In the last weeks, a series of tragic incidents in the Eastern Mediterranean shed light on lesser-known migratory routes. In the most recent case, following a shipwreck off Syria of a boat that had departed from Lebanon heading to Italy, at least 94 people died.

In another recent case, 250 people who had departed from Lebanon for Italy were left at sea for about a week without food and water before being rescued by an NGO. In another incident, a four-year-old girl named Loujin died of thirst on board of a vessel with 60 people who had departed from Lebanon to reach Italy and was left at sea for 10 days, and were rescued by a merchant vessel. Finally, six people, including three children and one mother, died while attempting to reach Italy from Turkey. On 20 September 2022, Alarm Phone reported about 53 people in distress in the Greek SAR zone, including 5 children, who had departed from Lebanon and had been at sea for 4 days. They were eventually pushed back to Turkey.

These incidents take place as people are forced to embark on increasingly dangerous migration journeys due to the systemic violence, pushbacks and dangers encountered on other routes and the lack of legal channels for migration. Greece is on the frontline of this border violence, with countless evidence of Greek authorities beating, detaining, and abandoning people at sea while clinging to life rafts, while Cyprus has, on multiple occasions, pushed back boats arriving from Lebanon. At the same time, these tragic incidents are a direct result of unlawful and repeated policies of non-assistance at sea by Malta, Greece, Cyprus and Italy.

The Greek Council for Refugees is following with concern the ongoing toxic debate surrounding the issue of the 38 refugees, from which the real stakes have been “forgotten”:  that is to say, the practices that are in violation of the law and are dismantling human rights, the respect of which is non-negotiable.

Recent developments, which have "hurt" Civil Society, oblige GCR to reiterate that its mission and role is to assist and represent people at risk, who seek safety and asylum in Greece.

GCR’s statutory purpose is to support and be an advocate for vulnerable people, refugees, and it will not stop doing so. Their instrumentalisation is unthinkable in a state governed by the rule of law.

We will continue to fulfil our mission conscientiously and with respect for international, EU and national law and with commitment to the humanitarian values they express.

In doing so we will continue to rely on partnerships and collaborations with fellow travellers from across civil society, and we hope that any differentiations or retreats will not hurt this common struggle.

Exactly one year ago, the first EU-funded Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC) for asylum seekers in Greece was inaugurated on the island of Samos. Concerns were  from the outset, that residents would be subjected to disproportionate restrictions on their movement and to surveillance measures more associated with prison-type controls than with reception facilities hosting and supporting people seeking international protection. A year later, with two similar CCACs now operational on the Greek islands of Leros and Kos, and another two additional facilities being built on Lesvos and Chios, NGOs who have witnessed the impact are calling for the approach to be urgently revised. 

 

The combined expected cost of building all five CCACs is 260 million euros. Meanwhile, the average distance from the closest towns is 14 kilometers, with no access to regular, adequate and affordable transport services. These EU funds could be used instead to host people in suitable conditions that respect their dignity, and ensure access to healthcare, employment opportunities and promote people’s ability to become part of the society in Greece.  There is also a real danger that this model will be replicated along the border with Turkey and elsewhere in Europe. It is time to reverse this harmful trend, and instead build functioning Greek and EU asylum systems that recognise the humanity of all who are forced to flee. 

Read the full statement here

As civil society and Afghan diaspora organisations, we are deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the treatment of Afghan asylum seekers and refugees in Europe.

 

One year after the Taliban takeover, the country is in a state of lawlessness without a constitution. The overall security, economic and human rights situation is deteriorating, and people’s suffering is increasing. Afghanistan’s economy has collapsed, and the country is confronting a dire humanitarian crisis, with 23 million people facing acute hunger. The general level of conflict has dropped compared to before August 2021 since the Taliban was a party to the conflict and has taken power, but the country is far from stable. Targeted killings and systematic attacks against religious and ethnic minorities, particularly against the Hazara community, revenge killings by the Taliban against former government officials and former military forces have significantly increased. Freedom of expression and movement of mainly women and girls has been severely restricted. Other rights are violated by measures taken by the Taliban, such as the ban on secondary school education for girls. Many human rights violations and incidents are going unreported in the absence of a vibrant civil society and due to the fear of Taliban persecution.

