AYS Special: Can I claim asylum in Greece?
For the past few months this has been a question increasingly asked by new arrivals to people on the ground. Why? Because if you manage to arrive to Greece by land through the northern border with Turkey, or to the islands of Crete and Rhodes, then there are currently no guaranteed safe routes for registering your asylum claim.
As of the end of November 2021, the Greek Government decided to halt the Skype system which for seven years had been the mainland process for registering an asylum claim. It was imperfect in many ways, often leading to long wait times of over a year just to get through, but removing the service without an adequate replacement is, of course, playing havoc with people’s lives. The only exception applies if you can prove a vulnerability as understood under Greek law.
Two other options remain on the mainland. You can hand yourself over to a police station which could result in detention in a pre-removal departure centre (detention centre for people due to be deported), or prolonged police detention. In the north of Greece, interaction with the police could lead you to being violently pushed back across the border to Turkey. All of these scenarios have been experienced by people on the move in Greece and reported to people who work with them.
Or, you can go to the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Fylakio which only has capacity for 282 people. Here they may turn you away or start a pushback procedure before you even arrive, or it may be a stop during a pushback after the police have picked you up. Multiple reports of pushbacks recorded by the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) confirm that pushbacks have taken place from Fylakio.
Pushbacks in Northern Greece usually include the following forms of violence: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, insulting, forcing to undress, destruction of personal belongings, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving, being forced to jump into deep water. People also experience detention, theft of personal belongings, beating, denial of medical assistance, being forced to undress.
In the last pushback report which directly names the Fylakio site, the respondent stated that:
The officers beat all passengers with their batons as they got out of the van. One of the officers spoke in Turkish and told everyone to kneel down in a row. He said if they had money they had to take it out, ‘ if we search you and we find something we will beat you hard.’
This pushback included children as young as two.
In response to media coverage of this discontinuity in asylum access, the Migration Ministry stated that from 24 November 2021 to 16 January 2022 there were 3,975 applications for international protection submitted. However, these figures apply to those who have not lost access to asylum procedures — people who arrive at the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Kos, Chios and Leros, unaccompanied minors, people in detention (although being in detention does not guarantee who will be able to apply for asylum), and people with a provable vulnerability.
The abrupt change in policy has left people in an information void. There are currently no details available on how and when individuals can enter the asylum system. It is deeply concerning that the Greek authorities are denying people access to the asylum system without offering any interim measures or information on how and when people can expect to register their asylum claims. — Mobile Info Team
The planned new site in southern Greece where asylum claims can be registered has not yet been confirmed. Greek lawyers state that they are still waiting for a list to be published of places were people can lodge their claims.
So, what do you say when someone asks if they can claim asylum in Greece on the mainland? You apologise and tell them they will have to wait with no access to food, housing or cash assistance, let alone a human asylum service who provide adequate care as understood in the Refugee convention or national law, until something changes.
Article by Emma Musty, AYS
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