4 March 2016

As a response to the European Commission’s Recommendation on urgent measures to be taken by Greece to resume transfers of asylum seekers under the Dublin Regulation there, ECRE published comments expressing concerns about ongoing shortcomings in the Greek asylum system and urged Member States not to resume transfers to Greece.

Transfers to Greece under Dublin have been suspended since 2011, following judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union. ECRE states that ongoing problems with access to the asylum procedure, risk of detention and a lack of adequate reception mean that this suspension is still justified.

ECRE stresses that it is counter-intuitive to attempt to transfer asylum seekers to Greece under Dublin whilst other asylum seekers are being transferred from Greece under the emergency relocation scheme (although only 301 people had been relocated by 2 March). The Recommendation is therefore in direct conflict with the stated aim of the relocation scheme to alleviate pressure on the Greek asylum system, as it is likely to place the Greek authorities under more strain.

Access to the asylum procedure remains hampered by the limited presence of the Asylum Service across Greek territory and by persisting problems in the Skype pre-registration system at the Regional Asylum Office in Attica, where most applications are filed. For those who do manage to lodge an asylum claim, the Greek government’s intention to declare Turkey a “safe third country” will make it easier to return asylum applicants there which is liable to create real risks of refoulement. Risks of arbitrary detention in substandard conditions in Greece are also highlighted, particularly for specific nationalities which have been systematically placed in pre-removal centres.

ECRE is also concerned by the Commission’s assessment of reception capacity in Greece. The general figure of 17,628 places it relies on is misleading, as this figure includes detention facilities and temporary accommodation solutions as reception centres. Given that less than 1,500 places are available in second-line reception for persons applying for international protection, the Hotspot Progress Report misrepresents Greece’s capacity to host asylum seekers and underestimates risks of destitution.

ECRE urges EU institutions and Member States to refrain from reinstating transfers of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin Regulation. It recalls that the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers is still evaluating whether Greece has taken the necessary steps to meet its human rights obligations in light of the European Court of Human Rights ruling in M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 4 March 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.