek authorities of the group’s presence, and requested an ambulance to attend to them.

In light of both a delay in provision of needed medical care, and the Greek authorities’ extensively documented systematic practice of illegally expelling unregistered migrants who arrive to Greek territory, LCL made an urgent application to the ECtHR. Four hours later, the ECtHR ordered Greece to provide the group with “adequate living conditions and health care compatible with their state of health as per Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.” 

The grant of interim measures on 29 October was a rare, and welcome, success: all of the named applicants were registered and have entered the asylum procedures following the Court’s decision. From this 29 October arrival to Lesvos, at least two women from Somalia, who were later assisted and represented by the LCL in their asylum procedure, have now been granted refugee status in Greece.

  • 20 December – European Court of Human Rights to examine 32 cases filed against Greece concerning illegal collective expulsions

On 20 December 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) announced that 32 cases filed between December 2020 and August 2021 concerning the illegal collective expulsion of 47 asylum seekers from its territory were communicated to Greece. Among those cases, two were filed and are represented by Legal Centre Lesvos lawyers. These are among the first cases to be communicated to Greece since overwhelming evidence began emerging in March 2020 of a widespread and systematic practice of illegal expulsions, or ‘pushbacks’, in the Aegean Sea region. 

The ECtHR’s notification of these cases to Greece means that the Greek State is now required to respond to the extensive evidence submitted in both cases, which show that the Applicants were attacked, arbitrarily detained, psychologically and physically abused, and ultimately expelled from Greek territory, without having their asylum claims individually examined. A Chamber of judges within the ECtHR is expected to take a decision on the cases as early as summer 2022.

The first case, H.T. and Others v Greece (app. no. 4177/21) concerns the repeated illegal expulsion of a Syrian family. The family – parents and their three young children – submitted evidence to the Court that they had entered Greek territory on at least four occasions, with the intent to seek asylum. However, as demonstrated through their testimony and corroborated evidence, they were repeatedly denied access to registration and asylum procedures, and ultimately were subjected to illegal and life-threatening collective expulsions in the Aegean and Evros regions, together with other asylum seekers. 

The second case, S.A.A. and Others v Greece (app. no. 22146/21) concerns an extensively documented and massive collective expulsion of approximately two hundred people that began near the island of Crete. After being caught in a storm at sea, instead of being rescued, the Applicants demonstrate through their submitted evidence that they were held under surveillance at sea for several hours with assurances that they would soon be taken to shore in Greece, before being violently assaulted at night, transferred by force to vessels identified as Hellenic Coast Guard vessels, transferred over 200 km towards Turkish waters, and finally abandoned at sea on inflatable, motorless life rafts.

On a near-daily basis, evidence emerges of Greek authorities carrying out violent and illegal expulsions of people on the move in the Aegean Sea and across the Evros River, often with evidence showing the assistance or complicity of international agencies like Frontex.  It is not uncommon to hear testimonies of people who have been pushed back from Greece six, seven or eight times, each incident both constituting a manifest risk to their lives and compounding the trauma of prior expulsions.   

A positive decision in these two cases could bring partial redress for the named Applicants. However, given the ECtHR’s structural and procedural limitations, the proceedings are insufficient to condemn the systematic nature of collective expulsions, which, as the Legal Centre Lesvos has previously demonstrated, amounts to Crimes Against Humanity

Nonetheless, the communication of these cases to Greece marks an important step in what necessarily must be a coordinated effort to obtain accountability for and an end to the ongoing cruel and violent attack against migrants, inherent in maintaining Europe’s borders.

  • 13 October 2021 – One year after the “Golden dawn trial”, No room for complacency towards racist violence

One year after the historic conviction of Golden Dawn, Legal Centre Lesvos, as part of the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN), warned that there is no room for complacency in resisting organized and racist violence, as its modus operandi continues to severely affect social life and cohesion in Greece.

In 2020, despite the landmark decision convicting Golden Dawn, the RVRN recorded an escalating number of racist attacks as compared to the recent past, noting in particular the increased attacks against migrants and human rights defenders.

RVRN continues to call State and local government representatives, as well as media representatives, to refrain from engaging in the racist rhetoric that normalizes and encourages racist reactions. It also calls on the Greek authorities to urgently enhance the protection provided by law to every person and every community member that is being targeted by persons or groups with a racist motivation. 

No crime, motivated solely or cumulatively by bias, should remain unpunished. Read more in the joint press release here

Magda Fyssa, the mother of murdered musician Pavlos Fyssas after the conviction of the Golden Dawn, 11 October 2020. Photo Credit: Lemesos Blog.
  • 8 December 2021 – Continued unjustified rejections from the NGO Registry in Greece

The Legal Centre Lesvos joined 18 other organisations active in Greece to express its great concerns regarding the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum denial to register the non-profit civil society organisation “Refugee Support Aegean” (RSA) on the official NGO Registry.

The substantive ground used by the Ministry for such rejection cited that the “development of activity” “in support of persons under deportation” is contrary to Greek legislation”. The provision of mainly legal support to persons facing deportation is part of the daily work of civil society organisations active inter alia in free legal assistance, including several organisations already registered on the NGO Registry. Persons under deportation who are in need of protection in the wider sense as persons of concern, in particular in light of international law provisions prohibiting deportation of foreigners such as Articles 31 and 33 of the Refugee Convention, Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture, as well as other provisions mandating assistance to vulnerable cases on humanitarian grounds. Even rejected asylum seekers are persons to whom it is required to provide assistance under EU and domestic legislation, namely Articles 28(3)-(4) and 31(4)-(5) of Law 3907/2011 and the provisions of Directive 2008/115/EC. Activities in support of persons facing deportation are fully in line with applicable legislation, as they ensure the safeguards and rights of persons at risk of deportation and return.

The Ministry of Migration and Asylum rejection decision sets a major negative precedent calling into question the activity of legal assistance to migrants by civil society organisations. It also causes reputational damage to Greece for poor implementation of refugee law, as well as international, EU and domestic law more broadly. For those reasons, the Greek administration is expected to take the necessary steps to correct the aforementioned decision in line with the law.

Read our joint statement on the rejection of RSA from the Greek NGO registry here.

2. Abysmal conditions in Lesvos’ Reception and Identification Centre persist

On 1 October 2021, the Greek state started implementing a new policy depriving both recognised refugees and migrants considered to be “outside of the asylum procedure” from accessing food in state-run facilities on the Greek mainland. As a consequence, organizations estimated that almost 60% of the residents of refugee camps on the Greek mainland no longer had access to either sufficient or suitable food. 

Among those deprived of access to food are persons who have had their asylum claim rejected on appeal, including nationals from five countries (Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), who may not have even had the opportunity to express the reasons for leaving their country of origin before having their asylum claim rejected, as the concept of the safe-third country has been applied to these individuals following the June 2021 Joint Ministerial Decision adopted by the Greek Government. These asylum seekers who are officially considered to be “outside of the asylum procedure” find themselves in a legal limbo, without access to legal status, rights and basic services, and since October also without access to food. 

The Legal Centre Lesvos joined over twenty-five other civil society organisations to resist the Greek State’s policies and reiterate that no one, irrespective of their legal status, should be deprived of food.

This policy follows the decision by the Greek government in March 2021 to automatically discontinue all material reception conditions, including housing, food and cash assistance provided  for recognised refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection as soon as their protection status was granted. According to this provision, beneficiaries of protection had to leave government run housing facilities (including camps or State-provided apartments) in the first 30 days after the granting of protection. Following this decision, thousands of recognized refugees found themselves without shelter, living in public squares for prolonged periods of time. Without access to integration support or any viable housing alternative, many were thus compelled to return to camps in order to have access to the bare minimum – that is, water, food, and some form of shelter. 

Family of four forced to live with their children in the Lesvos RIC without any financial support since September 2021, Photograph by Fellipe Lopes.

With the termination of the cash assistance programme provided by UNHCR effective since the end of September 2021, all asylum seekers in Greece are left without a minimum financial support to cover their basic needs and subsistence, particularly while being forced to live in camps such as the Lesvos Reception and Identification Centre (RIC), unable to leave the island due to geographic restrictions, and not having legal access to any work (as asylum seekers do not have permission to work for the first six months after they register their application for asylum). Although the Greek government took over the management of the cash assistance programme as of 1 October, only in December the government announced that Christian Relief Services had been contracted to distribute cash assistance in Greece, and to date, no cash assistance has been provided to asylum seekers. 

Those policies and voluntary lack of action are criminal as they lead to food deprivation, enforced homelessness, and legal limbo that deny migrants’ basic rights and confine them to inhuman and degrading conditions. For further information, read the two letters co-signed by LCL that call upon the Greek government and the European Commission to guarantee migrants’ access to food here and here

On 15 and on 18 November 2021, large fires broke out among the rub halls in Lesvos’ Reception and Identification Centre (RIC). Two burnt to the ground in a matter of minutes. Dozens of people lost their personal possessions, documents, and allocated shelter. In the immediate aftermath, camp authorities merely instructed the displaced to “stay with friends” – presumably in the other rub halls, tents and containers that make up the RIC.

Rub halls are large, marquee-like structures covered with polyester fabric, that host up to 80 to 100 persons in “rooms” sub-divided by blankets and thin walls. These are common in Lesvos RIC, and serve as accommodation both for single men and for families who have received rejections on their asylum applications. The rub halls are highly flammable, and susceptible of melting in a matter of minutes, as the events of 15 and 18 November demonstrated (see picture below), and yet the authorities have failed to provide adequate evacuation routes or other fire safety measures. There are only two entrances to the structure – one at each end of a central corridor – meaning that, in the event of an emergency, all residents have a few minutes to flee through a shared exit route.

On top of being hazardous, the conditions in those rub halls are wholly inadequate for human habitation. In the event of rain, which is very common in winter in Lesvos, the rub halls frequently flood. Several minors (who had been wrongly registered as adults when they arrived on the island, in yet another example of the dystopian nature of life for migrants in Lesvos) living in one such structure, told LCL that they had to leave their allocated rooms, as leaks and flooding had ruined all of their bedding and possessions. The flimsy plastic structure offers little protection from the near freezing temperatures, and sporadic access to electricity makes it impossible to adequately heat the sleeping areas. Moreover, the heavy winds that have hit the island in recent months batter the rub halls at night, the flimsy walls flapping loudly and making it near-impossible to sleep. The camp’s location, directly facing the sea, only makes matters worse. 

