The Greek government again changes its messaging on an independent border mechanism, now promising the Commission that it is underway. The Ombudsman calls for a re-examination of the rejection of the registration of Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), a decision that has been met with severe concern by MEPs, the UN special rapporteur as well as NGOs. A German court has ruled in favour of an asylum seeker whose application was declared inadmissible as he already held protection status in Greece, on the basis that he there faced a serious risk of inhuman or degrading treatment.

The Greek government’s messaging on the implementation of an independent border monitoring mechanism – as demanded by the European Commission – is ever-changing. Officials have variously suggested that such a mechanism should be kept in-house and should not include independent bodies or organisations, have rejected it as a threat to national sovereignty, and have claimed it might constitute a rule of law violation. In a latest volte face, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, says the Greek Minister of State, George Gerapetritis has confirmed that the mechanism will soon be operational. The Commissioner complemented Greece for being the first member state to implement such a mechanism. Further, the Commissioner stated that she had received assurances that the controversial pushback of a translator working for the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) by Greek authorities – mistaking him for a potential asylum seeker – would be investigated. The agency is also alleged to have forced a team from ECRE member organisation the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI) across the border from Greece to North Macedonia. Frontex denies the allegations, which date from 6 November, insisting procedures were followed and that the team had expressed a wish to return. An ASGI representative stated: “We have sent Frontex an official letter with specific requests and didn’t get any reply. We are expecting a formal answer by the agency”. Meanwhile, Open Democracy has reported on the violent pushback of three Turkish nationals in September. At least 233 Turks have been pushed back since May, according to Greek and Turkish lawyers as well as victims and their family members.

The Ombudsman calls on the Ministry of Migration and Asylum to review the rejection of the registration of RSA, implementing partner for ECRE member Pro Asyl. The rights body states: “the decision to reject the registration of a civil society organisation on the NGO Registry of your Ministry on account of the development of activity in support of persons under deportation and, due to – according to your assessment – contravention of Greek legislation, infringes the aforementioned acquis of international, EU and national law”. UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, calls the rejection “worrying” and notes: “Everyone is entitled to the protection of international human rights law, including those facing deportation. States should facilitate the work of those standing up for the rights of people in these situations, not obstruct them”. MEP for the Greens and member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), Tineke Strik, calls the decision by Greek authorities “incomprehensible” and further states that: “The intensive registration requirements for NGOs in Greece seem incompatible with EU law, such as the free movement of services and freedom of movement”. An extensive expert opinion by the ECRE-managed European Legal Network on Asylum (ELENA) concludes: “The current legal framework establishing an NGO Registry in Greece for organisations operating in the area of asylum and the rejection of applications for registration on account of formalities, a presumably lacking operational capacity, and an allegedly unlawful scope of activities is in clear violation of EU law, the ECHR and international law”.

The Higher Administrative Court of Bremen, Germany has made its decision in the case of a Syrian national whose claim for protection had been rejected by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees due to the fact he had international protection in Greece. Article 4 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU prohibits a member state from rejecting an asylum application as inadmissible if the person concerned faces a serious risk of inhuman or degrading treatment: on this basis, the court noted the applicant would not find dignified accommodation or be supported in a housing program if returned. The handover of the accommodation component of the ESTIA programme to the Greek government by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has been followed by a spate of problems. The transfer of the cash assistance component of the scheme has generated similar chaos, with human rights campaigners denouncing a lack of assistance for asylum seekers and refugees. NGOs are calling for urgent action from Greek authorities and the European Commission, that has provided Greece with more than 3.3 billion euro since 2015, to ensure better support. Almost 60 per cent of the current residents of the Greek refugee camps on the mainland no longer have access sufficient or suitable food, causing severe distress and putting vulnerable people at risk. A large protest broke out in the Ritsona camp 70 kilometres north of Athens with residents demanding cash assistance, access to asylum procedures and more efficient decision making. Despite transfers to the mainland, the situation for asylum seekers on the Aegean islands remain dire. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reiterates concerns over conditions and restriction of freedom of movement in the Mavrovouni camp on Lesvos – dubbed ‘Moria 2.0’ – and warns that more than half of the people they assist on Samos have had thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

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Photo: ECRE

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