The reopening of Greek Asylum Services comes with chaos, uncertainty, and prevention of access to rights. Hundreds of unaccompanied children are detained in Greece. NGOs criticise new rigid requirements for registration and certification of NGO’s working to protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Greece. New reports of push-backs to Turkey across the Evros river.

Chaotic scenes unfolded as Greek asylum services reopened in Athens after two months of suspended procedures. Local media describes the situation in front of offices in Katehaki and Alimos as “shameful” and defined by the lack of any timely preparations with hundreds of people spending the night in front of the offices mostly in vain to face no infrastructure for upholding distance, masks, gloves, or antiseptics and services and information randomly provided at the sidewalks. Amid the third phase of the easing of the COVID-19 lockdown police forces have “evacuated” a squat in Exarchia district of Athens taking with them 52 people including 12 children to have their papers checked.

HIAS Greece, ECRE member Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and other organisations have submitted a complaint to the Greek Ombudsman on the lack of access, as required by Greek and EU law, to free legal assistance for 1,789 applicants who have received rejection decisions from the Regional Asylum Office (RAO) of Lesvos (at least 1,400 at first instance), and are now required to submit their appeal before May 28. Further, the organisations  criticises the fining of people violating restriction of movement under COVID-19 measures to seek alternative access to legal assistance expresses concern about the “intended immediate return of 11,000 asylum seekers to Turkey.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urges the release of 276 unaccompanied children detained in police cells and detention facilities awaiting transfer to a shelter due to the chronic shortage of space in suitable facilities. Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch Eva Cossé, stated: “The prime minister should act on his pledge to protect unaccompanied children and make sure that hundreds of vulnerable children are freed from dirty, crowded cells, sometimes alongside adults, where they are exposed to the risks of Covid-19 infection.” Another two positive tests from new arrivals doubles the number of Corona cases on Lesbos.

In a comment on the risk of repression of NGOs working to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees anchored in a recent law with amendments to the controversial International Protection Act and a Ministerial Decision from March, Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) states: “The regulations set out so far on the operation of NGOs include stringent, disproportionate and arbitrary requirements for registration and certification, which create risks of violations of rights of civil society“. The organisation further warns that ”the changes come against the backdrop of policy efforts appearing to create an increasingly hostile environment for civil society in Greece, as well as plans for broader legislation on NGOs.”

As part of an international research team, German newspaper Deutsche Welle has identified and interviewed people who have allegedly been forced back to Turkey. A 22 year old Afghan man who arrived to the Diavata camp outside Thessaloniki and registered with Greek police on February 12 states that police slapped and kicked him and confiscated his belongings and mobile phone, when he attempted to apply for asylum in April. He ended up in a truck and was taken to the banks of the Evros river where he and other asylum seekers were lined up and loaded onto dinghies, ten at a time and returned to Tukey.

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Photo (CC): Dimitris Siskopoulos, March 2015

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