 

Read the full statement

In December 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal for a Regulation addressing situations of instrumentalisation in the field of migration and asylum. The proposal introduces a mechanism which allows Member States to derogate from their responsibilities under EU asylum law in situations of “instrumentalisation” of migration. The mechanism is permanently available to Member States who can invoke it in multiple situations, essentially enabling them to derogate at will from their obligations.

We understand that there is broad support among Member States for the proposed Regulation and that the Czech Presidency aims at adoption of a common position by December. This would make it one of the fastest moving legislative files related to asylum in Council. The proposal allows states to derogate from the proposed Asylum Procedures Regulation of 2016 and amended APR proposal of 2020 (APR), the proposed recast of the Reception Conditions Directive (rRCD) of 2016, and the proposed recast Return Directive (rRD) of 2018. The derogations are substantial and substantive, significantly affecting the rights of people seeking protection.

Ο Διευθυντής του Ελληνικού Συμβουλίου για τους Πρόσφυγες (ΕΣΠ) γράφει στα Νέα για την ανάγκη σοβαρού διαλόγου, σε συνέχεια και των 19 ασφαλιστικών μέτρων που έχει χορηγήσει το ΕΔΔΑ για υποθέσεις προσφύγων που εκπροσωπεί το ΕΣΠ, ανά περιπτώσεις από κοινού και με την HumanRights360 και την Υποστήριξη Προσφύγων στο Αιγαίο (RSA).

Με λύπη και ανησυχία παρακολουθήσαμε τις δηλώσεις από το βήμα της Βουλής του αρμόδιου Υπουργού Μετανάστευσης καθώς και, τις αντίστοιχες τοποθετήσεις του Πρωθυπουργού, με αφορμή τη διάσωση των 38 Σύρων προσφύγων από νησίδα στον Έβρο με τις  οποίες στοχοποιούνται οργανώσεις, όπως, μεταξύ άλλων, το Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες, σωματείο που δραστηριοποιείται για περισσότερα από 30 χρόνια στην υποστήριξη προσφύγων, ανεξάρτητα από πολιτικές θέσεις και αποχρώσεις.

Ως οργάνωση εξ ορισμού μη κερδοσκοπική και ανεξάρτητη από τα πρόσωπα - μέλη της διοίκησής του, τα οποία προσφέρουν τις υπηρεσίες τους πέρα από οποιεσδήποτε άλλες ιδιότητές τους, μας λυπούν οι προσβλητικές και αυθαίρετες αναφορές για δήθεν ανθρωπιστικά προσωπεία, για οργανώσεις συνεργαζόμενες με λαθροδιακινητές ή με τις Τουρκικές αρχές. Ιδιαίτερα δε προσβλητικές είναι οι αναφορές για modus operandi οργανώσεων, όταν οι ενέργειες αυτές αφορούν απεύθυνση στην Ελληνική ή στην Ευρωπαϊκή δικαιοσύνη, όπως με συνέπεια πράττει εδώ και πάρα πολλά χρόνια το Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες.

With a joint letter to the Secretary General for Migration Policy and the Secretary General for Reception of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum on 28 August, 37 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) stress the concerning gaps with respect to the protection of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in Greece and call for action to protect their rights. You can read the full letter here

16/08/2022

The rescue of the 38 Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Evros was finally a relief for everyone who supported their claim for protection from the beginning. It was also a success against the policy of pushbacks, which are systematic and persistent in Greece but also in other EU territories.