Fatal and non-fatal fires have repeatedly occurred in State-managed accommodation facilities for migrants in Lesvos – both in the present RIC and in the former Moria camp on the island. 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. These people 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. These people’s repeated exposure to life-threatening fires not only compounds the trauma of each event, but also manifests the Greek government and European Union’s fundamental disregard for migrants’ lives and safety. 

The remaining metallic structure of a rubhall of the Lesvos RIC after the fires of November 2021, Photograph by a camp resident.
  • 5 December – Migrants’ forbidden from leaving Lesvos’ RIC during the Pope’s visit to Lesvos 

On 5 December, five years after his first visit to Lesvos, Pope Francis visited the island again and spent about an hour in the Reception and Identification Center (RIC) where he also gave a speech to a select audience. In preparation of the visit, the Lesvos RIC had been under intensive construction and cleaning works for several weeks. As LCL has consistently reported, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of Moria RIC and later Kara Tepe’s RIC (and other camps across Greece) have been subjected to disproportionate and discriminatory restrictions such as curfews, restricted number of exits per week, and ongoing movement certification requirements. Public holidays such as Christmas and New Year, and high profile visits further are used as arbitrary excuses to restrict the movement of those who have no option but to reside in these camps. The visit of the Pope was no exception. 

In addition to the usual disproportionate and discriminatory restrictions of movement imposed on the residents of Lesvos RIC, the camp remained totally closed during 48 hours, preventing its residents from entering or leaving the camp because of the high security visit. Unlike the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Yvla Johansson, who had landed in the camp with an helicopter in March 2021 and did not leave her car afterwards, the Pope arrived by car in the camp surrounded by security guards and walked a few metres down a specially prepared and cleaned aisle of the camp, before settling down and holding a speech under a tent erected on a stage-like level, built only for the occasion and overlooking the ‘blue zone” of the camp. 

Before arriving at the staged tent for his speech, the Pope shook hands and touched the heads of migrants and their children held behind barriers inside the RIC. Empty prefabricated shelters, with no residents inside, had been placed in decoration on the Pope’s path beforehand. 

In his speech before Ms. Sakellaropoúlou, the President of Greece, and Mr. Mitarakis, the Minister of Migration and Asylum, the Pope acknowledged that “after all this time, we see that little has changed with regard to the issue of migration” and that “with deep regret, we must admit that this country, like others, continues to be hard-pressed, and that in Europe there are those who persist in treating the problem as a matter that does not concern them. This is tragic.” He also denounced the conditions imposed on migrants in particular in hotspots like Lesvos: “How many conditions exist that are unworthy of human beings! How many hotspots where migrants and refugees live in borderline conditions, without glimpsing solutions on the horizon! Yet respect for individuals and for human rights, especially on this continent, which is constantly promoting them worldwide, should always be upheld, and the dignity of each person ought to come before all else.”

Although the visit did not change the situation for any migrant in Greece and people forced to live in the detention-like RICs, the visit allowed to draw some media attention around the inhuman situation of migrants in Greece and Europe, which Pope Francis qualified as a “shipwreck of civilization”.

Further details on the Pope’s visit in Lesvos are available in the press.

Pope Francis arriving to the Lesvos RIC followed by a dozen of cars where he was welcomed by the Minister of Migration and Asylum, Panagiotis Mitarakis, 5 December 2021, Photo Credit: ERT 1

3. Continued work to advocate for fair asylum proceedings

  • Overview of the legal support provided by Legal Centre Lesvos between October and December 2021
Legal Centre Lesvos lawyers represented: 
★ 34 individuals in the asylum procedure, including cases of family reunification; 
★ 13 individuals on appeal of their asylum claims; 
★ 5 detained individuals facing criminal charges. 

Volunteer caseworkers with the Legal Centre Lesvos carried out: Between October and December of 2021, volunteer caseworkers, under the supervision of Greek attorneys, supported 96 new cases, and actively worked on over 350 cases over the course of three months. 

Over half of the people who received legal aid from the Legal Centre this period are from Afghanistan and over 15% are from Syria, and included people from throughout the Middle East and African continent, some of whom have been trapped on the island of Lesvos without legal status for over five years – since the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal. In the reporting period, due to an increase in arrival on the island this winter of Somali asylum seekers, over 15% of the new cases supported by the Legal Centre in this period are concerning individuals from Somalia.

Legal aid in the above cases included:
★ over 170 individual legal consultations; 
★ 56 interview preparations and preparation of legal memos in 43 cases; 
★ 50 referrals to alternative housing services or protection services;
★ 61 persons attended information sessions on the asylum procedure and asylum interview. 

Legal Centre Lesvos filed 3 petitions for interim measures before the European Court of Human Rights, of which two were granted. One of the successful applications ensured that a five-year-old child with urgent medical needs was transferred, with her family, to Athens; the other ensured a group of new arrivals’ access to the asylum procedure and emergency medical care (see more details above).

On 16-18 October, LCL visited the town of La Garriga in Catalonia and presented in the Seminar “Abramos puertas, construyamos puentes” which gathered several of the migrant solidarity groups networks active in the Mediterranean region. The seminar allowed a space for exchange of experiences and ideas among different groups and individuals in solidarity with migrants, who work in different border zones to advocate and provide social and legal support to migrants.
  • 8 October – Legal Centre Lesvos participates in Expert Hearing on the European Union’s new Pact on Migration, arranged by MEP Cornelia Ernst

In October, and ahead of the deadline for proposed legislative amendments, LCL joined Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), civil society representatives, and other officials to discuss the urgent changes required to the EU’s proposed Pact on Migration.

Far from a “fresh start on migration,” the legislative proposals contained within the ‘new’ EU Pact replicate many of the worst aspects of the policies of containment, obstructed access to asylum procedures, returns and refoulement tested in the laboratory of Lesvos and other Aegean islands over the past five years. 

The legislative proposal for a Screening Regulation, on which LCL’s intervention was focussed, is largely modelled on the existing Greek reception and identification procedures. It includes a mandatory ‘pre-entry screening’ procedure, throughout which people will not be deemed ‘legally present’ in EU territory. This pre-entry screening seems set to amount to arbitrary detention on arrival, without due process guarantees such as access to legal advice, effective remedy, and no clear process for identifying ‘vulnerable’ individuals. 

For the screening procedure to take place, it is almost inevitable that States will introduce measures of detention while people are being processed. Articles 4 and 6(1), read together, imply that persons undergoing screening will be, as a rule, deprived of their liberty, although the operative part of the Regulation is silent on that point. For the duration of the pre-screening procedure, moreover, persons will be denied access to the asylum procedure and to the concomitant guarantees in it. 

In Lesvos, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Greek authorities’ disproportionate and discriminatory use of quarantine measures resulted in vulnerable applicants being denied access to registration and asylum procedures for up to two months and held in effective detention – in a legal situation allegorical to that of persons pending a pre-screening procedure. Those confined in quarantine areas, and denied access to vulnerability assessments, medical care, or the asylum procedure, included an amputee, three children with hereditary blood diseases, sixteen unaccompanied minors, and at least four children with serious physical or cognitive disabilities. They had limited access to legal information, medical care, or other forms of support, were held in overcrowded and unsanitary accommodation, and were therefore at grave risk of physical and psychological deterioration. The suspension of access to the asylum procedure placed them in a situation of legal vulnerability which, in turn, led to their isolation in conditions of physical and practical precarity. It is likely that the implementation of the new Pact could give rise to similar situations.

During this likely period of detention, people will most likely lack adequate access to information on their rights and the procedures that they are subjected to. However, the proposed new Pact seems to suggest that the competent pre-screening authority (whether the police or another agency) could collect information that would strongly affect one’s chances to be granted asylum, and furthermore, pursuant to Article 14(2), read in conjunction with Recitals 9, 15, 16 and 24 and the Annex to the proposed new Pact, that such information may be used in the asylum procedure, for the purposes of both referral or not to accelerated or border procedures, and assessment of the admissibility and substance of the claim. That is to say, information which could have a determinant influence on persons’ access to protection could be collected before they have had access to even basic information on their rights and the prevailing procedures, let alone specific legal counsel. 

Moreover, the proposed Screening Regulation undermines the protections guaranteed to vulnerable applicants and foresees identification of vulnerability only “where relevant” (Article 2). This lowers the prevailing standards set out in the current asylum acquis (see Article 22(1) Reception Conditions Directive; Article 24(1)-(2) Asylum Procedures Directive), which includes a mandatory vulnerability assessment – but which, in any case, is rarely adhered to. 

In Lesvos, and despite being bound by these prevailing standards, Greek and European authorities persistently fail to recognise vulnerabilities – whether that is Frontex’s systematic refusal to register unaccompanied children’s minority status, the ongoing failure to adequately recognise survivors of torture and other forms of sexual, psychological, and gender-based violence, or the continued failure to recognise medical vulnerabilities – and therefore to ensure these applicants’ access to requisite reception and procedural safeguards, as mandated under both Greek and European law. To further debase the provisions and procedures through which vulnerable applicants can be recognised and supported will only compound the trauma to which these persons are exposed and impede their prospects of obtaining protection or necessary support.

The proposals contained in the New Pact – whether on the Screening Procedure or otherwise – are not new, but rather perpetuate the failures that we have already seen at Greece’s borders. The New Pact was proposed alongside a promise of “no more Morias,” but the legislative framework provides for the exact opposite: the multiplication of hotspot camps, the expansion of the fiction of non-entry, and the continued export of migration control to third countries, all constituting and embedded within an ever-more tolerated violent border. 

In a new report released in November, LCL documents some of the obstacles faced by migrants in accessing family reunification in Europe, and details several hard-won successes that have led, in recent months, to migrants finally leaving Greece to join relatives in other countries. 

The right to a private and family life is enshrined in European and international law – but in practice, migrants are often denied this right or face numerous challenges to access it. These arise from, among other things, flaws in the asylum procedure, Greek authorities’ failures to identify and submit family reunification requests within relevant deadlines, or by other European States’ bad-faith implementation of family reunification legislation. The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to additional challenges to reunification – but has also been used as a catch-all excuse for bureaucratic delays and administrative failures.

