The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, in a decision issued on 5 June 2014, remains unconvinced that the Greek asylum system is fully compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This decision to continue supervision of Greece comes nearly three and a half years since the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in M.S.S. v Belgium & Greece on 21 January 2011.

The ECtHR in M.S.S. found that the removal of an Afghan asylum seeker from Belgium to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation was a violation of his right to an effective remedy under Article 13 ECHR, and the prohibition of ill-treatment under Article 3, on account of detention conditions for asylum seekers, deficiencies in the Greek asylum procedure, and inadequate reception conditions.

In their latest decision on Greece, the Committee noted ‘the serious concerns [of NGOs] regarding the conditions in which asylum seekers and irregular migrants continue to be detained’, and asks the Greek authorities to submit the precise content of their strategy to remedy this.

The ICJ and ECRE joint submission criticises Greek detention conditions, citing reports of overcrowding, substandard hygiene conditions, inadequate heating and hot water, and a lack of ventilation. The submission also expresses concern about practical obstacles to lodging complaints about detention conditions, detention pending removal, detention on medical grounds, and the discriminatory rationale underpinning Operation Xenios Zeus, which allows the mass arrests of migrants in Greece.

The Committee also “strongly encouraged the Greek authorities to pursue their efforts to guarantee, without delay, full and effective access to the asylum procedure throughout the territory”. It noted that  “it is not yet possible to draw thorough conclusions” on the new Greek Asylum Service, First Reception Service and the Appeals Authority, given that these only started operating on 7 June 2013.

In their submission, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and ECRE, also highlight the lack of independence of the new asylum Appeals Committees, difficulties in accessing asylum offices, the inadequate provision of free legal assistance to asylum seekers, and the discretionary suspension of deportation orders pending appeal.

Other submissions to the Committee were sent by ECRE member the Greek Council for Refugees, the Open Society Justice Initiative, and UNHCR.

Reception conditions in Greece will be evaluated by the Committee at their meeting in December 2014, and a new assessment of detention conditions and the asylum procedure will take place at the March 2015 meeting.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is the body responsible for monitoring the execution of ECtHR judgments.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 13 June 2014.
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