The sad evidence of a death of 5-year-old child, that gained the media attention and the body buried on the islet, that none of the countries undertook responsibility, remains. We were pleased to hear the announcement that the International Red Cross will collaborate with the Red Crescent Movement to search and bury the body with respect and dignity.

We await the effective investigation of this specific incident, as well as of the drowning of two other refugees, one month ago, which is alleged to have occurred during the refoulement of this same group of refugees, to the same islet, in the middle of the Evros River, where on August 7th, 2022 were transferred there again by the Turkish authorities.

We also expect the official authorities to comply with the European Court Of Human Rights (ECHR) orders and provide humanitarian aid and prohibit refoulement, that the Greek authorities, unfortunately, ignore, either under the pretext that the refugees cannot be spotted, or that the islet are not Greek territory.

The issue of the Ministerial decision that classifies Turkey as a safe country and applies for this group of refugees, remains for their return, while no such return has taken place for at least the last 2.5 years. This, although deportation orders have been issued against them by Turkey, under the threat of which they were forced to seek dangerous routes to Europe.

We highlight that we will continue to support those seeking protection, especially under conditions of threat to human life. The stoppage of refoulement practice, and the revocation of the decision to classify Turkey as a safe third country remains for us the main objective for refugee protection but also for the rule of law and our democracy.

For this specific incident, the mobilization of our organizations, but also the support of organizations operating in the region, namely the Border Violence Monitoring Network, the journalists (especially: Dimitris Angelidis and Giorgos Christides) who have been actively involved in highlighting the practice of pushbacks, were crucial, as well as the Εθνική Επιτροπή για τα Δικαιώματα του Ανθρώπου - ΕΕΔΑ, which intervened at a critical point to support the specific group of refugees.

Let’s hope that this incident will stand as a case to improve policies towards the purpose of respecting human life, which is often devalued in similar incidents.

 

15/08/2022

Greek Government insists that the islet where 39 refugees and the dead body of a 5years old child does not belong to the Greek territory and therefore is not liable for their protection. Yet, even so, this is not valid and it is contrary to the international obligations of the country.

From the moment once someone appears at the border of a country, submitting himself to the sovereignty of this country, then the international obligation of this country arises to allow his entrance, when he claims a risk of persecution to his country of origin or transit. This is so, since the fundamental principle of non refoulement applies, provided by art. 31 and 33 of Geneva Convention for the Status of Refugees, as well as other International Conventions that Greece* is bound and do not allow refusal of entry at the borders**.

As by consolidated jurisprudence the European Court of Human Rights has judged, the principle of non refoulement applies and binds states not only when they exert their sovereignty in their territory, as well as at their borders, but also extraterritorially, where they state authorities act, or where they exercise effective control***.

The certain group of refugees, for those 2 interim decisions of the European Court of Human Rights have been issued, indicating to Greece to provide humanitarian assistance and not move them to Turkey, has been found at the same islet where they currently are, initially from Greek authorities on 14/7, so as to be refouled to Turkey and moved back from the Turkish authorities on 7/8.

Greece has access to the certain islet, irrelevant if it is Greek soil or not, and has an obligation to provide assistance, since human lives are at risk. It has also the obligation to accept and examine asylum claims, since, against many of them deportation orders have been issued to be returned to Syria, relevant copies of which have been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights.

When life is at risk, to claim that the area right next to your door does not belong to you and you claim that you don’t care for what is happening there, is just a pretext in order to evade your liability. The fact that Turkey also has liability for their condition is something obvious, yet it does not waive the liability of Greece to protect human life.

Save the people now.

______________________________________

*Art 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ratified by law 1782/1988, art. 7 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights ratified by law 2462/1997, and art. 7 of the European Convention for Human Rights ratified by law 53/1974.

** Guy Godwin – Gill – Jane Mc Adam The refugee in the International Law 3rd edition, p. 208.

*** ECHR Hirsi and Jamaa v. Italy, no. 27765/09, of 23/02/2012

 

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