September 7, 2010

Report of the Group of Lawyers on the situation of Dublin returnees in Greece submitted to the ECHR

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The Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Migrants and Refugees published the following report on the occasion of a Dublin returnees case from Netherlands to Greece before the European Court of Human Rights.

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On the situation of Dublin returnees in Greece

1. The Group of Lawyers is aware of the observations submitted both by the Greek and the Dutch Government on the situation of asylum seekers and in particular Dublin returnees in Greece. In particular, it takes note of the fact that in their submissions, the Greek Government merely cite the Greek law the way it is written but do not refer at all to the actual situation of asylum seekers in Greece. They do not describe the big gap that exists between law and reality, the failure of the Greek authorities to implement the law and in particular the high risks to which asylum seekers including Dublin returnees are exposed to because of the failure to meet even the minimum of the procedural safeguards foreseen by the law to which they refer.

2. Individuals who are returned to Greece under the Dublin II regulation are in most cases collected and transferred by the Greek authorities to the Airport Police Directorate. However there has been at least one known case where this did not happen.[1]

3. Until registration has been completed, Dublin returnees remain in detention. The exact length of detention seems to vary from case to case. Dublin returnees are not held however in a special facility separated from the rest irregular migrants, but in a detention centre together with other irregular migrants. When the centre is overcrowded, which happens often, women, children and men are all held together. This practice as well as the conditions of detention and the overcrowding have been documented and repeatedly criticised by the CPT, the Greek Ombudsman and Greek and International NGOs. Among the most recent sources are Amnesty International, "Greece: Irregular Migrants and Asylum Seekers routinely detained in Substandard Conditions, (pp 39-40, July 2010) which documented the detention of a Dublin returnee together with other irregular migrants and not in a special facility as the Greek authorities claim. In addition, in July 2010, the Greek Ombudsman, following its visit to the airport detention centre, had an urgent meeting with representatives from the Ministry for the Protection of the Citizen and Justice requesting sanitation of the facility and immediate measures against the overcrowding. (

4. The lack of procedural safeguards that transcends the whole asylum system in Greece, is also evident at the airport. While in detention at the airport, Dublin returnees do not receive any information or legal counselling by the authorities. They are not informed of their rights, the status of their case or the documents they are signing. Translators, if available, speak only French or English and are present at the airport only during morning hours. According to the latest reports we have received, there are no translators at all present at the airport, unless an NGO sends one. This does not happen often though as the Greek Government claims, since NGOs use their own funding for this and do not get reimbursed for the costs. Contrary to what the Government claims, the Athens Aliens Directorate does not send translators to the airport. If necessary, the police asks other co-detainees to act as translators. Apart from one single programme that was run for two months in 2010, at the moment, no NGO is present at the airport and there is no legal aid programme.

5. In any case however, what needs to be underlined is that the detention of Dublin returnees at the airport lacks legal basis since they are not informed about the reasons of the deprivation of their liberty and procedural safeguards not met with. One of the most important shortcomings is that they have no effective legal remedy in order to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. Asylum seekers returned under Dublin II who submit an asylum claim for the first time in the airport, are asked to explain the reasons why they seek asylum under a regime of unlawful detention, without legal support, without having the possibility of seeking legal protection and without translators. Under such circumstances, the examination of their asylum claim is obviously not fair and effective.

6. Upon release from detention, Dublin returnees find themselves left alone outside the airport, completely unassisted. They do not receive any financial support by the State or any other form of assistance by the authorities, not even to reach the centre of Athens. They have to cover themselves the transportation fees in order to reach the Athens Asylum Department (Petrou Ralli), as the airport police does not arrange their transfer. Many Dublin returnees spend some time wandering around before they find out by other migrants the location of the Asylum Department (Petrou Ralli) or until they find their way to an NGO that could help them. Nevertheless, even this form of help has become very difficult since most NGOs have had to cut off their activities and had their personnel reduced over the past year due to funding problems. [2]

7. Dublin returnees who claim for the first time asylum upon return to Athens do not receive a pink card, but a document which advises its holder to report to the Asylum Department in Athens. This document is written in Greek and it is not equivalent to the pink card. It is simply an administrative paper of instructions. It does not allow its holder to work or reside in Greece, have access to health care or education, apply for social assistance or housing nor authorise a lawyer to represent him. As there are no translators available at the airport, most often the asylum seeker does not even know the content of this note.

