Report. During the pandemic, 38,000 migrants were stranded in Greek camps meant for 6,200. Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees denounced the EU-Turkey deal as ‘one of Europe’s worst human rights disasters.’

EU complicit in denying refugees their rights in Greek prison camps

Arbitrary detentions and “rejections” by the authorities, abuse and harassment of women, 15,000 migrants exposed to COVID-19 contagion in the Moria camp in Lesbos alone, in a space that should only contain 2,800—these are the figures released by Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees in a report that offers a snapshot of the effects of the new asylum system in Greece, enacted this year.

It is a consequence of European policies: “the implementation of the [2016] EU–Turkey statement [transformed] the hotspots into one of Europe’s worst human rights disasters and [created] the conditions for a never-ending humanitarian crisis on Europe’s south-eastern borders,” the report explains. “The deadlock created by trapping asylum seekers in camps laid the ground for increasingly strict crackdowns on their rights, with increased pressure by the European Commission on the Greek authorities and legislature to deliver results.”

The standard adopted by Athens could, in turn, become the model to be applied in the whole of the EU.

During the pandemic, 38,000 migrants were stranded on the islands in camps with an official capacity of around 6,200 people. By mid-June, some 229 unaccompanied migrant minors were being detained in the country: “The new Greek asylum system is designed to deport people rather than offer them safety and protection … This means that people who have fled violence and persecution have little chance of a fair asylum procedure.”

In 2020 so far, there have been just over 10,000 arrivals, compared to over 74,000 in 2019. In the island hotspots, migrants (including children, pregnant women, disabled people) are held in detention without access to care and protection.

The new Greek law and its amendments “have laid the groundwork for administrative detention to become the default rule for managing mixed migration flows, as opposed to the exception … detention takes place without respect for the right of people seeking asylum to be informed of the reason for their detention in written language they understand or are reasonably expected to understand. People seeking asylum now frequently end up in detention, without knowing why or for how long, and without the possibility to appeal.”

There are 15,000 living in Moria without access to toilets or water. “Greece’s new law is a blatant attack on Europe’s humanitarian commitment to protect people fleeing conflict and persecution,” explained Riccardo Sansone, head of the humanitarian office of Oxfam Italy. “The European Union is complicit in this abuse, because for years it has been using Greece as a test ground for new migration policies.”

From a legal perspective, the reform effectively prevents many asylum seekers from appealing in case their application is rejected, because one needs a lawyer to do so, and there is only one available in Lesbos. No precise notifications are given, such as about the day and time of the interviews, and any missed appointment is reason enough to reject their application. “When the Greek authorities reject an asylum application, it does not necessarily mean people are not in need of international protection. It is often a consequence of the accelerated asylum procedure applied in the context of border procedures. Short deadlines increase the possibility of errors,” explains Spyros-Vlad Oikonomou from GRC.

The consequence is immediate detention for those who have had their applications rejected and subsequent expulsion to Turkey or their country of origin. This rule applies to those who arrived in early 2020, while for those who entered in 2019, the waiting times are months-long, which can become years, trapped in inhuman conditions.

The European Pact on Asylum and Migration, set for the second half of 2020, “is expected to expand the Greek model by using detention as primary means of addressing new arrivals and fast-tracking rejections of women, men and children who apply for asylum at the borders,” Oxfam and GRC explain. “The Greek government must restore a fair asylum system, which fully respects human rights. The European Commission must review Greece’s asylum practices and assess their compliance with EU law.”

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