Nonetheless, this year, at least ten families represented by the Legal Centre Lesvos have had their family reunification requests accepted or, following an earlier acceptance, have finally travelled to join relatives in other European countries.

These include:

  • Mohammed, an unaccompanied minor from Syria, who reunited with his aunt and uncle in Germany after almost two years alone in Greece, in which Greece failed to submit his timely request for reunification or transfer him within the allotted time period, therefore requiring appeals and extensive advocacy efforts;
  • Samir, an unaccompanied minor from Afghanistan who was first registered as an adult in Greece, and who – after months of living in a rub hall with unrelated adults in Lesvos’ Temporary Reception and Identification Centre – was ultimately given an age assessment, recognised as a minor, and granted reunification with his brother in Germany;
  • Ziad, an unaccompanied minor from the Bidoon (stateless) community in Kuwait, who faced numerous challenges in proving his relationship to his brother in the UK due to their lack of official documentation, and whose transfer was then unduly complicated by Brexit.

Despite the eligibility of each applicant and the compelling reasons for reunification, these cases have typically required over a year of assistance from LCL. Most requests were refused in the first instance and required appeals, litigation, and/or other forms of advocacy.

In any case, the EU’s family reunification legislation cannot be seen in isolation from the region’s wider policies of violent exclusion, control of migrants’ movement, and denial of migrants’ rights. The Dublin Regulation itself is an instrument of the Common European Asylum System that seeks to contain migrants at Europe’s peripheries, and prevent their free movement throughout the continent.

To redress the failures outlined in this report and the associated, ongoing trauma inflicted upon migrant families, calls for reform or abolition of the EU’s asylum system and must look beyond the Dublin Regulation itself and engage with its wider operational context.

Read the report in full on our website or download it here.

European Court of Human Rights to examine 32 cases filed against Greece concerning illegal collective expulsions

PRESS RELEASE

[Ελληνικα]

On 20 December 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) announced that 32 cases were communicated to Greece concerning the illegal collective expulsion of migrants from its territory.  

Among those, two cases were filed earlier this year and are represented by Legal Centre Lesvos lawyers. The 32 cases – all filed between December 2020 and August 2021 – are among the first on this subject to pass this preliminary procedural step in Strasbourg since overwhelming evidence began emerging in March 2020 of a widespread and systematic practice of illegal expulsions, or ‘pushbacks’, in the Aegean region.

The ECtHR’s notification of these cases to Greece means that the Greek State is now required to respond to the extensive evidence submitted in both cases, which show that the Applicants were attacked, arbitrarily detained, psychologically and physically abused, and ultimately expelled from Greek territory, without having their asylum claims individually examined. A Chamber of judges within the ECtHR is expected to take a decision on the cases as early as summer 2022.

The first case, H.T. and Others v Greece (app. no. 4177/21), concerns the repeated illegal expulsion of a Syrian family. The family – parents and their three young children – submitted evidence to the Court that they had entered Greek territory on at least four occasions, with the intent to seek asylum. However, as demonstrated through their testimony and corroborated evidence, they were repeatedly denied access to registration and asylum procedures, and ultimately were subjected to illegal and life-threatening collective expulsions in the Aegean and Evros regions, together with other asylum seekers. 

The second case, S.A.A. and Others v Greece (app. no. 22146/21) concerns an extensively documented massive collective expulsion of approximately two hundred people that began near the island of Crete. After being caught in a storm at sea, instead of being rescued, the Applicants demonstrate through their submitted evidence that they were held under surveillance at sea for several hours with assurances that they would soon be taken to shore in Greece, before being violently assaulted at night, transferred by force to vessels identified as Hellenic Coast Guard vessels, transferred over 200 km towards Turkish waters, and finally abandoned at sea on inflatable, motorless life rafts.

On a near-daily basis, evidence emerges of Greek authorities carrying out violent and illegal expulsions of people on the move in the Aegean Sea and across the Evros River, often with evidence showing the assistance or complicity of international agencies like Frontex.  It is not uncommon to hear testimonies of people who have been pushed back from Greece six, seven or eight times, each incident both constituting a manifest risk to their lives and compounding the trauma of prior expulsions.   

Given the ECtHR’s structural and procedural limitations, a positive decision in these two cases would be limited to the facts of these individual cases and bring partial redress only for the named Applicants. The proceedings are therefore insufficient to condemn the systematic nature of the crimes being committed, which the Legal Centre Lesvos has previously demonstrated amount to Crimes Against Humanity. Nonetheless, the communication of these cases to Greece marks an important step in what necessarily must be a coordinated effort to obtain accountability for and an end to the ongoing cruel and violent attack against migrants, inherent in maintaining Europe’s borders.

Press Contact: Natasha Ntailiani, natasha@legalcentrelesvos.org (Greek, English)
Amelia Cooper, amelia@legalcentrelesvos.org (English)

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ΔΕΛΤΙΟ ΤΥΠΟΥ: Το Ευρωπαϊκό Δικαστήριο Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων θα εξετάσει 32 υποθέσεις κατά της Ελλάδας σχετικά με παράνομες ομαδικές απελάσεις.

22 Δεκεμβρίου 2021

Στις 20 Δεκεμβρίου 2021, το Ευρωπαϊκό Δικαστήριο Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων (ΕΔΑΔ) ανακοίνωσε ότι κοινοποιήθηκαν στην Ελλάδα 32 υποθέσεις σχετικά με την παράνομη ομαδική απέλαση μεταναστών από το έδαφός της

Μεταξύ αυτών, δύο υποθέσεις σχηματίστηκαν νωρίτερα φέτος και εκπροσωπούνται από δικηγόρους του Legal Centre Lesvos. Οι 32 υποθέσεις – όλες που κατατέθηκαν από τον Δεκέμβριο του 2020 έως τον Αύγουστο του 2021 – είναι από τις πρώτες για το θέμα αυτό που πέρασαν αυτό το προκαταρκτικό διαδικαστικό βήμα στο Στρασβούργο, δεδομένου ότι τον Μάρτιο του 2020 άρχισαν να εμφανίζονται συντριπτικά στοιχεία για μια εκτεταμένη και συστηματική πρακτική παράνομων απελάσεων ή “επαναπροωθήσεων” στην περιοχή του Αιγαίου. Η κοινοποίηση των υποθέσεων αυτών από το ΕΔΔΑ στην Ελλάδα σημαίνει ότι το ελληνικό κράτος υποχρεούται πλέον να απαντήσει στα εκτεταμένα αποδεικτικά στοιχεία που υποβλήθηκαν και στις δύο υποθέσεις, τα οποία δείχνουν ότι οι προσφεύγοντες δέχθηκαν επιθέσεις, κρατήθηκαν αυθαίρετα, υπέστησαν ψυχολογική και σωματική κακοποίηση και τελικά απελάθηκαν από το ελληνικό έδαφος, χωρίς να εξεταστούν ατομικά τα αιτήματά τους για άσυλο. Ένα τμήμα δικαστών του ΕΔΔΑ αναμένεται να λάβει απόφαση επί των υποθέσεων ήδη το καλοκαίρι του 2022.

Η πρώτη υπόθεση, H.T. και άλλοι κατά Ελλάδας (αριθ. προσφυγής 4177/21), αφορά τις επανειλημμένες παράνομες απελάσεις μιας συριακής οικογένειας. Η οικογένεια – γονείς και τα τρία μικρά παιδιά τους – κατέθεσε στο Δικαστήριο αποδεικτικά στοιχεία ότι είχαν εισέλθει στο ελληνικό έδαφος τουλάχιστον τέσσερις φορές, με σκοπό να ζητήσουν άσυλο. Ωστόσο, όπως καταδεικνύεται από την κατάθεσή τους και τα αποδεικτικά στοιχεία, τους αρνήθηκαν επανειλημμένα την πρόσβαση στις διαδικασίες καταγραφής και ασύλου και τελικά υποβλήθηκαν σε παράνομες και απειλητικές για τη ζωή τους ομαδικές απελάσεις στις περιοχές του Αιγαίου και του Έβρου, μαζί με άλλους αιτούντες άσυλο.

Η δεύτερη υπόθεση, S.A.A. και άλλοι κατά Ελλάδας (αριθ. προσφυγής 22146/21) αφορά μια εκτενώς τεκμηριωμένη μαζική ομαδική απέλαση περίπου διακοσίων ατόμων που ξεκίνησε κοντά στο νησί της Κρήτης. Αφού βρέθηκαν σε μια καταιγίδα στη θάλασσα, αντί να διασωθούν, οι προσφεύγοντες καταδεικνύουν μέσω των στοιχείων που κατέθεσαν ότι κρατήθηκαν υπό επιτήρηση στη θάλασσα για αρκετές ώρες με διαβεβαιώσεις ότι σύντομα θα μεταφέρονταν σε ακτή στην Ελλάδα, προτού δεχθούν βίαιη επίθεση κατά τη διάρκεια της νύχτας, μεταφερθούν με τη βία σε σκάφη που αναγνωρίστηκαν ως σκάφη του Ελληνικού Λιμενικού Σώματος, μεταφερθούν πάνω από 200 χιλιόμετρα προς τα τουρκικά ύδατα και τελικά εγκαταλειφθούν στη θάλασσα σε φουσκωτές σωσίβιες σχεδίες χωρίς μηχανή.

Σε σχεδόν καθημερινή βάση, προκύπτουν στοιχεία για τις ελληνικές αρχές που πραγματοποιούν βίαιες και παράνομες απελάσεις ανθρώπων που βρίσκονται σε κίνηση στο Αιγαίο Πέλαγος και στον Έβρο, συχνά με βοήθεια ή συνενοχή διεθνών οργανισμών όπως η Frontex. Δεν είναι ασυνήθιστο να ακούει κανείς μαρτυρίες ανθρώπων που έχουν απωθηθεί από την Ελλάδα έξι, επτά ή οκτώ φορές, με κάθε περιστατικό να αποτελεί έκδηλο κίνδυνο για τη ζωή τους και να επιτείνει το τραύμα των προηγούμενων απελάσεων.  

