New regulations for the operation of temporary reception structures from Greek authorities include a confidentiality clause preventing NGO personnel from disclosing information. The so-called Moria 2.0 in Kara Tepe was established on a former military firing range, raising alarm over potential lead poisoning of residents and exposing them to unexploded ammunition. Lawyers and counsellors have raised concern over the implementation of remote interviews by the Greek Asylum Service on Lesvos.

A Greek ministerial decision on the regulation of the operation of temporary reception structures entered into force on 30 November without passing the Greek parliament introducing a controversial confidentiality clause binding people working or volunteering for NGOs to not share information they gather while working. According to Legal and Advocacy officer for the Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), Minos Mouzourakis, the decision should be seen in the context of the ongoing efforts by Greek authorities to exert extensive control over NGOs: “I think this formulation definitely expands the scope far beyond what we would consider data that should be protected”, he stated.

The temporary facility in Kara Tepe also referred to as Moria 2.0, currently hosting 7,250 people including 2,400 children, was established on former military grounds by Greek authorities, reportedly without prior comprehensive lead testing or soil remediation. Apart from the risk of explosive material, highly toxic lead in the soil from bullet residue that degrades slowly over decades, can become airborne under the dry and windy weather conditions on Lesvos. According to Human Rights Watch camp, residents have photographed items found around their tents including: “an intact 60mm mortar projectile, a tail fin assembly for another 60mm mortar projectile, cartridge casings for rifle bullets, fired 12-gauge shotgun cartridges, and live pistol, rifle, machine gun, and shotgun ammunition.” Senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch, Belkis Wille stated: “Putting thousands of migrant adults and children, along with aid workers, on top of a former firing range without taking the necessary steps to guarantee they would not be exposed to toxic lead is unconscionable,” adding: “The Greek authorities should promptly conduct a comprehensive site assessment of soil lead levels and release the results.” Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarakis recently praised the conditions in the camp that has been heavily criticised by NGOs.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and following the destruction of the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) of Moria, the Greek Asylum Service began implementing remote interviews on Lesvos from 8 October. Two months later, lawyers and counsellors accompanying asylum seekers in their interviews with Asylum Service and European Asylum Support Office (EASO) caseworkers, have identified several areas of concern including the quality and confidentiality of interviews, extremely short notices and extensive waiting time and rescheduling for interviewees due to technical challenges, lack of measures of protection related to the risks of COVID-19, and the lack of access to transcript of interviews for applicants not accompanied by a lawyer.

Amid ongoing revelations of pushbacks by the Greek coastguard including with the involvement of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) yet another incident has been documented. Der Spiegel reports of 18 people arriving to Lesvos undetected by Greek authorities, in an inflatable boat on 28 November. The group including children and several pregnant women was confronted by Greek police, searching them and confiscating their phones. According to the group after being put on a bus and taken to the port of Petra, a female was forced to undress and suffered beating and abuse. Then the group was put on an orange life raft and pushed to sea from where they were rescued by the Turkish coastguard after several hours.

On 8 December the NGO, Aegean Boat Report was accused by Greek authorities of assisting migrant smugglers based on video testimonies from people saying they were instructed to use the organisation as a means of contact to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) upon arrival in Greece. Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarakis stated: “A small number [NGOs] are contributing to the illegal migratory flows and therefore the problem and the human costs”. In response Tommy Olsen of the Aegean Boat Report said his organisation was: ”astonished at this unprovoked and deliberately misleading attack” adding: “If he wishes to allege we have acted illegally or improperly he must produce something more than a small number of refugees saying that smugglers in Turkey know the name ‘Aegean Boat Report’ and tell them if they attempt to contact us they will be given dry clothing and a bottle of water”.

99 people relocated from Greece landed in Hanover on 3 December. According to the German Ministry of the Interior, including 21 families and 13 unaccompanied children. Germany has relocated 1,291 refugees from Greece since April. The children relocated are among 1,553 recognised refugees Germany promised to accept after the devastating fire in Moria camp in September. At the same time ECRE member Pro Asyl points to a substantial traffic the other way. In the first half of 2020 alone, Germany sent 2,768 requests for takeovers under the Dublin III Regulation to Greece, and in an additional 352 cases, between January and April 2020, German authorities asked bilaterally for the repatriation of refugees who have protection status in Greece.

Statistics compiled by RSA reveal that a total of 43,025 first instance decisions were made in Greece in the first 9 months of 2020. Of those 15,480 applications were rejected or inadmissible, 22,680 resulted in refugee status, and 4,865 in subsidiary protection, which gives an average recognition rate of 64%. However, the recognition rate fell between second and third quarter, particularly for Syrian applicants who saw more than a doubling of negative decisions from 1,060 to 2,195. Also, noticeable was a shift towards a larger proportion of positive decisions where applicants were given subsidiary protection rather than refugee status, with Afghan applicants accounting for more than 75% of first instance subsidiary protection decisions. The backlog of pending cases in all instances is substantial but stats differ, with Eurostat at 75,675 and the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum at 90,283 respectively.

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Photo: ECRE

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