January 23, 2009

Ad hoc visit to the Aliens Directorate

Print this post Ad hoc visit to the Aliens Directorate

On Friday 23 January 2009, the Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Migrants and Refugees conducted an ad hoc visit to the Aliens Directorate of the Greek Police at Petrou Ralli street in Athens. The reason for this visit was the large number of complaints that the Group had received in the preceding period about asylum seekers being physically barred from accessing the Asylum Department of the Aliens Directorate, rendering it impossible to submit an asylum application. In addition, on 24 October 2008 and on 6 December 2008, two asylum seekers were found to have died in unclear circumstances after falling into a ditch located around 400m from the gate of the Aliens Directorate. According to witness statements, the deaths had been preceded by episodes of turmoil in front of the gate, in which the police had resorted to violence and persecution.

The Group wishes to clarify that it was administrative practice at the time of its ad hoc visit (and continues to be at the time of writing) that asylum applications in Athens can be submitted only at Petrou Ralli street, in this specific location and only after an asylum seeker has been provided with an appointment date during the early morning hours of Saturday. It is not possible to submit an asylum application in any other area or at any other time or day.
The Group visited the Aliens Directorate at midnight between Friday 23 January and Saturday 24 January 2009. Fifteen members of the Group were present during this ad hoc visit. From Friday afternoon until 2:00am on Saturday, is was raining continuously and at times there were heavy showers.
At the time of our arrival, around 50 to 60 asylum seekers were gathered under a shed which is located at the back gate of the Aliens Directorate, at Salaminias Street. They were waiting in line. At a distance of around 1000m from the back gate, we found a second group (also in line) of around 600 to 700 asylum seekers. Policemen and police cars were located between this second group and the back gate. The queue continued along Salaminias street, in the direction of Kifissos avenue. The asylum seekers were standing next to each other, along the wall and the fence of a nearby depot. They were exposed to the rain and it was clear that they were keeping their position in the line. We continued our way along Salaminias street in the direction of Kiffisos avenue, where we found two more groups (or lines) of 200 to 300 people and 100 to 150 people, respectively. These groups were also separated from each other by policemen and policecars. Altogether, we counted 950 to 1000 people standing there, despite the heavy rain, all night through. The majority of these people were dressed inappropriately for the weather conditions. Many of them were not even wearing regular shoes.
From our talks with the people gathered there (in particular with those waiting in the longer line), we heard about cases where people had come and waited in such a line unsuccessfully over a period of three months, or ten times in a row. Since these stories were consistent with the allegations we have repeatedly received, we consider them credible and convincing.
During our visit, around ten policemen were selecting, from the line of the bigger queue, a small number of persons, dividing them in groups of 4 to 5 persons and leading them to the gate of the Directorate. It was not possible to distinguish the criteria based on which this selection took place. It is likely that gender and any visible injuries might have led to a positive assessment. We are not aware of anyone being chosen from the two last groups, which were the furthest away.
We observed this process throughout the night. At 6:00am, after around 200 asylum seekers had been gathered outside the back gate at Salaminias street, the policemen opened the gate and allowed those whom they had selected to enter the Directorate.. Over the following thirty minutes, policemen picked a few more from the other groups and led them to the entrance gate. Some other policemen removed all remaining asylum seekers, without using force, and told them to come back next week. Those who were allowed to enter the building were apparently given an appointment date for their asylum interview for the following week. Those who were removed remained for at least one more week exposed to the risk of arrest. On Saturday 24 January 2009, no more than 250 to 300 people were allowed to enter through the gate. The number did not even reach the 400 asylum seekers that the police claims are allowed to submit an asylum application each week.
From our ad hoc visit and in view of our findings, we draw the following conclusions:
1. We confirmed the allegations we have been receiving, namely that it is not possible to submit asylum applications in any other administrative authority, other than the Asylum Department of Petrou Ralli.
2. We also confirmed that it is not possible to directly submit an asylum application at any other day or time, except after an appointment date has been set during the early morning hours of Saturday.
3. The Aliens Directorate accepts only a small number of applications, compared to the number of applicants who wish to submit an asylum claim. The majority of the applicants are removed by the police from the area of the Aliens Directorate.
4. The criteria according to which the selection takes place of those that will be granted the right to submit an asylum claim cannot be established. No substantial enquiry into the ethnicity of the applicants takes place, apart from some occasional random questions. Even worse, no individual enquiry takes place before the entry into the Aliens Directorate related to the fears of persecution of each applicant. Factors of positive discrimination seem to be the female gender and sometime an obvious injury or disability of an applicant.
5. Under these circumstances, it is obvious that a large number of applicants gets removed from the area of the Aliens Directorate and is being prevented from submiting an asylum application without an individual examination of his/her case whatsoever.
6. Because of the small number of those who will eventually gain access to the asylum procedure, as well as the obviously informal and chaotic nature of the selection procedure, a situation has been established which forces asylum seekers to queue outside the Aliens Directorate several times over prolonged periods. Our group has repeatedly received – both during our ad hoc visit as well as during its advice sessions – such allegations, which it considers credible. It is beyond doubt that such practice entails serious risks of non-submission and non-examination of the claims of asylum seekers, leaves them uprotected and exposes them to the risk of arrest .