Media and NGOs are pointing to the differential treatment as harsh Greek asylum and migration policies continue for non-Ukrainians in need of protection – including through systematic pushbacks. Report reveals “chronic legal and practical barriers” for people granted refugee status in Greece including those returned from other EU countries. The European Commission states it expects Greek authorities to put proper safety measures in place for the future residents of the EU funded ‘closed controlled’ camp on Lesvos to be located in an isolated high risk forested area next to a landfill.

Greece has launched the process for temporary protection at the regional asylum offices in Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras and Crete and introduced a dedicated jobsite and other platforms offering information to Ukrainian refugees. According to Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi Ukrainians are “real refugees,” while he defines people arriving from Syria, Afghanistan or other war-torn countries as “irregular migrants”. Local and international media have noticed the differential treatment with Al Jazeera reporting on 1 April: “Aid workers are particularly concerned for those fleeing countries other than Ukraine”. Already on 3 March, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned: “Greece is right to show solidarity with refugees fleeing Ukraine. But this moment should prompt a fundamental shift in Greece’s approach to dealing with people fleeing similar conflicts in other parts of the world and an end to Greece’s violent and abusive border polices that put refugees in harm’s way”.

In reference to recent interim measures by European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in a pushback incident costing the life of a 4-year old boy, HumanRights360, stated: “This time there was time for the court to act. In most cases of illegal pushback, estimated at 12,000 people last year, there is no time to react. Many lose their lives, and their rights are violated. We call on the Greek government to stop this illegal practice”. On 5 March the NGO hotline, Alarm Phone reported that a boat that had been in distress in Greek waters off Rhodes had been picked up by the Turkish Coast Guard. The organisation states that circumstances remain unclear. Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on 7 April, concluding based on testimonies from people on the move that: “Greek security forces are employing third country nationals, men who appear to be of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin, to push asylum seekers back at the Greece-Turkey land border”. Bill Frelick, refugee and migrant rights director at Human Rights Watch stated: “There can be no denying that the Greek government is responsible for the illegal pushbacks at its borders, and using proxies to carry out these illegal acts does not relieve it of any liability”. During a plenary session at the European Parliament on 6 April, several MEPs spoke out against pushbacks. Malin Björk from the Left group stated: “pushbacks are structural and brutal. The European Commission knows it, even the Frontex director lying to our faces knows it”. Tineke Strik from the Group of the Greens called out Greek policies of pushbacks and safe third country saying they leave all refugees in a lawless situation and urged the European Commission to take action. 25 organisations including several ECRE members are calling on the government body the National Transparency Authority (NTA) to release the findings leading to its conclusion that no evidence cooperated reports of systematic pushbacks by Greek authorities. The organisations state: “while the NTA does not meet the criteria to conduct an independent investigation on the allegations regarding pushbacks, we request the publication of the full report of this investigation, in order for its methodology and conclusions to be available for evaluation, to ensure the accountability of the implicated actors and to preserve the public’s trust to national authorities”.

ECtHR has delivered its ruling in the case A.A. and Others v. North Macedonia, according to the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) the court: “dangerously condones mass pushback of refugees into Greece”. Along with ECRE member PRO ASYL, ECCHR is considering whether to challenge the judgment.

In a recent report Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) outline the situation for beneficiaries of international protection in Greece highlighting: “chronic legal and practical barriers excluding them from the basic documents and socio-economic rights needed to rebuild their lives”. According to the report: “Status holders in Greece continue to face specific challenges posed by severe administrative barriers to access to different categories of official documentation. These obstacles prevent people from fulfilling the necessary documentation prerequisites for accessing key rights such as health care, housing, social welfare, access to the labour market and even legal representation under equal conditions to nationals”. The report further presents seven case stories highlighting the particular impact of these systematic obstacles on refugees who left Greece after being granted refugee status and have been returned from other EU countries. Six of the seven cases involves people returned from Germany, where the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) recently moved to make decisions on more than 40,000 cases of asylum claims by people with refugee status in Greece. The cases have been on hold – some for years – given the opinion by German administrative courts that they would lack sufficient support upon return. However, reportedly an agreement might have been made between German and Greek authorities on a programme of support from Germany.

In February reports emerged that a new camp on Lesvos – one of the five EU funded structures implemented or planned in hotspots on Leros, Kos, Chios, Samos and Lesvos – is to be located in an isolated, high risk, Natura Forest area close to the island’s landfill. On 4 April an activist from the NGO Lesvos Solidarity, stated to media: “This is an abuse of Natura of course, hiding the risks of destruction from accidental fires as there is no safety assessment of the camps”. Now the European Commission states it: “expects that the Greek authorities, which are responsible for the safety and environmental assessment of the new facilities, will take into consideration all necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of future residents and will continue to monitor this closely within its competence”.

ECRE member, Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) is one of 30 organisations expressing deep concern for the future of the children and refugees of the Eleonas shelter in Athens, in view of its imminent closure. According to the organisations around 300 children in the facility risk losing schooling just one month prior to the end of the school year.

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