Δεδομένων των διαρθρωτικών και διαδικαστικών περιορισμών του ΕΔΔΑ, μια θετική απόφαση σε αυτές τις δύο υποθέσεις θα περιοριζόταν στα γεγονότα αυτών των μεμονωμένων περιπτώσεων και θα επέφερε μερική αποκατάσταση μόνο για τους εν λόγω προσφεύγοντες. Συνεπώς, οι διαδικασίες δεν επαρκούν για να καταδικάσουν τη συστηματική φύση των εγκλημάτων που διαπράττονται, τα οποία το Legal Centre Lesvos έχει ήδη καταδείξει ότι ισοδυναμούν με εγκλήματα κατά της ανθρωπότητας.  Παρ’ όλα αυτά, η κοινοποίηση αυτών των υποθέσεων στην Ελλάδα σηματοδοτεί ένα σημαντικό βήμα στο πλαίσιο μιας συντονισμένης προσπάθειας για την απόδοση ευθυνών και τον τερματισμό της συνεχιζόμενης σκληρής και βίαιης επίθεσης κατά των μεταναστών, η οποία είναι συνυφασμένη με τη διατήρηση των ευρωπαϊκών συνόρων.

Επαφή με τον Τύπο:

Αναστασία Νταϊλιάνη, natasha@legalcentrelesvos.org, info@legalcentrelesvos.org (ελληνικά)

Amelia Cooper, amelia@legalcentrelesvos.org (αγγλικά)

Joint statement by 19 organisations active on refugee issues in Greece

On the rejection of RSA from the NGO registry

The undersigned non-governmental organisations active on refugee issues in Greece were surprised to be informed that the Ministry of Migration and Asylum denied the registration of non-profit civil society organisation “Refugee Support Aegean” (RSA) on its NGO Registry, despite a positive opinion from competent services.

We are particularly concerned by the substantive ground for such rejection, citing that the “development of activity” “in support of persons under deportation” is contrary to Greek legislation.

The provision of mainly legal support to persons facing deportation is part of the daily work of civil society organisations active inter alia in free legal assistance, including several organisations already registered on the NGO Registry. We all consider persons under deportation who are in need of protection in the wider sense as persons of concern, in particular in light of international law provisions prohibiting deportation of foreigners such as Articles 31 and 33 of the Refugee Convention, Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture, as well as other provisions mandating assistance to vulnerable cases on humanitarian grounds. Even rejected asylum seekers are persons to whom we are required to provide assistance under EU and domestic legislation, namely Articles 28(3)-(4) and 31(4)-(5) of Law 3907/2011 and the provisions of Directive 2008/115/EC. Activities in support of persons facing deportation are fully in line with applicable legislation, as they ensure the safeguards and rights of persons at risk of deportation and return.

The Ministry of Migration and Asylum rejection decision sets a major negative precedent calling into question our own activity. We also believe that it causes reputational damage to Greece for poor implementation of refugee law, as well as international, EU and domestic law more broadly. For those reasons, we express our concern and expect the administration to take the necessary steps to correct the aforementioned decision in line with the law.

The signatory organisations

  1. CRWI Diotima
  2. Danish Refugee Council
  3. Equal Rights Beyond Borders
  4. Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid
  5. Greek Council for Refugees (GCR)
  6. Hellenic League for Human Rights
  7. HIAS Greece
  8. HIGGS |Higher Incubator Giving Growth & Sustainability
  9. HumanRights360
  10. International Rescue Committee
  11. Legal Centre Lesvos
  12. Lesvos Solidarity
  13. Médecins Sans Frontières Greece
  14. Network for Children’s Rights
  15. Refugee Legal Support
  16. Refugee Support Aegean (RSA)
  17. SolidarityNow
  18. Symbiosis – School of Political Studies, Council of Europe Network
  19. Terre des hommes Hellas

Κοινη δηλωση 19 οργανωσεων που δραστηριοποιουνται στο προσφυγικο

Σχετικα με την απορριψη της RSA απο το μητρωο ΜΚΟ

Οι Μη Κυβερνητικές Οργανώσεις που υπογράφουμε το ακόλουθο κείμενο πληροφορηθήκαμε με κατάπληξη την απόρριψη εγγραφής στο Μητρώο ΜΚΟ του Υπουργείου Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου της ΑΜΚΕ «Υποστήριξη Προσφύγων στο Αιγαίο» (RSA) παρά την αντίθετη εισήγηση της αρμόδιας υπηρεσίας.

Μας προκαλεί ιδιαίτερη ανησυχία ο ουσιώδης λόγος της απόρριψης ότι η «[…]ανάπτυξη δραστηριότητας[…]» «[…]υπέρ των υπό απέλαση προσώπων[…]» έρχεται σε αντίθεση με την ελληνική κείμενη νομοθεσία.

Για τις οργανώσεις της κοινωνίας των πολιτών που δραστηριοποιούμαστε μεταξύ άλλων στην παροχή δωρεάν νομικής συνδρομής – και πολλές από εμάς που υπογράφουμε το κείμενο έχουμε ολοκληρώσει την εγγραφή μας στο Μητρώο ΜΚΟ –  είναι μέρος της καθημερινής μας ενασχόλησης η παροχή νομικής κυρίως βοήθειας σε πρόσωπα που βρίσκονται αντιμέτωπα με την απέλαση. Όλοι γνωρίζουμε ότι πρόσωπα τα οποία δικαιούνται προστασίας, υπό την γενικότερη έννοια αυτής, αποτελούν πρόσωπα ενδιαφέροντος όλων μας, ιδίως εν όψει διατάξεων του διεθνούς δικαίου που απαγορεύουν την απέλαση αλλοδαπών, όπως κατεξοχήν τα άρθρα 31 και 33 της Σύμβασης της Γενεύης για τους Πρόσφυγες, το άρθρο 3 της ΕΣΔΑ, του άρθρο 7 του Διεθνούς Συμφώνου για τα Ατομικά και Πολιτικά Δικαιώματα, όσο και το άρθρο 3 της Διεθνούς Σύμβασης για την Απαγόρευση των Βασανιστηρίων, πέραν βέβαια όλων των λοιπών διατάξεων που επιβάλλουν την παροχή συνδρομής σε ευάλωτες περιπτώσεις, για σοβαρούς ανθρωπιστικούς λόγους. Ακόμη και απορριφθέντες διεθνούς προστασίας αποτελούν πρόσωπα προς τα οποία υποχρεούμαστε να παράσχουμε συνδρομή, με βάση νομοθετικές προβλέψεις τόσο του ενωσιακού όσο και του εθνικού δικαίου, όπως ενδεικτικά τα άρθρα 28 παρ. 3 και 4 και 31 παρ. 4 και 5 του Ν. 3907/2011, και οι διατάξεις της Οδηγίας 2008/115/ΕΚ. Οι σχετικές δράσεις υποστήριξης υπέρ των υπό απέλαση προσώπων είναι απολύτως σύμφωνες και υλοποιούν την κείμενη νομοθεσία, κατοχυρώνοντας τις εγγυήσεις και τα δικαιώματα όσων αντιμετωπίζουν τον κίνδυνο απέλασης και επιστροφής.

Η απορριπτική απόφαση του Υπουργείου Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου δημιουργεί μείζον αρνητικό προηγούμενο το οποίο θέτει σε αμφισβήτηση και την δική μας δραστηριότητα, ενώ παράλληλα εκτιμούμε ότι εκθέτει και τη χώρα λόγω κακής εφαρμογής των διατάξεων του προσφυγικού, αλλά και γενικότερα του διεθνούς, ενωσιακού όσο και εθνικού δικαίου. Για τον λόγο αυτό εκφράζουμε την ανησυχία μας και αναμένουμε τις αναγκαίες ενέργειες της Διοίκησης για τη διόρθωση της ως άνω απόφασης σύμφωνα με το νόμο.

Οι Υπογράφουσες Οργανώσεις

  1. Αλληλεγγύη Λέσβου – Lesvos Solidarity
  2. Γιατροί Χωρίς Σύνορα
  3. Δανικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες
  4. Δίκτυο για τα Δικαιώματα του Παιδιού
  5. Ελληνική Ένωση για τα Δικαιώματα του Ανθρώπου (ΕλΕΔΑ)
  6. Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες (ΕΣΠ)
  7. Equal Rights Beyond Borders
  8. Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid
  9. HIAS Ελλάδος
  10. HIGGS |Higher Incubator Giving Growth & Sustainability
  11. HumanRights360
  12. International Rescue Committee
  13. Κέντρο Διοτίμα
  14. Legal Centre Lesvos
  15. Refugee Legal Support
  16. SolidarityNow
  17. Συμβίωση-Σχολή Πολιτικών Σπουδών στην Ελλάδα, Δίκτυο Σχολών Πολιτικών Σπουδών του Συμβουλίου της Ευρώπης
  18. Terre des hommes Hellas
  19. Υποστήριξη Προσφύγων στο Αιγαίο (RSA)

Legal Centre Lesvos Quarterly Report July – September 2021

Tents in the Lesvos “Temporary” Reception and Identification Centre (RIC), where unrelated families share the same tents and sleep on the floor, August 2021, Picture taken by a camp resident.

(1) Living conditions

  • August 2021 – The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) persistently recognises Greek authorities’ disregard for migrants’ health and lives in Lesvos RIC.
  • September 2021 – One year after the Moria fires: No lessons learnt and no responsibility taken.

(2) Asylum procedures

  • Legal aid provided by Legal Centre Lesvos between July and September 2021.
  • Greece continuously rejects asylum claims of Afghans as inadmissible despite the situation in Afghanistan.
  • Discriminatory exclusion from all social rights for migrants rejected on appeal.
  • 15 September – Effective termination of UNHCR cash assistance for migrants without any announced plans of replacement.

(3) Collective expulsions and other human rights violations

  • 14 July – Publication of the report of Frontex Scrutiny Working Group concludes on Frontex’s negligence to address evidence of fundamental rights violations.
  • August 2021 – Visit of British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to Greece to observe the country’s methods to stop the arrival of migrants’ boats.
  • September 2021 – Successful relocation of 27-year-old M.M. to Germany after 7 months’ efforts.

