• 10 boats carrying 369 people arrived on the Greek islands during the week of 4-10 March but six pushbacks towards Türkiye involving 235 people were carried out in the same period.
  • One of the “Moria6” group of Afghan asylum seekers who were convicted in June 2021 of burning down the Moria camp in September 2020 has lost his appeal against his conviction.
  • ECRE member organisation Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid has published a report on sexual and gender-based violence in the application of Greek asylum policy on the island of Lesvos.
  • The Deputy Mayor of Chania (Crete) has raised concerns about the lack of accommodation for people who are disembarked on the island following a weekend which saw 187 arrivals.
  • The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has had a hearing to discuss the Greek Council of State’s preliminary questions on the designation of Türkiye as a “safe third country” for asylum seekers.

Aegean Boat Report’s (ABR) weekly update for the week beginning 4 March showed that 49 boats carrying 1492 people tried to reach the Greek islands and that 10 of them reached their destination, enabling 369 people to be officially registered in Greece. The organisation also reported six pushbacks involving 235 men, women and children in the Aegean Sea and that, in two cases, the Greek authorities “used life rafts as a tool of illegal deportation”. “105 people were left helplessly drifting in 5 life rafts in the Aegean Sea,” it wrote on X. The ABR report also noted that the overall number of people registered on the Greek islands had decreased by 3401 over the past month due to the number of transfers to the mainland exceeding the number of arrivals on the islands and an “increase in pushbacks at sea by Greek authorities”. On 11 March, ABR reported that a group of 14 people, including one child, had arrived on the island of Farmakonisi and that they had asked for help to ensure that they were not pushed back “as previous groups arriving on this island” had been. ABR highlighted the group’s dilemma, writing on X: “At the same time, there is no other option than to inform authorities, because the only way off this militarized desert island, is by assistance of the Greek coast guard”. They added that the group had provided “pictures, videos and location data, that proves their presence on Farmakonisi”, and which could be used to prove that their rights had been violated if they were to be pushed back to Türkiye. The group’s actions and ABR’s emergency alert seemed to have borne fruit as ABR posted an update on 12 March in which they wrote: “Greek Coast Guard has informed that 16 people have been located on the Greek island of Farmakonisi, and will be transported by patrol boat to Leros”. Meanwhile, on 11 March, Alarm Phone reported on 84 people in distress of south of Gavdos, who were found later by the Hellenic Coastguard. On the same day, another group of 11 people on Panagia in Lesvos were on the Island asking for assistance. The 11 people were later taken to a camp.

The Court of Appeal in Mytilene on the island of Lesvos has upheld the conviction for arson of R.F.M, one of the six Afghan asylum seekers known as the “Moria6” who were convicted in June 2021 for causing the fire that destroyed the notorious Moria camp in September 2020. Following the conclusion of the trial, which it described as a “circus”, the NGO Legal Centre Lesvos (LCL) wrote on X: “we once again see that migrants in Greece can be convicted without any credible evidence”. Despite their clear disappointment at the outcome of the appeal trial, they took some comfort in the fact that R.F.M’s sentence had been reduced from 10 to eight years, and that he would soon be eligible for parole. LCL had previously also highlighted the fact that the other three defendants had had their cases transferred to a juvenile court as they were “wrongfully tried as adults” and that they would be “released with restrictive measures awaiting trial”. In addition, LCL predicted that R.F.M’s lawyers would apply for an annulment at the Supreme Court on the grounds of “all the procedural and legal miscarriages that took place in this court” and insisted that they would not be silenced by the ruling. “Today is rage, tomorrow the struggle will go on!” they wrote on X. Meanwhile, on the mainland, the hearing of the prominent human rights defender, Panayote Dimitras, before the Misdemeanours Court of Athens took place on 13 March as reported by The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. Dimitras, who is the director of the NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor, was charged by Greek judicial authorities on the island of Kos in January 2023 for “forming or joining for profit and by profession a criminal organization with the purpose of facilitating the entry and stay of third country nationals into Greek territory”. Prior to the hearing, which they noted had been postponed several times, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders urged the Greek authorities to “comply with human rights standards of fair trial and due process”.

