Only one in five people seeking asylum in Greece have access to a state-appointed lawyer and on Greek islands only 2 out of 100 appeal cases get access to legal aid, a report by Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) revealed today.
The new report, ‘No-rights zone’, has exposed that people who seek protection and asylum in Greece are regularly denied access to a fair and efficient asylum process.
There is a severe and chronic lack of access to lawyers and crucial information in the overcrowded European Union ‘hotspot’ camps in the Greek islands. This means many people are stuck in the camps with no chance of a fair asylum process and risk being sent back to a place where they face danger.
The report warns that the situation is set to get worse, with Greece having recently passed a new, regressive asylum law, and the recent announcement that it might replace the existing EU ‘hotspot’ camps on the Greek islands with de-facto detention centres. This will make it even harder for people seeking asylum to access crucial information and legal assistance, while at the same time creating an even greater need for it.
The Greek system urgently needs to be strengthened with more funds to hire lawyers, asylum staff and interpreters. The European Union has a responsibility to ensure all its member states including Greece uphold national, EU and international laws on protecting the human rights of those seeking asylum.
Oxfam’s head of mission in Greece Renata Rendón, said: “People who flee war, conflict and persecution need to rebuild their lives in safety and dignity. Many people seeking asylum are dealing with multiple traumas, and on top of this, they are left to navigate complicated legal procedures on their own. Without proper information and support, there is a high risk that people’s legitimate requests for asylum are rejected, and that they are sent back to life-threatening circumstances.”
For ordinary people, it is nearly impossible to understand the complicated, ever-changing asylum procedures in Greece. It is especially difficult for those who do not speak the language and are dealing with serious trauma resulting from the situation they have fled, their often-harrowing experiences on their journey to Europe and from life in the overcrowded, dangerous refugee camps on the Greek islands.
The asylum procedures in Greece urgently need to be made fair, credible and transparent by hiring additional lawyers and interpreters to provide essential information and guide people through the asylum procedure. Yet, the situation in Greece is set to worsen, Oxfam and GCR warn.
The new asylum law passed by the Greek Parliament could lead to people seeking protection in Europe being locked up in ‘closed’ centres on the islands for extended periods of time. In practice, it will also make the right to appeal a negative decision on their asylum request nearly impossible. In addition, the law will reduce existing safeguards that protect the most vulnerable people, thus severely restricting their ability to receive the protection they need.
The Head of GCR’s Legal Unit, Maria Papamina, said: “With the new law and plans for ‘closed’ detention centres on the islands, the Greek Government is weakening fundamental safeguards of the reception and asylum system. Generalised and lengthy detention is used as a means of deterring people in need of protection from reaching Europe. With children and families constituting the largest group in the current hotspots, and with most of them coming from war and conflict-torn countries, these measures will affect them worst.”
Oxfam and GCR call on the Greek Government and European Union to immediately take measures to make sure that people seeking protection in Greece have access to a fair, effective and transparent asylum procedure. Greece must fulfil its obligations under EU and national law regarding the provision of information and legal assistance to asylum seekers by allocating additional funding and hiring more lawyers, staff and interpreters.