Download the full report here

(1) Living conditions

  • August 2021 – The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) persistently recognises Greek authorities’ disregard for migrants’ health and lives in Lesvos RIC

Inside a tent of the Lesvos Reception and Identification Centre, August 2021. Picture taken by a camp resident.

Over the summer, the Legal Centre Lesvos (LCL) continued to seek redress before the ECtHR for people forced to live in the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Kara Tepe, Lesvos (also known as Mavrovouni RIC or Moria 2.0), despite their critical state of health. 

Between July and September, LCL submitted 9 applications for interim measures to the ECtHR requesting the urgent transfer of individuals and their families out of the Lesvos’ RIC into safer accommodation and their immediate access to urgently needed health care on mainland Greece. In 8 of these cases, the ECtHR granted an interim measure within 48 hours of submission, instructing Greece to fulfill its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and ensure that the applicants’ living conditions be compatible with Article 3 ECHR, the prohibition on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and to provide them with adequate healthcare, having regard to their state of health. In response to the ninth case, the Court ultimately refused the interim measure, as Greece scheduled the individual’s transfer to Athens while the case was pending. 

These applications for interim measures followed months of inaction by the Greek authorities and fruitless communication between LCL and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Head of Lesvos’ Reception and Identification Centre (RIC), and the Vulnerability Focal Point (VFP) of the Lesvos RIC – all of whom are responsible for the identification and transfer outside of the camp of people with vulnerabilities and specific medical needs as provided under Greek law. 

Those applications also constitute another damning indictment on the immiserating reception conditions imposed on migrants effectively contained in the RIC of Lesvos and a reiterated recognition by the ECtHR that people with severe health situations left to live there for months without attention are at imminent risk of irreparable harm. This cruel and unfair policy prioritises immigration control and containment of migrants over all else, irrespective of the severity of people’s medical conditions. It also ignores the fact that a person’s right to health and life are fundamental rights that must be guaranteed for all, regardless of legal status.

Out of the total of eight applications granted by the ECtHR between July and September, five applicants were officially transferred out of the RIC of Lesvos with their close relatives by the Greek authorities. Two applicants are still awaiting their transfer to Athens and one family decided to leave the island on their own.

Since filing this latest set of interim measure applications, LCL observed a shift in the Greek authorities’ policy who started to allow individuals with severe medical conditions to leave the island by their own means, if those individuals are able to show medical documentation referring them for treatment unavailable on Lesvos and obtain permission to leave the island from the Greek police – regardless of their legal status. Although this unofficial decongestion is an improvement, it is not being applied in a consistent manner, with many still denied permission to leave the island despite being issued with medical documents from the General Hospital of Mytilene recommending transfer to and treatment on the mainland. 

Moreover, these are not ‘official’ transfers and do not ensure that vulnerable people will ultimately access safe accommodation or health care on the mainland. For many, this could result in homelessness, destitution and continued lack of access to medical treatment. This also means that only those people who have the financial means and are in a physical and psychological state allowing them to move and travel can risk leaving the island on their own. Consequently, the approximately 3, 500 people who are currently stuck in Lesvos RIC are increasingly those whose personal situation makes it difficult for them to travel easily – for example because they have physical disabilities, are older, have large families or do not have the financial means to support themselves. 

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

For more information read the full report here.

  • September 2021 – One year after the Moria fires: No lessons learnt and no responsibility taken

Picture of the Lesvos Reception and Identification Centre taken from a hill, showing tents by the sea and the ongoing and constant re-construction work behind the barbed wire fences, August 2021. Credits: Fellipe Lopes.

September 2021 marked the “anniversary” of one year after the fires that destroyed the infamous Moria hotspot camp in Lesvos, and the various political promises that followed – including that there would be “No more Morias”. Instead, the immiserating living conditions forced on migrants arriving to Lesvos continue as before, if not worse, in the “temporary” RIC of Lesvos (see below).

The EU and Greek authorities have failed to recognise their clear responsibility for the creation, extension and ultimate destruction of the deadly hotspot camp of Moria. Rather than recognising that the fires of Moria were the inevitable product of the hotspot approach and its deadly camp infrastructures which should – in no circumstances – be reproduced, the Greek authorities have continued to concentrate their efforts on the progressive closure of all existing alternative and safe accommodations available in Lesvos, including for minors, families and people with vulnerabilities or medical conditions

In September of 2020, the Greek state arrested six young Afghan migrants, most of whom were minors, presenting them as the sole culprits of the fires. All were unsurprisingly condemned to long prison sentences without recognition of any mitigating factors, after undergoing unfair and unjust trials, reinforcing the impression of a premeditated decision. 

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

Quite the opposite: “no more Morias,” as expected, was an empty promise. Far from reconsidering the containment approach and the confinement of people to camps on the islands, Greece and the European Union (EU) have agreed the extension and entrenchment of this deadly model through the construction of new closed “multi-purpose” camps on the Eastern Aegean islands, which the Greek Government proudly presents as a big achievement, and where migrants will be concentrated in the future. The construction of these camps continues Greek and European authorities’ violent crimes towards migrants, intertwined with their practices of expulsion, deportation, and externalisation. But the Moria fires one year ago demonstrated that these policies are doomed to failure, and will inevitably meet the same result.

For more details read our full publication.

* September 2021 – One year of Moria 2.0: When the temporary becomes permanent

The anniversary of the Moria fires also marks the first year of existence of Lesvos “temporary” RIC, hastily established in Kara Tepe in September 2020 on land that was leased for five years, calling in to question the camp’s alleged temporariness (see here, here, and here). Since then, the “temporary” RIC (also known as Mavrovouni camp) has seen constant construction works, despite knowledge that the site is contaminated with lead which therefore poses an acute health risk to all contained there. Some families told the Legal Centre Lesvos that they were forcibly moved from their tents or containers, at least once per month, due to the constant and disorientating re-shaping of the camp’s infrastructure. They also complained about the frequent presence of dust in the air created by the permanent construction works and movement of trucks passing through the camp, which also contaminates their food and water.

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

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of Mavrovouni RIC (and other camps across Greece) have been subjected to disproportionate and discriminatory restrictions such as curfews, restricted number of exits per week, and ongoing movement certification requirements. In August, exit and entrance restrictions were finally lifted for the Mavrovouni camp residents, but every person leaving the camp was forced to undergo a rapid COVID test each time they want to leave – even vaccinated persons who could present a COVID vaccine certificate. 

Since 11 September however, harsh police controls and movement restrictions have been reimposed under the justification of “protection measures of public health from the spread of COVID-19”, whereas the rest of the local population on the island is not subjected to any restriction – let alone an enhanced restriction – through the end of September 2021. As a consequence, the camp management has resumed the publication of daily notices listing residents’ file numbers, which allow camp residents to to leave the camp only once per week “for the cover of basic needs”, with the exception of scheduled and documented appointments – such as medical appointments, asylum interviews, appointment with lawyers or public services. This means that with the exception of less than a month in August 2021, residents of Lesvos’ RICs have been in de facto detention since March 2020.

Inside the RIC, families with children whose asylum claims have been rejected on appeal are being concentrated in large rubhalls hosting 80 to 100 persons of the “green zone”, which is also the most remote and one of the dirtiest areas of the camp (see picture below). Families hosted there complain about the lack of space and safety for their children, given the absence of an escape route in case of fire of the rubhall and the dirt, rats and bed bugs which they are exposed to. 

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

The inhumane living conditions imposed on people in Lesvos RIC are coupled with pervasive anxiety and uncertainty created by de facto detention, mass rejections and accelerated assessments of residents’ claims. (see below on the asylum procedures). For a full year now, people have been forced to live in the “temporary” RIC of Lesvos in horrendous conditions, with the poor excuse that people’s stay there would be temporary. However, as confirmed by the Greek proverb, “there is nothing more permanent than the temporary” (Ουδέν μονιμότερον του προσωρινού).

For more information read our publication here.

(2) Asylum procedures

Group information session by a trained caseworker at the Legal Centre Lesvos office, September 2021

As of 26 August, the population registered as living in the RIC of Lesvos amounted to 3654 persons as per the camp management internal statistics, including:

  • 64% of the camp population being from Afghanistan;
  • 40% of the camp population being either rejected on appeal or having filed a subsequent application; and
  • Only 386 persons officially recognised as “vulnerable,” according to the camp authorities.

As described above, the Legal Centre noted a change in practice over the course of the summer in which the Greek authorities have let people leave the island of Lesvos by their own means, if they had been rejected from the asylum procedure and had medical documents indicating that they need medical treatment in Athens, or when the Appeals Committees have ordered people to leave Greece by their own means after having their asylum claim rejected on appeal. 

Furthermore, those who have been fortunate enough to have been granted international protection, have also been able to leave the island if they have the financial means to purchase tickets and pay the fees to obtain their identification documents. The resultant “unofficial decongestion” has led to a significant decrease of the Lesvos RIC population, to around 3200 persons registered in the camp as of the start of September. 

  • Legal aid provided by Legal Centre Lesvos between July and September 2021
Legal Centre Lesvos’ Greek lawyers represented:

55 individuals in the asylum procedure, including cases of family reunification;

5 individuals on appeal of their asylum claims;

2 cases before the Greek Administrative Court for annulment proceedings (i.e. last resort administrative appeal);

1 case before the Greek civil court to obtain the custody of a minor by his adult brother;

2 individuals in detention.

Among those successfully represented in their asylum procedures was an individual from Mali, who entered Greece in 2017, was violently attacked and arrested by Greek police following protests in Moria camp in July 2017. As one of the “Moria 35”, he was unjustly imprisoned for Greek prison before being transferred to Pre-Removal Detention Centre following a trial and conviction in a kangaroo court for supposedly causing bodily injury to police officers. Meanwhile, his asylum claim had been rejected on appeal, and he faced deportation. Following the registration of a subsequent application for asylum, filed with representation of the Legal Centre Lesvos, he was finally released. Now, approximately three years after his release from detention, and more than four years since he first arrived in Lesvos from Turkey, he has finally been granted refugee status.  
Volunteer caseworkers with the Legal Centre Lesvos carried out:

298 individual legal consultations;

20 interview preparations;

58 referrals to alternative housing services or protection services;

2 group information sessions to 15 individuals.
Legal Centre Lesvos:

Filed 9 petitions for interim measures before the European Court of Human Rights (see above);

Published 2 “Know your rights” information sheets, available online, providing information about people’s rights when interacting with the police in Greece as well as during the asylum interview. 

