15 March, 2012

THE UNACCEPTABLE SITUATION CONCERNING THE REGISTRATION OF ASYLUM APPLICATIONS CONTINUES

The Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Migrants and Refugees together with AITIMA, the Greek Council for Refugees, the Ecumenical Refugee Program and the Greek Section of Amnesty International co-signing the present press release, and in co-operation with other entities, groups and NGOs, have been carrying out over the last month repeated protests, by giving their presence every Friday to Saturday morning (on 17 February, 24 February, 2 March and 9 March 2012) outside the building of the Attica Aliens Directorate.

(Attached are the call to protest and the list of organisation that have been responding positively to this call )

The purpose of this protest has been to denounce the situation being faced by persons in need of international protection who try to seek asylum in Attica, as well those who have been referred to Attica from other Greek cities, after the illegal refusal of local authorities to register their asylum applications.

The police authorities - following the usual practice of the past years - refuse to register the asylum claims of those seeking protectionand only agree to register an exceptionally small number of applications and only during the early hours of Saturday mornings.

During our protests in the course of the past weeks, we found that the current practice of registering asylum applications, namely the subjection of humans to the tortuous waiting along the side of the street for 2-3 days and nights in a row, under deplorable circumstances so that they MAYBE have a small chance of registering their claims, renders access to the asylum process almost IMPOSSIBLEin Attica.

In addition, we observed that the responsible authorities not only do nothing to ease the physical and mental exhaustion caused by the inhuman and degrading torment to which asylum seekers are being subjected, but on the contrary they follow specific practices which aim to discourage asylum seekers from submitting their claims and bar access to vulnerable groups, such as women and unaccompanied minors.

In particular, during our presence there as well as from the interviews we conducted with the asylum seekers, we reached following findings:

  1. The majority of asylum seekers who wait in line to submit their application, start gathering at a sidestreet in the proximity of the Attica Aliens Directorate already from Wednesday to Thursday morning, in the hope of securing one of the front places in the line and maybe increasing their luck of having their application registered. The police uses however various techniques to make them go away and discourage them. In particular, as reported to the representatives of demonstrating entities, between Thursday evening and Friday morning the police often chases the asylum seekers away, even with the use of force (globs). Many applicants get discouraged and give up in the meantime their effort to have their application registered. We were also reported that on the evening of Thursday, 1 March 2012, the police resorted to the use of chemicals (teargas) in order to disperse the number of asylum seekers who had already gathered.

  2. Τhe most vulnerable groups, like women and unaccompanied minors, not only do not enjoy the special protection they are entitled to, but are prevented in the most inhuman manner from accessing the asylum process. In particular, the police authorities force women occupying the “first seats” within the line to leave the queue. Out of the approximately 20 women who came in the course of the past 4 weeks to submit an application, only a very small number succeeded. It should be noted that even women are subjected to the tortuous waiting of 2-3 days and nights in a row and are exposed to the same deplorable conditions as the rest. It is of particular concern to us, that they are forced to wait within a crowd of men, while the authorities take no particular measure of care and protection about their situation.

  3. During our repeated presence there, we registered approximately 10 unaccompanied minors, who were obliged to wait at least 2 days and nights consecutively, among adults, exposed to the very bad weather conditions, and without access to water, food or toilet. On one occasion, during the morning hours of 18 February 2012, and following our persistent protests that unaccompanied minors are entitled to unrestricted access to the asylum process, the officer in charge agreed to allow to three minors entry to the building, in order to register their applications. To our surprise however, we were subsequently informed that despite all the hardship they had gone through, they were eventually dismissed by the officer, without having their applications registered, on the pretext that they were adults or because they came from Pakistan!

In addition, we were told that when one of the minors tried to bring food and water to the others, he was stopped by the guard who did not allow him to pass on these provisions and ordered him to either throw away the food and water or return the products to where he had gotten them from. In other words, not only do the Greek authorities subject vulnerable children to all this hardship, but they even actively forbid them to have food and water throughout the time that they have to wait in the line. They thereby inflict on them an inhuman treatment which aggravates their already vulnerable situation.

A similar degrading treatment was also given to three other unaccompanied minors, who after persistent protests of the attending organisations managed to enter the Aliens Directorate on 10 March 2012. According to the witness statements provided by the minors subsequently, the responsible officer made the children wait for many hours before registering their applications, and even subjected them to manipulative questions and threats, such as that he will only issue papers to them if they agree to register as adults. There was thus an obvious intention to discourage them from submitting their claims until the every last minute.

