The updated AIDA Country Report on Greece tracks numerous legislative, policy and practice developments relating to the asylum procedure, reception conditions, detention of asylum seekers, and content of international protection.

Substantial asylum reforms, driven by the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, took place in 2018. Law 4540/2018 provided the possibility of participation of Greek-speaking EASO personnel in in the regular procedure, and transposed the recast Reception Conditions Directive.

Following an increasing number of cases of alleged push backs at the Greek-Turkish border of Evros in 2017, cases of alleged push backs have been systematically reported in 2018. The persisting practice of alleged push backs has been decried inter alia by UNHCR, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, the National Commission for Human Rights and civil society organisations.

Asylum procedure: Access to asylum on the mainland continued to be problematic throughout 2018. Access to the asylum procedure for persons detained in pre-removal centres is also a matter of concern. The average period between pre-registration and full registration was 42 days in 2018.

The average processing time at first instance is reported at about 8.5 months in 2018 Out of the total number of 58,793 applications pending as of the end of 2018, in 80.5% the interview had not taken place. Thus, the backlog of cases pending for prolonged periods is likely to increase in the future.

Despite a slight increase in 2018, recognition rates at appeal level remain significantly low. Out of the total in-merit decisions issued in 2018, 2.8% granted refugee status, 1.5% subsidiary protection, 4.5% referred the case for humanitarian protection, and 91% were negative. This may be an alarming finding as to the operation of an efficient and fair asylum procedure in Greece.

Since mid-2016, the same template decision is issued to dismiss claims of Syrians applicants as inadmissible on the basis that Turkey is a safe third country for them. Accordingly, negative first instance decisions qualifying Turkey as a safe third country for Syrians are not only identical and repetitive – failing to provide an individualised assessment – but also outdated insofar as they do not take into account developments after that period, as the current legal framework in Turkish, including the derogation from the principle of non-refoulement. Second instance decisions issued by the Independent Appeals Committees for Syrian applicants systematically uphold the first instance inadmissibility decisions, if no vulnerability is identified.

Major delays occur in the identification of vulnerability on the island, due to significant lack of qualified staff, which by its turn also affects the asylum procedure. Despite a new guardianship framework established by Law 4554/2018, the system of guardianship is still not operating, as required secondary legislation has not been issued as of March 2019.

Reception conditions: On 17 April 2018, following an action brought by GCR, the Council of State annulled the Decision of the Director of the Asylum Service regarding the imposition of the geographical limitation. A new Decision of the Director of the Asylum Service was issued three days after the judgment and restored the geographical restriction on the Eastern Aegean islands. This Decision was replaced in October 2018. A new application for annulment has been filled by GCR before the Council of State against both Decisions of the Directive of the Asylum Service.

Most temporary camps on the mainland, initially created as emergency accommodation facilities, continue to operate without clear legal basis or official site management. Official data on their capacity are not available, however, as reported, a number of 16,110 persons were accommodated as of September 2018.

Reception facilities on the islands remain substandard and may reach the threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment, as it has been widely documented. Overcrowding, lack of basic services, including medical care, limited sanitary facilities, and violence and lack of security poses significant protection risks. The mental health of the applicants on the islands is reported aggravating.

Detention of asylum seekers: The total number of detention orders issued in 2018 was 31,126 compared with 25,810 in 2017. The total number of asylum seekers detained throughout the year was 18,204, almost doubling 2017 figures (9,534). There were 8 active pre-removal detention centres in Greece at the end of 2018. Police stations continued to be used for prolonged immigration detention.

Conditions of detention in pre-removal centres, in many cases fail to meet standards, inter alia due to their carceral, prison-like design. Police stations and other police facilities, which by their nature are not suitable for detention exceeding 24 hours, continue to fall short of basic standards. On the overall, available medical services provided in pre-removal centres are inadequate compared to the needs observed. At the end of 2018, out of the total 20 advertised positions for doctors in pre-removal centres, only 9 were actually present. There was no doctor present in Paranesti, Lesvos and Kos and no psychiatrist in any of the pre-removal detention centres at the end of 2018. Medical services are not provided in police stations.

Content of international protection: A long awaited Joint Ministerial Decision was issued in August 2018 on the requirements regarding the issuance of visas for family members in the context of family reunification of refugees. However, administrative obstacles which hinder the effective exercise of the right to family reunification for refugees persist.

The naturalisation criteria and procedure have been amended following a 2018 reform.

Finally, in March 2019, the Ministry of Migration Policy clarified in a Ministerial Decision the conditions under which persons accommodated in UNHCR’s accommodation scheme (ESTIA) can maintain the right to accommodation for a period of six months after being granted international protection.

*This information was first published by AIDA managed by ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.