The Greek Forum for Refugees (GFR) released a report this week describing the obstacles preventing asylum seekers in Greece from accessing the asylum procedure and from receiving international protection. The report is mainly based on testimonies provided by asylum seekers, refugees and communities throughout 2015 and focuses on both the old backlog procedure and the new asylum procedure which entered into force on 7 June 2013. The most important difference between these procedures is the shift from the police to the Greek Asylum Service as the responsible authority for handling asylum claims.

Problems with the backlog procedure include the fact that a significant number of applicants are still waiting for a final decision on their application because of problems arising from the contact between asylum seekers and police authorities who are still responsible for those. ”They said: “come in four days”. I came after four days and they gave me two days or weeks, it was changing all the time according to the [people],” explains A. from Sudan in the report.

Other problems arising from the old procedure are linked to the Appeal Committees that opened in 2012 but were closed between December 2014 and May 2015, resulting in further delays in the procedure and applicants who have been stuck in the old procedure for years. People who applied in the old procedure have no automatic access to the new procedure and are still facing long waiting periods, with the risk of being arrested and returned since they do not possess an asylum seeker card in the meantime. “There is a committee there, to meet with me and do another interview. So three years now I am waiting for them,” A. from Sudan told GFR

Problems with the new procedure established by law 3907/2011 and Presidential Decree 113/2013 include the ineffective operationalisation of Regional Asylum Offices, where only 7 of the 13 regional asylum offices have opened. Most of these are in the Attica region, resulting in some asylum seekers having to travel sometimes extremely long distances and even give up the right to seek asylum because of the unaffordable costs. This geographic concentration also causes staff deficiencies and imbalances between capacities and needs, often resulting in a considerable degree of arbitrariness.

Another problem mentioned in the report is the Skype system, which is used to register and interview applicants and is described as highly dysfunctional, ‘almost inaccessible’. Finally, most asylum seekers don’t have access to a subsequent appeal after a rejection by the appeal authority as provided by the law due to the high costs and the precarious conditions they live in. This is clearly an ineffective remedy and results in asylum seekers being at risk of arrest and deportation without having the possibility to benefit from the legal options provided by refugee legislation.

For further information:

  • Asylum Information Database (AIDA), Greece Country Report, November 2015.

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