  1. The practice of making asylum seekers “go away” once the police officers have selected 20 applications for registration - either the first 20 ones in line or through random selection with unclear criteria - constitutes by itself an additional form of degrading treatment. The police officers shout in Greek at the exhausted and disappointed asylum seekers, many of whom have been going through this procedure every week for many months or even years, the phrase: “Go away now, next week”, while clapping their hands rhythmically and pushing back those who are left behind, both asylum seekers and us who solidarise with them. No explanation and no response is provided by the authorities to any of those who are present there.

The refusal of the Greek authorities to register asylum applications and the treatment they have in store for asylum seekers, which is an insult to human dignity by all means, do not constitute some new practice, nor are they a result of administrative malfunctions or the economic crisis. On the contrary, they form part of a systematic policy, which has been going on for years, the primary purpose of which is to deliberately discourage asylum seekers from submitting their application in Greece. It forms part of the wider policy of the Greek authorities towards migrants and refugees, which is characterised by deportations of persons who are in danger in their country of origin, overnight conduction of asylum interviews, denial of reception conditions, lengthy detention under inhuman conditions etc, which have been repeatedly denounced by entities and organisation both in Greece and abroad, and have led to the condemnation of Greece by international bodies.

WE HEREBY SHOW OUR SOLIDARITY to all those who were forced to flee from their countries because their life, freedom or dignity were in danger, due to State oppression, war or poverty.

WE HEREBY CONTINUE TO DEMAND

- Unobstructed access to the asylum procedure every day and without mediators

-Refuge and social protection to persons entitled to international protection

- An end to the unacceptable situation imposed by the authorities every day and every Saturday morning at Petrou Ralli.

WE ARE GOING TO BE THERE UNTIL EVERY SINGLE PERSON IS ABLE TO SEEK AND RECEIVE THE PROTECTION THAT HE OR SHE IS ENTITLED TO

 

WE INVITE ALL THOSE WISH TO SHOW THEIR SOLIDARITY, EVERY SATURDAY FROM 05:00 TO 06:00 AM ON SATURDAY MORNING AT PETROU RALLI !!

 

Αthens, 15 March 2012

ΑITIMA

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL- GREEK SECTION

GREEK COUNCIL FOR REFUGEES

ECUMENICAL REFUGEE PROGRAM

GROUP OF LAWYERS FOR THE RIGHTS OF MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES

January 26, 2012

Article of Eva Cosse (works for the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch) on New York Times:

Greece's Epidemic of Racist Attacks

 

12 January 2012

Serious Obstacles in accessing the asylum process

Notwithstanding the ambitious declarations about reforming the asylum system, Greece persists in not guaranteeing the basic right to apply for asylum to people who arrive to our country because they are persecuted in their country of origin. Therefore, these people remain undocumented, facing the risk of being arrested and deported.

Our organization receives many complaints by asylum seekers who cannot exercise this fundamental right and who ask for our assistance. We have pointed out the problem to every responsible police authority (Attica Aliens Directorate, Headquarters of Greek Police) and to the competent Minister of Citizen’s Protection and we have called them to ensure the unhindered access to asylum process, as the national and international law provides. Nevertheless, our successive appeals to the responsible authorities were unheard.

Today, we accompanied to the Asylum department at the Attica Aliens Directorate 25 asylum seekers who wanted to submit their applications. However, the asylum Department refused to accept the submission of the asylum applications by the asylum seekers in order for the asylum process to begin. After this illegal refusal on behalf of the Asylum Department, our organization submitted the applications at the Secretariat of the Department.

We ask once again the responsible authorities to ensure the unhindered access to the asylum process, as they are obliged by the relevant legislation.

 [ Download ]

12 September 2011

Asylum system

At the end of 2010, the presidential decree 114 introduced the so-called transitional system, which will be valid till the new asylum system is enacted.

According to presidential decree 114:

-The police keep the responsibility for the submission and examination of the asylum applications in first instance. A representative of UNHCR can be present at the first instance interview and express UNHCR’s opinion, which is not binding for the Police.

-Five new appeals committees are established for the examination of the pending cases. The Committees consist of a representative of the State and two independent experts, one from UNHCR and another from the National Committee of Human Rights.