ECRE member organisation Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid has published a report on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the context of the application of Greek asylum policy on Lesvos. It notes the deterioration of the reception conditions for all asylum applicants in the closed controlled access centre on the island that has taken place since the significant increase in the number of registered applicants in 2023, and highlights the impacts of “worrying shortcomings” on the Greek authorities’ ability to respond to the needs of victims of SGBV. The lack of appropriate care for victims of SGBV has a “harmful impact on the survivors’ well-being and prevents them from receiving adequate support,” it wrote. The report also refers to international guidelines for a gender-sensitive interpretation of the 1951 Refugee Convention that should enable a person who has suffered from SGBV to be granted international protection by being recognised as a refugee, whilst denouncing the fact that “despite the provisions of international law and guidelines, and of the Greek law, incidents of SGBV are not recognised or considered relevant for the examination of the asylum application”. In a website article to mark the launch of the report on International Women’s Day, the organisation made an appeal to the Greek authorities: “Fenix calls on the Greek Government and Greek authorities to respect the rights and safeguards afforded to vulnerable asylum applicants, including those of survivors of SGBV,” they wrote. Elsewhere, the NGO Refugee Support in the Aegean (RSA) published testimonies from three women from Iran, Somalia/Yemen and Afghanistan who are living in camps on mainland Greece to shed light on the situation of Greek camps for women. Reflecting on their future prospects, one of the women told the interviewer: “You are led through the asylum process, you endure the waiting period for an unknown fate and once you get asylum you stand there with nothing in your hands. You are unprepared to live in Greece and you also remain without help. […] The current system is not beneficial neither for the refugees, nor for the Greek state and its people”.

Authorities in Chania (Crete) have expressed concerns about the lack of available accommodation for new arrivals. Deputy Mayor Eleni Zervoudaki told the Athens News Agency – Macedonian Press Agency: “The prefecture of Chania is not ready for the increased immigration flows, which create a domino of problems, both accommodation and of course economic needs that are created” (translated). Zervoudaki argued that people who are rescued from the sea should be taken to the prefecture closest to “where they were found” regardless of where they were disembarked. She urged the central government to intervene to support her administration, saying: “We will stand up to our standards, but we need help from the official State to withstand the increased flows of immigrants”. Zervoudaki’s statement follows the arrival of 91 people who were rescued by the Hellenic Coast Guard and disembarked in the port of Agia Galin on 9 March. Journalist Daphne Tolis reported that they were among the 187 people who arrived on Crete and Gavdos in several boats on 9-10 March and who were all transferred to Chania. Humanitarian aid worker Eleni Konstantopoulo described the situation in Souda to where the 91 people had been transferred: “Authorities claim unable to provide “Temporary Accommodations” so people are left outside behind the customs office for temporary accommodation, like cargo waiting”, she wrote on X.

On 14 March, the preliminary questions regarding the inclusion of Türkiye in a national list of “safe third countries” that were referred to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) by the Greek Council of State were discussed in an oral hearing in Luxembourg where representatives of ECRE member organization the Greek Council for Refugees (RSA), RSA, the European Commission and the Greek government speak. In a statement issued prior to the CJEU hearing, GCR recalled that the Council of State’s judgement was issued following a joint GCR and RSA request for the annulment of the joint ministerial decision, which designated Türkiye as a safe third country for asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Bangladesh Pakistan, Somalia and Syria. The two organisations also recalled the opinion of the majority of the Council of State which underlines that “the fact that Turkey refuses to readmit refugees as of 2020, does not allow it to be classified as a safe third country in a general way.”  “At the same time, it does not appear that Greece has investigated whether this refusal by Turkey (sic) will change in the near future,” they added. Lawyers from RSA and GCR in the hearing gave speeches focused on how the inclusion of Turkey in the national list of “safe third countries” practically “consolidates the policy of abdication of responsibility for the protection of refugees in Europe”. Vassilis Papadopoulos of GCR said: “It would be contrary to Article 18 of the EU Charter and provisions & spirit of the APD to consider a country as safe where it is already known that applicants will not be readmitted thereto & its position is not expected to change”. Additionally, Eleni Spathana from RSA underlined that Safe Third Country must be interpreted & applied in line with Treaties and international obligations including the 1951 Refugee Convention, ECHR, Convention against Torture, Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court for Human Rights case law”, adding that “people exposed to the policy are left with no access to health care, education, even food. The policy is indefinite and has no secure procedure to overcome legal limbo”.

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