From boat to mainland: The process to apply for asylum or refugee status in Greece

This information comes directly from the country report written by AIDA (Asylum Information Database) It has been modified and altered slightly for better understanding. For additional detailed information regarding the asylum process in Greece please visit: http://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/greece

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is coordinated by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). It aims to provide up-to date information on asylum practice in 20 countries. This includes 17 EU Member States (AT, BE, BG, CY, DE, ES, FR, GR, HR, HU, IE, IT, MT, NL, PL, SE, UK) and 3 non-EU countries (Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey) which is accessible to researchers, advocates, legal practitioners and the general public through the dedicated website http://www.asylumineurope.org.

List of Abbreviations 

AMIF Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund

AMKA Social Security Number | Αριθμός Μητρώου Κοινωνικής Ασφάλισης

AU Asylum Unit

EASO European Asylum Support Office

ECHR European Convention on Human Rights

ECtHR European Court of Human Rights

ERF European Refugee Fund

GCR Greek Council for Refugees

KEELPNO Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention

KEPOM Central Operational Body for Migration | Κεντρικό Επιχειρησιακό Όργανο Μετανάστευσης

L Law

UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

 

Asylum procedure 

Registration: Coupled with persisting obstacles to accessing the asylum procedure due to the need for applicants to have a Skype appointment prior to appearing before the Asylum Service, the closure of the Western Balkan route and containment of about 50,000 persons in Greece led to significant pressure on the Asylum Service, exceeding its capacity and ability to register new asylum claims. From 8 June to 30 July 2016, a pre-registration exercise was launched in the mainland by the Asylum Service, and an important number of persons willing to apply for asylum on the islands have not had effective access to asylum procedure, or have had access subject to undue delays exceeding 6 months for certain nationalities. This practice also raises serious concerns of conformity with the non-discrimination principle.

Fast-track border procedure: One of the main modifications brought about by L 4375/2016 has been the establishment of an extremely truncated fast-track border procedure, applicable in exceptional cases. As underlined the fast-track procedure under derogation provisions in Law 4375/2016 does not provide adequate safeguards. In practice, fast-track border procedure applies to arrivals after 20 March 2016 and takes place in the Reception and Identification Centres (RIC) of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos. Under the fast-track border procedure, which does not apply to Dublin family cases and vulnerable cases, interviews are also conducted by EASO staff, while the entire procedure at first and second instance has to be completed within 14 days. The procedure has predominantly taken the form of an admissibility procedure to examine whether applications may be dismissed on the ground that Turkey is a “safe third country” or a “first country of asylum”; although these concepts already existed in Greek law, they have only been applied following the EU-Turkey statement. The admissibility procedure started being applied to Syrian nationals in April 2016 and was only applied to other nationalities with a rate over 25% (e.g. Afghans, Iraqis) since the beginning of 2017. In the meantime, for nationalities with a rate below 25%, the procedure entails an examination of the application on the merits without prior admissibility assessment as of July 2016. A Joint Action Plan of the EU Coordinator on the implementation of certain provisions of the EU-Turkey statement recommends that Dublin family reunification cases be included in the fast-track border procedure and vulnerable cases be examined under an admissibility procedure.

Appeals Committees reform: The composition of the Appeals Committees competent for examining appeals was modified by a June 2016 amendment to the April 2016 law, following reported EU pressure on Greece to respond to an overwhelming majority of decisions rebutting the presumption that Turkey is a “safe third country” or “first country of asylum” for asylum seekers. The June 2016 reform also deleted a previous possibility for the appellant to obtain an oral hearing before the Appeals Committees upon request. Applications for annulment have been submitted before the Council of State, invoking inter alia issues with regard to the constitutionality of the amendment. A recent reform in March 2017 enabled EASO staff to assist the Appeals Committees in the examination of appeals, despite criticism from civil society organisations. Since the operation of the (new) Appeals Committees on 21 July and until 31 December 2016, the recognition rate of international protection is no more than 0.4%. This may be an alarming finding as to the operation of an efficient and fair asylum procedure in Greece. Respectively, by 19 February 2017, 21 decisions on admissibility had been issued by the new Appeals Committees. As far as GCR is aware, all 21 decisions of the new Appeals Committees have confirmed the first-instance inadmissibility decision.