Τhis new legislation has led to some improvement of the asylum system. More specifically:

The quality of interviews in first instance has improved and there is a slight increase of the recognition rates.

The examination of the pending cases by the second instance committees constitutes a significant improvement in the Greek asylum system. The interviews are thorough and there is a remarkable increase of the recognition rates.

However, there are still severe drawbacks in the asylum system:

The fact that the submission of asylum applications remains the responsibility of the police creates severe problems in accessing the asylum process.  It is very characteristic that Attica police headquarters receive only a limited number of applications every week.  

As far as the examination of the asylum applications in first instance is concerned, Greek Police, which is the responsible authority for this task is inadequate to do so.

Finally, the progress of the examination of the pending cases by the second instance committees is very slow as there are only five committees for a backlog of 45.000 cases.

It should be noted that the government has announced that the new asylum system will be enacted in the beginning of 2012. Under this system the police will be disengaged from asylum and the asylum cases will be the responsibility of the New Asylum Service.

Moreover the government has announced that there will be screening centers all over the country so that the asylum seekers will be distinguished from immigrants.

However in times of a deep crisis for Greece it is uncertain when these new institutions will be realized.

Social rights

The situation in the field of social rights still remains problematic.

The situation in accommodation remains the same, since the existing places are very few compared to the needs. More specifically there are about 800 places, while there are thousands asylum seekers on the waiting list.  As a result, the vast majority of asylum seekers –including those who belong to vulnerable groups- are either homeless or find poor quality accommodation.

As far as the medical care is concerned, the personnel of the hospitals often ignores the asylum seekers’ right to free medical care. On top of that, most of the hospitals don’t have interpreters.

As for the economic benefits Greece still doesn’t grant any allowance for the daily expenses of asylum seekers.

In the field of employment the situation has deteriorated severely, since there has been an increase in unemployment, mostly due to the economical crisis.  The most vulnerable groups are the ones that are affected first by the crisis, among them are asylum seekers.  Since asylum seekers are unemployed and at the same time don’t get economic benefits, they get impoverished.

The rise of racism

Since the obligations deriving from international refugee law and especially the ones related to the fast and fair examination of asylum claims and to decent reception conditions, are not adequately met by the government, cities where impoverished asylum seekers gather (Athens and Patras) often face difficult situations mostly because of the social tension.

The Greek inhabitants of the areas where asylum seekers gather are annoyed by this situation. Extreme political groups of the far right which express racist views take advantage of this situation and accuse asylum seekers for the problems the Greek citizens face.  Furthermore, they somehow demand the removal of asylum seekers from their neighbourhoods and generally from the country.

From the mid 2010 Greece faces for the first time racist attacks especially in the center of Athens. These attacks have increased during 2011.  Although these attacks are reported to the authorities, the perpetrators keep on behaving violently and the victims cannot get protection. Thus asylum seekers live in fear and often have to change their residence in an effort to avoid these attacks and protect their lives.

 [ Download ]

30/4/2011

Asylum seekers are put in jail!

Our organisation provides legal supp ort to asylum seekers in the area of Igoumenitsa (port to Italy). This support is provided under a special scheme of the European Refugee Fund, in cooperation with the non- governmental organisation “Doctors of the World” and is co-funded by the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity. The aim of the particular program is to inform refugees of their rights and assist them in practice.

Under this framework the employees of the program started informing refugees of their rights and the procedures. In time, some of them have asked our assistance in order to apply for asylum. After the submission of the first application and after we have informed the local police authorities that more applications are going to follow, we were given notice that from that point on, whoever applies for asylum without holding travelling documents will be detained (we put emphasis on the fact that only few asylum seekers have travelling documents).

Despite the fact, that we considered that such an action from the police authorities is beyond belief, we, in our turn, informed a Sudanese national that wanted to apply for asylum and insisted on doing so. In 29 th of April we accompanied him to the Alien’s Department of Igoumenitsa. The asylum application was submitted, however, the applicant- after the indication of the Alien’s Department and the decision of the Police’s Head Officer of Thesprotia- was arrested and is being detained.

The police authorities, punishing with imprisonment everyone who is trying to practice his/her right to apply for asylum, are basically demolishing such entitlement. This practice is a cruel violation of human rights of the refugees. The rights of the refugees are ratified in the international conventions and therefore compel our country.

We invite the Ministry of Citizen Protection, UNHCR, the National Committee for Human Rights and the Civil Society to take action on the matter.

 [ Download ]