8 April 2016

On Friday 1 April the Greek Parliament adopted Law 4375/2016, amid debate and speculation around the legal reforms needed for the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal of 18 March.

The new law does not explicitly designate Turkey as a ‘safe third country’. However, it does lower the safeguards necessary to consider a country as a ‘first country of asylum’ for a particular applicant. This means that asylum applications from people who are found to enjoy “sufficient protection” in Turkey which includes protection against refoulement can have their claims rejected as inadmissible with no consideration of the merits of their application. This removes the requirement under the previous law that a first country of asylum must have the possibility to request refugee status and receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Convention, a standard that Turkey is unlikely to meet.

Asylum applications may be examined at the border, with a provision enabling exceptional measures to be adopted in case of large numbers of arrivals. These measures allow EASO officials to support national authorities with registering applicants and conducting interviews. They also introduce very short deadlines of one day for an applicant to prepare for the first instance interview, and 3 days for a decision on an appeal. However, there is no ‘automatic suspensive effect’ for appeals against return orders which means that applicants must apply to a judge in order to remain on the territory during their appeal. This appears to be incompatible with the right to an effective remedy set out in EU asylum law.

In a welcome development, new arrangements will be put in place to deal with a backlog of around 18,500 unresolved asylum appeals that are still pending under the old procedure, which ceased on 7 June 2013. Asylum seekers who initially lodged their claim over five years ago who possess a valid asylum seeker permit will automatically be entitled to a residence permit on humanitarian grounds, unless there are national security concerns. This will resolve the situation for numerous Afghan nationals who have been waiting for a decision on their appeals for up to 13 years, living in precarious conditions with limited access to services and limited rights, as documented by the Greek Forum of Refugees.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 8 April 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.