Limited access to the asylum procedure

PRESS RELEASE

Limited access to the asylum procedure


Athens, 19th April 2016

The Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) expresses its concern regarding the severe problem in Greece with regards to access to the asylum procedure for refugees and persons seeking international protection as it. GCR further calls upon the Greek Authorities to immediately take any necessary measures in order to ensure the efficient access of such persons to the asylum procedure.

In recent weeks large numbers of refugees have been gathering on a daily basis outside GCR’s offices, both in Athens and Thessaloniki, seeking assistance in order to submit their asylum application. Indicatively, on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016 GCR recorded a waiting list of 291 persons residing in Athens who have been unable to access the asylum procedure, while both on Thursday, March 24th and Monday, March 28th 2016 a similar number of people arrived at the GCR’s offices in Athens with similar requests. Large numbers of refugees (approximately 80-100) have also been gathering on a daily basis at GCR offices in Thessaloniki.

Refugees’ consistent request is for GCR’s assistance in contacting the Asylum Service via skype to seek an appointment for the registration of their claim. In our efforts to assist, we have realized that in practice we are unable to offer assistance to ensure access to the procedure. For many days at a time access to the process via skype has been impossible; moreover, it became extremely clear that the limited available hours and contact numbers for the Asylum Service, as well as the very limited time slots provided by the Asylum Service to correspond to each specific language prevents the efficient, or even gradual provision of the related services to all interested persons, especially under the present circumstances. Furthermore, it is well known that the lack of access to the asylum procedure entails the risk of arrest and detainment of such interested persons and prevents them from the enjoyment of the appropriate reception conditions (such as access to healthcare, employment, education, etc.)

We would like to clarify that GCR had offered to support the provision of services to refugees interested in submitting such appointment requests via skype and initiating the asylum procedure, having first received a related invitation to do so by the Asylum Service. However, under no circumstances does GCR consider that access to the asylum procedure via skype, as described above, should be the only option available to those who wish to seek asylum in Greece, substituting in that way their right to appear in person to the competent authorities and submit an asylum request.

Furthermore, it should be mentioned that access to the asylum procedure should not be associated with the provision of legal aid and does not require NGO or lawyer mediation. It should be unhindered and as immediate as possible. In particular, access to the asylum procedure is a right of each foreigner and an obligation of the Greek State in accordance with Article. Art. 4 par. 1 of Decree 113/2013 which states that: “Every foreigner or stateless person may submit an application for international protection. The competent authorities for receiving such applications shall ensure the ability of the implementation of the right of submission of such an application for international protection, provided that the applicant shall appear in person before the said authorities”. Moreover according to Article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: “The right to asylum shall be guaranteed with due respect for the rules of the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951 and the Protocol of 31 January 1967 relating to the status of refugees and in accordance with the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union”.

For all the above reasons, we announce the temporary suspension of GCR’s assistance in the provision of the as above described communication (via skype) and we await for actions to be taken by the Asylum Service to ensure the right of access to this process for refugees; especially for those that are often deprived of an internet connection and have difficulty accessing public transportation, residing in refugee camps throughout Greece, far from Regional Asylum Offices.

The majority of persons  contacting GCR are Syrian citizens that wish to initiate procedures under the Dublin III Regulation (for their reunification with relatives who have been recognized or are going through the recognition process in other European countries) or relocation procedures, and Afghan citizens and Iraqi citizens, as well as stateless people or people of Palestinian origin with a related request for family reunification under the Dublin III Regulation or seeking asylum in Greece.

At this point, we would like to emphasize that the great majority of the refugee population being deprived access to the asylum procedure is comprised of vulnerable groups, in particular: unaccompanied minors and infants, women in late pregnancy, people in need of immediate medical monitoring or otherwise requiring access to healthcare and many families, including single parents with young children, who require immediate protection.

A large number of the above mentioned cases also apply for psychological and social support and housing assistance. Unfortunately, the lack of suitable and adequate housing options usually makes such efforts to respond to all requests for housing assistance ineffective.

It should be noted that access to shelter should be independent of the ability of such persons to relocate, i.e. to be "eligible" for the related relocation process.

Following the above, GCR urges the Greek authorities to ensure without delay the unhindered admittance of asylum seekers before the Asylum Service as well as the adequate and appropriate shelter that will provide asylum seekers with the opportunity to assert and obtain effective access to their rights and enjoy the protection and reception conditions they deserve.

This press release is part of the «Fighting the Refugee Crisis in Athens» program, implemented with the co-financing of "SolidarityNow".

More information on the project can be found here.

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