Over the last months, people who have arrived on the island of Lesvos have systematically been kept in health quarantines for at least a full week following their arrival, in which the Greek authorities do not provide any information regarding the asylum procedure or legal assistance, and those in quarantine are not allowed to access lawyers. The Greek authorities then schedule people for their substantive asylum interview on the day following their release from health quarantine or a few days after that, leaving them no time to access legal information in relation to their rights or legal support in relation to their asylum claim before their crucial asylum interview and consequently before the examination of their case

These accelerated procedures, added to the severe restrictions of movement in and out of the camp (described above), have made it increasingly challenging, if not impossible, for people to access the Legal Centre Lesvos office in town – or at any other NGO providing free legal assistance – before their asylum claim is assessed and decided upon. In response, the Legal Centre Lesvos has resumed its group information sessions (see picture above) so as to provide legal assistance to more people before their asylum interview. 

Moreover the Legal Centre Lesvos has started to publish a set of information sheets, named “Know your rights”, which are available online and in our office in four languages. These provide information on matters ranging from aspects of the asylum process as implemented in Lesvos, to interacting with the police. 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.  

Download and read our info sheets here

  • Greece continuously rejects asylum claims of Afghans as inadmissible despite the situation in Afghanistan

Despite the recent developments in Afghanistan, with the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021, the Greek Asylum Service continued to implement the Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD) adopted on 7 June 2021, through September, declaring that Turkey is a safe country for Afghan, Somali, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Syrian nationals. 

Consequently, the Greek authorities have refused to examine the substance of many asylum applications, including those made by many Afghan citizens, who were rejected on admissibility. Several Legal Centre Lesvos clients from Afghanistan were subjected to expedited interviews, which lasted approximately fifteen minutes and included only questions about their experience in Turkey – with no word about Afghanistan. 

This, in itself, is unacceptable. It  amounts to an effective denial of the right to seek asylum and of the responsibility for the protection of people from several of the least safe countries in the world. Moreover, it puts people at grave risk, as Turkey is not a safe third country for migrants and does not offer for asylum seekers the potential of being recognised as refugees or to be protected against refoulement. 

However, this practice is not surprising. Five days before the fall of Kabul, Greece and five other EU countries were calling the European Commission to allow those states to resume deportations to Afghanistan of all Afghans who have been refused asylum, despite the worsening situation in their country and the advance of the Taliban. 

After the news of the Taliban takeover of Kabul became official, the Minister of Migration and Asylum in Greece, Notis Mitarakis, publicly announced that Greece cannot become a “gateway for a new wave of refugees.” He further reiterated that Greece would apply the safe third country concept to Afghans, essentially blocking their access to international protection in Europe. 

Greece’s position is also consistent with its increased efforts over the last years to practically restrict people’s access to asylum, such as through its reform of the asylum legislation’s vulnerability provisions, the acceleration of procedures, the restriction of access to legal assistance, and the State’s widespread and systematic practice of collective expulsions, as well as the country’s reiterated request on 28 July to the European Commission to immediately return about 2,000 migrants to Turkey in application of the EU-Turkey deal.

Legal Centre Lesvos joined other civil society organisations calling for solidarity with Afghan people, instead of the EU member states’ focus on measures of deterrence and return. The publication can be read here in Greek. The statement reaffirmed that every person at risk of persecution on grounds of their identity or conscience has the right to be protected under international refugee protection law and that every person seeking asylum has the right to have his or her claim examined individually, as provided for under international and EU law.  

A solidarity gathering was also organised by Afghans in Lesvos, as well as in several other places in Greece. 

Gathering in solidarity with Afghanistan in Sappho square, Lesvos, 16 August 2021, Credits: Fellipe Lopes.

  • Discriminatory exclusion from all social rights for migrants rejected on appeal

As of August 2021, almost half of the camp population of the Lesvos RIC had already had their asylum claim rejected on appeal and were therefore considered under Greek law as “outside of the asylum procedure”. This means that they also no longer have any right to cash assistance, legal aid from state lawyers, or social security services in Greece, such as health care including appointments with doctors (with the exception of emergency services). 

The National Public Health Organisation (EODY), which operates a clinic in the Lesvos RIC also announced in the last week of August that the State would no longer proceed with the COVID-19 vaccinations of people outside of the asylum procedure, under the pretext that the State could not issue a vaccine certificate for those without an active social security number. People who already had appointments for their vaccination with EODY in the camp, but had since received a second instance rejection on their asylum claim, were also refused vaccination when they came to their appointments. 

Such discrimination has severe consequences on people’s lives. Not only does it exclude their prospect of vaccination, but also, without an active social security number (as is the case for those outside of the procedure), they are unable to obtain a certified COVID-19 rapid test from pharmacies or public health authorities. Without either a vaccine or such a certificate, they are excluded from some shops, restaurants, as well as public services and spaces with COVID-19 entry requirements – including, for example, the police station of Mytilene, which some people with rejections need to access to authorised a lawyer through a power of attorney, or to report any offences against them. 

Legal status has no bearing on public health imperatives, and the exclusion of migrants from the vaccination programme on this basis is a violation of the fundamental principle of non-discrimination. It also constitutes an unjustifiable and major public health risk. 

  • 15 September – Effective termination of UNHCR cash assistance for migrants without any announced plans of replacement

Even the minimal and inadequate assistance provided to those recognised as asylum seekers has been further cut. In September, UNHCR announced the termination of its cash assistance programme as of 15 September 2021, the date in which all persons eligible were requested to withdraw their last cash allowance. There has been no official announcement by the Greek State confirming that this programme will in fact be continued by the State services or some other entities, or if so, under which eligibility criteria. 

Clients of the Legal Centre Lesvos have expressed desperation as to how they will be able to cover their basic needs from now on, particularly while being forced to live in the Lesvos RIC, unable to leave the island due to geographic restrictions, and not having access to any work – as asylum seekers do not have permission to work for the first six months after they register their application for asylum. 

Some clients stated that they are “working” three shifts for different non-governmental organisations operating inside the camp and survive on the 20 Euro supermarket coupons and 12 Euros mobile top up cards given to them by different organisations in exchange for their services, such as interpreting, helping to move tents, or building ISO box containers, cleaning the bins, or gathering empty bottles. 

(3) Collective expulsions and other human rights violations

  • 14 July – Publication of the report of Frontex Scrutiny Working Group concludes on Frontex’s negligence to address evidence of fundamental rights violations

Frontex vessel stationed in front of a terrasse in Molyvos in the of Lesvos, September 2021.

In July, the Frontex Scrutiny Working Group (FSWG) established by the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs published a final report on the fact-finding investigation of Frontex concerning alleged fundamental rights violations.

 Legal Centre Lesvos contributed to the fact-finding mission of the Frontex Scrutiny Working Group, held meetings with and hearings before European Parliament members regarding the responsibility of the Hellenic Coast Guard, Frontex, and other EU institutions in carrying out pushbacks, and submitted relevant evidence to the European Parliament on documented pushbacks carried out by the Hellenic Coast Guard in the Aegean Sea, and on the connection between collective expulsions and Frontex’s operations. 

The FSWG “did not find conclusive evidence on the direct performance of pushbacks and/or collective expulsions by Frontex in the serious incident cases that could be examined by the FSWG,” despite numerous media reports evincing Frontex’s involvement in such incidents. 

However, the FSWG concluded that Frontex “found evidence in support of allegations of fundamental rights violations in Member States with which it had a joint operation, but failed to address and follow-up on these violations promptly, vigilantly and effectively. As a result, Frontex did not prevent these violations, nor reduced the risk of future fundamental rights violations,” in violation of its supervisory obligations under EU Regulation 2019/1896. 

This recognition of Frontex’s failure to act supports the Legal Centre Lesvos and Front-lex’s pre-legal action against Frontex and its Executive Director, initiated in February 2021, which requested the suspension or termination of Frontex activities in the Aegean region owing to Frontex’s failure to comply with its supervisory obligations. Since then, a legal action concerning this same failure has been brought before the European Court of Justice against Frontex. Nonetheless, Frontex continues to operate in the Aegean Sea, and none of its directors or operatives have been held to account for their failures to act to prevent life-threatening, and ongoing, collective expulsions and the human rights abuses that they entail. 

Furthermore, the FSWG “found deficiencies in Frontex’s mechanisms to monitor, report and assess fundamental rights situations and developments (…) [but also] identified gaps in the framework of cooperation with Member States, which may hamper the fulfilment of Frontex’s fundamental rights obligations. The FSWG is concerned about the lack of cooperation of the Executive Director to ensure compliance with some of the provisions of the EBCG Regulation, notably on fundamental rights, which led to significant delays in the implementation of the Regulation. In this context, the FSWG regrets [the Executive Director’s] recurrent refusal to implement the recommendations of the Commission to ensure compliance with the newly adopted Regulation. (…) Moreover, the FSWG takes the position that the Management Board should have played a much more proactive role in acknowledging the serious risk of fundamental rights violations and in taking action to ensure that Frontex fulfils its negative and positive fundamental rights obligations as enshrined in the Regulation.”

The final report of the FSWG is, ultimately, a disappointment. Despite recognising Frontex’s failure to act to prevent human rights abuses, it glosses over the active role that the agency has played in collective expulsions, in sustaining the Greek authorities’ systematic practice thereof, and in perpetuating European and Member State officials’ impunity for the torturous and often fatal consequences of these incidents. Moreover, it fails to adequately identify – let alone redress – Frontex’s inherent defects, insofar as it suggests that were an effective human rights monitoring system in place, the agency could act in a manner compliant with international human rights standards. This is not the case. 


The survivors and victims of these expulsions are legally entitled to remedy and reparations for the abuses that they have suffered, but the FSWG takes no steps to identify how such redress could be achieved. Frontex’s operations have repeatedly proven violent and have run roughshod over individuals’ procedural and substantive human rights, and yet the agency is yet to be called to account before a judiciary. Tinkering with the Agency’s internal structures falls far short of what is necessary: the urgent defunding and abolition of Frontex. 