Relocation: Out of the target of 66,400 asylum seekers to be relocated from Greece under Council Decisions (EU) 2015/1523 and 2015/1601 in September 2015, 7,441 had effectively been transferred as of 15 January 2017.

Dublin: In December 2016, the European Commission issued a Recommendation in favour of the resumption of Dublin returns to Greece, regarding applicants who have entered EU through Greece from 15 March 2017 onwards or for whom Greece is responsible from 15 March 2017 onwards under other Dublin criteria, despite the fact that inter alia the execution of the M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece judgment of the European Court of Human Rights is still pending before the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. One month earlier, in November 2016, the ECtHR granted an interim measure twice with regard to two cases of Somali asylum seekers and ordered the Hungarian authorities to suspend their transfer to Greece based on the Dublin Regulation.

Short Review of the Asylum Process 

The asylum procedure in Greece has undergone substantial reforms throughout 2016, many of which driven by the adoption of the EU-Turkey statement on 18 March 2016. The adoption of Law (L) 4375/2016 in April 2016 – and its subsequent amendment in June 2016 – have overhauled the procedure before the Asylum Service. This law also foresees measures to clear the backlog of cases under the “old procedure” governed by Presidential Decree (PD) 114/2010 by issuing persons who had claims pending for over 5 years under that procedure with 2-year humanitarian permits. A total 4,935 decisions granting such permits had been issued by the end of 2016.

First instance procedure

Asylum applications are submitted before the Asylum Service. Seven Regional Asylum Offices and ten Asylum Units were operational at the end of 2016, while a specific Asylum Unit was established exclusively for the processing of applications lodged by Pakistani nationals in Athens. The Asylum Service is also competent for applying the Dublin procedure, with most requests and transfers concerning family reunification in other Member States, and relocation procedure for eligible nationalities. Access to the asylum procedure still remains an issue of concern.

L 4375/2016 also introduced a fast track border procedure for applicants subject to the EU-Turkey statement, i.e. applicants arrived on the islands of Eastern Aegean Islands after 20 March 2016 and takes place in the RIC where hotspots are established (Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kos). Under the fast-track border procedure, inter alia interviews may also be conducted by European Asylum Support Office (EASO) staff, while the entire procedure at first and second instance should be completed within 14 days. The procedure has predominantly taken the form of an admissibility procedure to examine whether applications may be dismissed on the ground that Turkey is a “safe third country” or a “first country of asylum”; although these concepts already existed in Greek law, they have only been applied following the EU-Turkey statement. The admissibility procedure started being applied to Syrian nationals in April 2016 and was only applied to other nationalities with a rate over 25% (e.g. Afghans, Iraqis) at the end of 2016. In the meantime, for nationalities with a rate below 25%, the procedure entails an examination of the application on the merits without prior admissibility assessment as of July 2016.

Appeal

First instance decisions of the Asylum Service are appealed before the Independent Appeals Committees under the Appeals Authority. An appeal must be lodged within 30 days in the regular procedure, 15 days in the accelerated procedure, in case of an inadmissibility decision or where the applicant is detained, and 5 days in the border procedure and fast-track border procedure. The appeal has automatic suspensive effect.

The composition of the Appeals Committees competent for examining appeals was modified by a June 2016 amendment to the April 2016 law, following reported EU pressure on Greece to respond to an overwhelming majority of decisions rebutting the presumption that Turkey is a “safe third country” or “first country of asylum” for asylum seekers. The June 2016 reform also restricted the possibilities for an oral hearing before the Appeals Committees.

An application for annulment of the Appeals Committee decision may be filed before the Administrative Court of Appeals within 60 days from the notification of the decision.

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