Only one in five people seeking asylum in Greece has access to a state-appointed lawyer and on Greek islands only 2 out of 100 appeal cases get access to legal aid, a report by Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) revealed today.
The new report, ‘No-rights zone’, has exposed that people who seek protection and asylum in Greece are regularly denied access to a fair and efficient asylum process.
There is a severe and chronic lack of access to lawyers and crucial information in the overcrowded European Union ‘hotspot’ camps in the Greek islands. This means many people are stuck in the camps with no chance of a fair asylum process and risk being sent back to a place where they face danger.
The report warns that the situation is set to get worse, with Greece having recently passed a new, regressive asylum law, and the recent announcement that it might replace the existing EU ‘hotspot’ camps on the Greek islands with de-facto detention centres. This will make it even harder for people seeking asylum to access crucial information and legal assistance, while at the same time creating an even greater need for it.
The Greek system urgently needs to be strengthened with more funds to hire lawyers, asylum staff and interpreters. The European Union has a responsibility to ensure all its member states including Greece uphold national, EU and international laws on protecting the human rights of those seeking asylum.
Oxfam’s head of mission in Greece Renata Rendón, said: “People who flee war, conflict and persecution need to rebuild their lives in safety and dignity. Many people seeking asylum are dealing with multiple traumas, and on top of this, they are left to navigate complicated legal procedures on their own. Without proper information and support, there is a high risk that people’s legitimate requests for asylum are rejected, and that they are sent back to life-threatening circumstances.”
For ordinary people, it is nearly impossible to understand the complicated, ever-changing asylum procedures in Greece. It is especially difficult for those who do not speak the language and are dealing with serious trauma resulting from the situation they have fled, their often-harrowing experiences on their journey to Europe and from life in the overcrowded, dangerous refugee camps on the Greek islands.
The asylum procedures in Greece urgently need to be made fair, credible and transparent by hiring additional lawyers and interpreters to provide essential information and guide people through the asylum procedure. Yet, the situation in Greece is set to worsen, Oxfam and GCR warn.
The new asylum law passed by the Greek Parliament could lead to people seeking protection in Europe being locked up in ‘closed’ centres on the islands for extended periods of time. In practice, it will also make the right to appeal a negative decision on their asylum request nearly impossible. In addition, the law will reduce existing safeguards that protect the most vulnerable people, thus severely restricting their ability to receive the protection they need.
The Head of GCR’s Legal Unit, Maria Papamina, said: “With the new law and plans for ‘closed’ detention centres on the islands, the Greek Government is weakening fundamental safeguards of the reception and asylum system. Generalised and lengthy detention is used as a means of deterring people in need of protection from reaching Europe. With children and families constituting the largest group in the current hotspots, and with most of them coming from war and conflict-torn countries, these measures will affect them worst.”
Oxfam and GCR call on the Greek Government and European Union to immediately take measures to make sure that people seeking protection in Greece have access to a fair, effective and transparent asylum procedure. Greece must fulfil its obligations under EU and national law regarding the provision of information and legal assistance to asylum seekers by allocating additional funding and hiring more lawyers, staff and interpreters.
For media interviews with Oxfam’s head of mission in Greece, please contact Lily Partland on 0418 118 687 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors:
- Spokespeople are available in Athens and Brussels.
- You can access the full ‘No-rights zone’ report online.
- As a result of the EU-Turkey deal, which traps people seeking asylum on the Greek islands, the number of asylum applications filed there has skyrocketed since 2015. On average, around 5,500 people applied for international protection every month in 2018. This is five times more than in 2015. In Lesvos alone, applications tripled between 2016 (5,000 applications) and 2018 (17,270 applications).
- The length of asylum procedures on the islands has increased significantly over the last years, with some people caught in limbo for more than two years before they receive a decision on their request for protection.
- In the Moria ‘hotspot’, there is critical and chronic understaffing: there are too few staff for first reception and identification, too few state-appointed doctors, and too few translators. As a result, there are severe backlogs for registration, medical assessment and asylum interviews. This does not only lead to longer asylum procedures, forcing people to stay longer in dire conditions on the islands, it also leads to uncertainties on the quality of the process and more bureaucratic errors that put people at risk.
- At its highest in 2019, the maximum number of NGO lawyers present in Lesvos and able to support asylum seekers for free was 30. At the same time, 23,000 people arrived on the island.
- Greece has been condemned in several cases before the European Court of Human Rights for the lack of information provided to asylum seekers and the resulting lack of effective remedies available.
- According to UNHCR, not having sufficient information and clarity on asylum procedures is a source of anxiety and frustration for people seeking asylum, which has severe implications on their mental health and psycho-social wellbeing.
- Oxfam’s program in Greece provides free legal aid to asylum seekers and protection for people in the Moria ‘hotspot’. Oxfam focuses on individuals’ and communities’ roles in protection, help to find community-based solutions and empower people to advocate with duty bearers, as well as doing advocacy and campaigning to improve EU and Greek migration policy.
- The Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) is the largest Greek NGO dedicated to refugees and asylum seekers. GCR is specialized in the provision of legal and psychosocial services and has a presence throughout the country. GCR has led on (joint-agency) research, advocacy & litigation projects on de facto detention (e.g. alternatives to detention and the expansion of de facto forms of detention) and on the broader impact of EU policies in Greece, with the aim of redressing rights’ violations and affecting institutional change.