15 May 2015 

The new AIDA report on Greece, among other issues, discusses the commitments made by the new Greek government, in February 2015, towards reducing the use of immigration detention, following four deaths of detainees, two of which were suicides, in the Amygdaleza Pre-Removal Detention Centre and in police stations’ detention facilities in Athens and Thessaloniki in mid-February 2015.

According to the new government, a previous Ministerial Decision, allowing for indefinite detention of migrants beyond 18 months, would be revoked and persons detained beyond that 18-month period would be immediately released. The Amygdaleza Pre-Removal Detention Centre was also set to close down within 100 days. Moreover, actions would be taken to put in place open reception centers, to implement alternatives to detention and the immediate release of persons belonging to vulnerable groups, as well as asylum seekers. In practice, according to the report written by the Greek Council for Refugees, the first encouraging steps have been taken, as persons who have been detained for more than 18 months, and for long periods, are progressively released. However, the report notes that persons belonging to vulnerable groups, including asylum seekers, have been observed as being in detention as of April 2015.

Moreover, as stressed in the report, as of December 2014, Syrians holding original identity documents can have their applications examined under a fast-track procedure in Greece; whereby the Asylum Service registers and takes a decision on claims, on the same day. However, this rapid procedure is only available to Syrians who have not previously applied for asylum in Greece. The Asylum Service also announced a weekly schedule, defining the availability of interpreters for different languages for registration of asylum claims on specific days, in an effort to reduce registration queues in its Athens Regional Asylum Office. In the same spirit, the Asylum Service has started a system of booking registration appointments through Skype. Notwithstanding these efforts, access to asylum is still far from being guaranteed.

An amendment of the so-called “Old Procedure”, applied to asylum claims submitted before 7 June 2013, has put an end to the possibility of the relevant decision authorities to directly grant residence permits on humanitarian grounds, including a disposition similar to the one applied in the New Procedure on the mere possibility for them to refer the case to the Ministry of Interior. Moreover, the responsible authority for deciding on applications for renewal of residence permits on humanitarian grounds is now the General Secretary of Public Order, an appeal against the decision of whom is no longer provided.

Finally, a decision by the Director of the Asylum Service has extended the duration of validity of asylum seeker cards for nationals of Albania, Georgia, Bangladesh, Egypt and Pakistan from 45 days to three months (whereas for all other nationalities the duration of validity of their cards remains four months).

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 15 May 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.