  • August 2021 – Visit of British Priti Patel to Greece to observe the country’s methods to stop the arrival of migrants’ boats.

Picture of ΛΣ050 one of the five Hellenic Coast Guard patrol vessels currently on active duty in the Aegean Sea.

In August, the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, visited Samos. Patel oversees the UK’s hostile immigration policies, and in recent months, has entered in to discussions regarding the construction of offshore migrant processing centres, the use of wave machines to inhibit migrants attempting to cross the English channel in small boats, and the potential exclusion of UK border officials from prosecution if illegal pushbacks result in migrants’ deaths. 

Media reported that during her trip to Samos, the UK Home office went on patrol with the Hellenic Coast Guard to observe the methods being used in the country to prevent boat crossings from Turkey. This is particularly interesting given the amount of public evidence available demonstrating that the Hellenic Coast Guard has been systematically expelling migrants back to Turkey in illegal and violent “pushbacks” for more than a year now. 

This visit should be a call to alarm to those in solidarity with migrants on both sides of the Channel, to ensure that the violent practices of Greek authorities are not replicated there. Greece’s expanded use of detention to control people at its borders should be nothing new to Ms. Patel. Tens of thousands of asylum seekers are detained each year in the UK, and the UK is one of the only countries in Europe that allows for the indefinite detention of asylum seekers – meaning that some people have been imprisoned for decades in the UK awaiting resolution of their cases. Nor are the horrible, inhumane conditions of the Greek islands new for Ms. Patel. The number of people dying in government run accommodation in the UK is alarmingly increasing in the last year. 

Furthermore, just as the EU has paid billions to Turkey to prevent people from crossing the border from Turkey to Greece, the UK has also paid France to prevent people from crossing the Channel, and has recently agreed to pay a new £54m deal to France to increase patrols and stem the rising number of migrants crossing to the UK. This adds to the millions already dispersed to fortify the UK-France border, particularly since 2015. 

Greek and UK border policies go hand in hand to serve the same policy goals of deterrence, externalisation, and violent border fortification regardless of the human lives lost. 

  • September 2021 – Successful relocation of 27-year-old M.M. to Germany after 7 months’ efforts

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

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

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

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

𝗙𝗔𝗠𝗜𝗟𝗬 𝗥𝗘𝗨𝗡𝗜𝗙𝗜𝗖𝗔𝗧𝗜𝗢𝗡 𝗜𝗡 𝗚𝗥𝗘𝗘𝗖𝗘: 𝗔 𝗙𝗘𝗪 𝗛𝗔𝗥𝗗 𝗪𝗜𝗡𝗦 𝗔𝗠𝗢𝗡𝗚 𝗠𝗔𝗡𝗬 𝗕𝗨𝗥𝗘𝗔𝗨𝗖𝗥𝗔𝗧𝗜𝗖 𝗔𝗡𝗗 𝗦𝗬𝗦𝗧𝗘𝗠𝗜𝗖 𝗢𝗕𝗦𝗧𝗔𝗖𝗟𝗘𝗦

LCL_Family-Reunification_Nov-2021-FINAL

The family reunification procedure under the European Union’s (EU) Dublin Regulation is one of the only safe and legal routes protecting family unity and allowing legal migration from Greece to other EU countries.

It provides for applicants or beneficiaries of international protection in Greece to reunite with their family members, where the relationship is that of spouses (or unmarried partners in a stable relationship), parents and their minor children, and for unaccompanied asylum seeking children with a wider range of persons. In addition, some dependency and discretionary criteria are applied that allow family members who do not meet these strict criteria to be reunited on humanitarian or other grounds – though, as will be demonstrated, success in such cases is particularly rare.

The fundamental right to a private and family life is recognised under international and European law. In practice, however, migrants’ enjoyment of their right to family life is often denied or obstructed by flaws in registration and asylum procedures, authorities’ failures to ensure the timely identification, substantiation and submission of family reunification requests, and, most critically, by the continued and knowing bad faith of other EU Member States in their implementation of the Dublin Regulation, through ungrounded or unfair rejections of family reunification requests coming from Greece.

Furthermore, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has both exacerbated many of these issues and been used by domestic and regional authorities to justify their own, independent failings.

Nonetheless, in recent months, ten families represented by the Legal Centre Lesvos have either had their family reunification requests accepted or, following an earlier acceptance, have finally travelled to join relatives in other European countries. These include:
– Mohammed*, an unaccompanied minor from Syria, who was reunited with his uncle and aunt in Germany after almost two years alone in Greece, in which Greece failed to submit his timely request for reunification or transfer him within the allotted time period, therefore requiring extensive advocacy efforts;
– Samir, an unaccompanied minor from Afghanistan who was first registered as an adult in Greece, and who – after months of living in a rub hall with unrelated adults in Lesvos’ Temporary Reception and Identification Centre – was ultimately given an age assessment, recognised as a minor, and granted reunification with his brother in Germany;
– Ziad, an unaccompanied minor from the Bidoon (stateless) community in Kuwait, who faced numerous challenges in proving his relationship to his brother in the UK due to their lack of official documentation, and whose transfer was then unduly complicated by Brexit.

These successes have been hard won. From the Legal Centre’s experience, the Greek Dublin Unit was generally collaborative and proactive in its approach to family reunification cases.

However, it has become – particularly over the past two years – an increasingly uphill battle for families applying to be reunited, with issues often stemming from Greek authorities themselves.

In the majority of the cases discussed in this report the Legal Centre has supported families for more than a year, with most requests refused in the first instance and requiring appeals, litigation, and/or other forms of advocacy.

The shortcomings of the Dublin Regulation itself, while both acute and at the crux of many of the issues discussed here, are outside the scope of this report. Instead, it will provide an overview of the challenges faced by migrants in accessing their rights to family life and the sources of these long delays in reunification, based on the Legal Centre’s experiences and the testimonies of those we have supported in their efforts to join relatives elsewhere in Europe.

Read the report in full by clicking through the PDF above, or download it here.

* All names have been changed to protect the individuals’ identities.

ΑΝΑΚΟΙΝΩΣΗ ΤΥΠΟΥ / PRESS RELEASE

ΕΣΥ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥΣΑΙ ΝΑ ΦΑΣ;

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Η ελληνική κυβέρνηση θα πρέπει να εκταμιεύσει αμέσως τις καθυστερημένες πληρωμές του οικονομικού βοηθήματος και να εξασφαλίσει σίτιση σε άτομα που ζουν σε εγκαταστάσεις για πρόσφυγες και αιτούντες άσυλο (π.χ. καταυλισμούς και διαμερίσματα ESTIA), ανεξάρτητα από το νομικό τους καθεστώς. Η στέρηση της τροφής είναι ένα επαίσχυντο γεγονός και συνιστά παραβίαση των θεμελιωδών ανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων.

Αθήνα, 18 Οκτωβρίου 2021 – Σε μια νέα ζοφερή εξέλιξη, οι άνθρωποι που αναζητούν ή έχουν λάβει διεθνή προστασία στην Ελλάδα, στερούνται πλέον τροφής ή χρηματικού επιδόματος, λόγω των πολιτικών που ακολουθεί η ελληνική κυβέρνηση και της συνολικής έλλειψης προετοιμασίας να αναλάβει τις υποχρεώσεις της.

Σε όσους εξαιρούνται από την παροχή σίτισης στα καμπ συμπεριλαμβάνονται άτομα με αναγνωρισμένο καθεστώς πρόσφυγα, άτομα που δεν έχουν εγγραφεί ακόμη στο σύστημα υποδοχής και εκείνα των οποίων το αίτημα ασύλου έχει απορριφθεί. Μεταξύ εκείνων που έχουν μείνει χωρίς τροφή, το 25% είναι γυναίκες (συμπεριλαμβανομένων εγκύων) και μονογονεϊκές οικογένειες, το 40% παιδιά, ενώ επίσης συμπεριλαμβάνονται χρόνιοι ασθενείς και ασθενείς με ειδικότερες ιατρικές και διατροφικές ανάγκες. Σε ορισμένες περιοχές, δεν παρέχεται φαγητό καν σε όσους τέθηκαν σε καραντίνα λόγω του COVID 19.

Παρόλο που οι αναγνωρισμένοι πρόσφυγες και τα άτομα των οποίων το αίτημα για άσυλο απορρίφθηκε δεν πρέπει να ζουν σε καταυλισμούς, πολλοί αναγκάζονται να παραμείνουν ή να επιστρέψουν εκεί, λόγω έλλειψης εναλλακτικών λύσεων, γεγονός που αντικατοπτρίζει τη συνεχιζόμενη έλλειψη στρατηγικής ένταξης στην Ελλάδα. Η κατάσταση είναι παρόμοια για πολλούς ανθρώπους που δεν έχουν καταφέρει ακόμη να καταχωρίσουν τις αιτήσεις ασύλου τους, λόγω των συνεχιζόμενων καθυστερήσεων που παρατηρούνται στα Γραφεία Ασύλου στην ηπειρωτική Ελλάδα.

Επιπλέον, χιλιάδες αιτούντες άσυλο που είναι δικαιούχοι σίτισης σε κρατικά καταλύματα της Ελλάδας, λαμβάνουν γεύματα λόγω της προσωρινής διακοπής στο επίδομα που δικαιούνταν. Η χρηματοδότηση από την ΕΕ για στήριξη με επίδομα, ήταν προγραμματισμένη να περάσει από την Ύπατη Αρμοστεία των Ηνωμένων Εθνών για τους Πρόσφυγες στην ελληνική κυβέρνηση την 1η Ιουλίου 2021. Ωστόσο, μεταξύ των δύο μερών συμφωνήθηκε παράταση 3 μηνών, προκειμένου να εξασφαλιστεί η ομαλή μετάβαση. Την 1η Οκτωβρίου 2021, η ελληνική κυβέρνηση ανέλαβε πλήρως αυτήν την ευθύνη, σύμφωνα με τη νομική υποχρέωση του ελληνικού κράτους να διασφαλίζει ελάχιστες υλικές συνθήκες υποδοχής για τους αιτούντες άσυλο. Έκτοτε, ωστόσο, περίπου 36.000 άνθρωποι δεν έχουν λάβει το επίδομά τους παρά το γεγονός ότι η διαδικασία αυτής της μετάβασης είχε σχεδιαστεί πριν ένα χρόνο. Σε μια προσπάθεια να καλυφθεί αυτό το κενό, προσφέρεται τροφή στους αιτούντες άσυλο ωστόσο σύμφωνα με πληροφορίες πρόκειται για πολύ κακής ποιότητας τροφή και συχνά όχι πλήρως μαγειρεμένη.

Της εξέλιξης αυτής προηγήθηκε, στα τέλη Ιουνίου 2021, η απόφαση του Υπουργείου Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου να τερματίσει την παροχή οικονομικού βοηθήματος σε όσους αιτούντες άσυλο δεν διαμένουν σε κρατικές εγκαταστάσεις. Έκτοτε, όσοι είχαν βρει άτυπες λύσεις στέγασης, με ίδια μέσα, συμπεριλαμβανομένων εκείνων σε αναμονή της απάντησης από το Υπουργείο στην αίτησή τους για στέγαση, μένουν χωρίς το οικονομικό βοήθημα που δικαιούνταν, αδυνατώντας να καλύψουν τις βασικές τους ανάγκες.

Το Υπουργείο Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου δεν δημοσιεύει σχετικά δεδομένα, παρόλο που έχει ζητηθεί σε πολλές περιπτώσεις, σύμφωνα με τις αρχές της διαφάνειας και της χρηστής διακυβέρνησης. Παρόλα αυτά, και παρά το γεγονός ότι οι πρακτικές διαφέρουν από περιοχή σε περιοχή, εκτιμάται κατά προσέγγιση ότι το 60% των ανθρώπων που ζουν σε καταυλισμούς της ηπειρωτικής χώρας δεν λαμβάνουν φαγητό.

Η πρόσβαση σε βιοτικούς πόρους είναι θεμελιώδες ανθρώπινο δικαίωμα. Η επισιτιστική ανασφάλεια, πόσο μάλλον η πλήρης στέρηση τροφής, δεν πρέπει να βιώνεται από κανέναν, και μάλιστα με κρατική υπαιτιότητα. Η ελληνική κυβέρνηση και η Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή πρέπει να δράσουν επειγόντως για να εκπληρώσουν αυτό το δικαίωμα και να καλύψουν τις ανάγκες όσων αναζητούν προστασία.

ΟΙ ΥΠΟΓΡΑΦΟΥΣΕΣ ΟΡΓΑΝΩΣΕΙΣ ΣΕ ΑΛΦΑΒΗΤΙΚΗ ΣΕΙΡΑ:   

  1. Action for Education  
  2. Αλληλεγγύη Λέσβου
  3. AΡΣΙΣ – Κοινωνική Οργάνωση Υποστήριξης Νέων
  4. Better Days
  5. Changemakers Lab
  6. Choose Love
  7. Δίκτυο για τα Δικαιώματα του Παιδιού
  8. ECHO100PLUS
  9. Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες
  10. Ελληνικό Φόρουμ Μεταναστών
  11. Europe Must Act  
  12. HumanRights360
  13. Jesuit Refugee Service Greece (JRS Greece)
  14. INTERSOS
  15. INTERSOS Hellas
  16. Ιnternational Rescue Committee (IRC)
  17. Κέντρο Γυναικών Ίριδα
  18. Κέντρο Διοτίμα
  19. Κέντρο Ημέρας ΒΑΒΕΛ
  20. Legal Centre Lesvos
  21. Lighthouse Relief (LHR)
  22. Mobile Info Team
  23. Refugee Legal Support (RLS)  
  24. Safe Passage International
  25. Still I Rise
  26. Symbiosis-School of Political Studies, Council of Europe network
  27. Terre des hommes Hellas (Tdh)
  28. Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid

ARE YOU ELIGIBLE TO EAT?

The Greek government should immediately disburse belated payments of cash assistance and
ensure food provision to people living in facilities (e.g. camps and ESTIA apartments),
irrespective of their legal status. Depriving them of this basic human right is shameful and a
violation of fundamental human rights.

Athens, October 18, 2021 – In a new bleak turn of events, people that seek or have received
international protection in Greece, are now deprived of food or their cash allowance, due to the
policies pursued by the Greek government and an overall lack of preparation to undertake its
obligations.

Those excluded from food provision reside in the camps and include people with valid
refugee status, people who have not yet been registered in the reception system, and those
individuals whose request for asylum has been rejected. Among those left hungry are 25%
women (including pregnant women), single-headed families, 40% children, chronic patients,
and patients with special medical and nutritional conditions. In some places, food is not even
provided to those put in quarantine due to COVID 19.

Although recognised refugees and the individuals whose request for asylum has been rejected
should not be living in camps, many are forced to remain or return there, due to a lack of
alternatives, reflecting Greece’s ongoing lack of a comprehensive integration strategy. The
situation is similar for many people who have not yet been able to register their asylum
applications, due to the chronic delays encountered in the Asylum Offices on the Greek
mainland.

Furthermore, thousands of asylum seekers included in food provision in Greek state-run
accommodation, receive catered meals because of the temporary cash assistance gap. EUfunded cash assistance was planned to transition from UNHCR to the Greek government on 1
July 2021 but a 3-month delay was agreed between the two parties, to ensure a smooth
transition. On October 1st 2021, the Greek government undertook this responsibility, as per
the Greek state’s legal obligation to ensure minimum material reception conditions for asylum
seekers. Yet, since this handover, about 36,000 people have not received their cash support,
despite the fact that this transition was planned over a year ago. In an attempt to cover this
gap, asylum seekers have been receiving portions of food, reportedly of very poor quality and
often not fully cooked.

This comes after the Ministry of Migration and Asylum’s decision to terminate cash support for
those not residing in state-run facilities, at the end of June 2021. Since then, those who have
found informal/private housing solutions, including those waiting for the Ministry’s response to
their application for housing, are left without the cash assistance they were entitled to, unable
to meet their basic needs.

The Ministry of Migration and Asylum does not publish relevant data, even though it has been
requested on multiple occasions according to principles of transparency and good
governance. Though practices differ from region to region, it is roughly estimated that 60% of
people living in camps do not receive food in the mainland.

Access to livelihood is a fundamental human right. Food insecurity, let alone complete food
deprivation, should not be experienced by anyone, especially not at the hand of the state. The
Greek government and the European Commission must act urgently to fulfill this right and meet
the needs of those who seek protection.

The signing organizations in alphabetical order:

  1. Action for Education
  2. ARSIS- Association for the Social Support of Youth
  3. Babel Day Centre
  4. Better Days
  5. Centre Diotima
  6. Changemakers Lab
  7. Choose Love
  8. Europe Must Act
  9. Greek Council for Refugees
  10. Greek Forum of Migrants
  11. HumanRights360
  12. INTERSOS
  13. INTERSOS Hellas
  14. Ιnternational Rescue Committee (IRC)
  15. Irida Women’s Center
  16. Lesvos Solidarity
  17. Legal Centre Lesvos
  18. Lighthouse Relief (LHR)
  19. Mobile Info Team
  20. Network for Children’s Rights
  21. Refugee Legal Support (RLS)
  22. Safe Passage International
  23. Still I Rise
  24. Symbiosis-School of Political Studies, Council of Europe network
  25. Terre des hommes Hellas (Tdh)
  26. Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid

𝐍𝐨 𝐫𝐨𝐨𝐦 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐩𝐥𝐚𝐜𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐲 𝐭𝐨𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐝𝐬 𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐢𝐬𝐭 𝐯𝐢𝐨𝐥𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐨𝐧𝐞 𝐲𝐞𝐚𝐫 𝐚𝐟𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐯𝐢𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐨𝐟 𝐆𝐨𝐥𝐝𝐞𝐧 𝐃𝐚𝐰𝐧

Image: Magda Fyssa at the conviction of the Golden Dawn, 11 October 2020. Photo: Lemesos Blog.

One year after the historic conviction of Golden Dawn, the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) calls to mind the importance of the judicial decision that sent a clear message against the criminal organization and organized racist violence. In parallel, the Network warns that there is no room for complacency, as the modus operandi of organized violence continues to severely affect social cohesion.

In October 2020, RVRN welcomed the landmark decision convicting Golden Dawn, which protected respect for the rule of law in Greece, while recalling at the same time that the fight against violent, racist groups and their modus operandi through legal means is a matter of strengthening human rights and respect for the rule of law. The determining factor for the establishment of the Network in 2011 was, to a great extent, the decision by the representatives of civil society organizations and
communities of the victims affected by the organized activity of Golden Dawn to urgently respond in a coordinated manner. The aim was to document the increase in racist attacks and organized violence as well as to advocate for the necessary changes that would put an end to the climate of impunity that had been cultivated for a long time.

Almost ten years after, as documented in its annual report for 2020, the Network continues to record attacks. While reduced in number since 2013, this is nonetheless still ongoing and extremely worrying, with features of a structured organization or committed by organized groups based on farright ideas. RVRN noticed the escalation of the phenomenon in 2020, compared to the recent past, mostly as regards the frequency of organized attacks against targeted groups, such as refugees or
migrants, as well as human rights defenders.

In light of the recent violent incidents that took place within the school environment, among other places, RVRN reminds of its standing recommendations on the effective prevention, already in schools, of the spread of ideas promoting intolerance. Measures that would act as a deterrent to the spread of ideologies disrupting social cohesion and educational institutions’ operation would be to ensure equal access and attendance of children to public education, without discrimination and without being the object of hate speech, and to reinforce the regulatory framework for combating racist violence at school, with the participation of all involved actors (teachers, students, parent teacher associations).

In parallel, RVRN continues to call State and local government representatives, as well as media representatives, to refrain from engaging in the racist rhetoric that normalizes and encourages racist reactions. It also calls on the authorities to urgently enhance the protection provided by law to every person and every community member that is being targeted by persons or groups with a racist motivation. No crime, motivated solely or cumulatively by bias, should remain unpunished.

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

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

English.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ONE YEAR OF MAVROVOUNI CAMP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ONE YEAR AFTER THE MORIA FIRES

NO LESSONS LEARNT AND NO RESPONSIBILITY TAKEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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