8. In order to receive their pink card, Dublin returnees who claim for the first time asylum, have to report to Petrou Ralli. It is not true that Dublin returnees and in general asylum seekers have access to Petrou Ralli seven days a week. In fact, asylum seekers hardly ever have physical access to the specific facility. The operating hours of the Athens Asylum Department at Petrou Ralli are roughly 09:00- 14:00, Monday- Saturday. This time schedule does not indicate the hours that the Asylum Department is open to asylum seekers but reflects the times during which phone calls get answered or lawyers may visit the facility.

9. The Asylum Department of Athens is hosted in the Athens Aliens Directorate at Petrou Ralli str 24. Only lawyers and police staff are allowed to use the main entrance. Third country nationals who seek asylum are obliged to use the back door, at Salaminias str which is located at the back of the building. Salaminias street is a narrow dirt road, where big trucks that hardly fit through the road pass through on a permanent basis. The specific area (Ag Annis) in Athens has the largest number of transport services and storage rooms which also explains the permanent presence of tracks. Since Salaminias is a narrow street with no pavements, access to the Aliens building is very difficult through that street for any person given the trucks, the bad quality of the roads and the narrowness of the road. Young children and asylum seekers with physical disabilities are worst off since no exception is provided for them and they also have to use the back entrance. Thus in 2008 for instance, 3 asylum seekers were found dead on different occasions at Salaminias street under obscure conditions while waiting in the queue that asylum seekers form there. One of them was found dead in a ditch at Salaminias street, after -as speculated- having been pushed.

10. Dublin returnees have to go to Petrou Ralli from Monday- Friday between 08:30- 13:00 the latest in order to submit their claim. On Saturdays the police registers the new asylum claims that they collected overnight and does not perform any other administrative tasks such as taking care of Dublin returnees. However there is no separate entrance for them nor a separate waiting line. Every asylum seeker who has to go to Petrou Ralli for administrative purposes is obliged to wait together with Dublin returnees in one big mass several metres away from the back entrance of Petrou Ralli. No alien is allowed to come close to the gate which is guarded by armed officials. Occasionally one employee from the Asylum Department comes out and checks on the documents that the hundreds of asylum seekers who make a queue around him show him. If the Dublin returnee succeeds in approaching him and in drawing his attention to the note, he may be allowed to enter in order to complete his registration. If the Asylum Department is overburdened with other administrative tasks or the employee thinks it is getting late, the Dublin returnee is asked to come back on some other day or next week or in two weeks, yet, without being given any official appointment. In practice, unless an NGO supports the Dublin returnee and alerts the authorities about his arrival, the chances for a Dublin Returnee to enter Petrou Ralli are very slim and thus his access to the asylum procedure is actually minimised.

11. Currently the Asylum Department at Petrou Ralli does not even perform basic administrative tasks which affect fundamental rights of asylum seekers, such as renewing pink cards. Asylum seekers who still queue outside every day in order to renew their pink cards as they are entitled suffer unnecessarily waiting in the sun for many hours and often do not get their pink card renewed. It is under these circumstances that new forms of exploitation of asylum seekers have recently developed. We have received allegations about persons asking for money in order to intervene so that asylum seekers enter the building through Salaminias street in order to have their pink card renewed.

12. Until registration has been completed, Dublin returnees do not enjoy the status of an asylum seeker. If stopped at a police control, it is at the discretion of the police officer whether he will let go the Dublin returnee who carries only this note, or arrest and put him in detention. While a Dublin returnee carrying such a document should not run, in theory, the risk of refoulement, cases of round ups and refoulement of persons in detention have been frequently deported. The mere fact that a Dublin returnee was returned under Dublin II, does not make him run a lower risk of refoulement.[3]

13. Once registration has been completed and Dublin returnees receive their pink card, they are in exactly the same position as any other asylum seeker in Greece and do not enjoy additional benefits. The problems that a regular asylum seeker faces, such as lack of housing, of financial and social support, difficulties in renewing the pink card etc. apply equally to Dublin returnees.

14. Dublin returnees are also in no better position with regard to the assessment of their asylum claim. The procedural flaws that transcend the asylum system (lack of translators, low recognition rate, lack of training of police officers conducting interviews and assessing claims, etc.) apply to Dublin returnees equally. A Dublin returnee runs a real risk of having his asylum claim rejected with no fair examination of his claim having taken place and of finding himself outside the asylum system and subject to deportation if the risk of refoulement becomes reality.

15. The status of asylum seekers who receive a negative final decision on their claim is governed by law nr 3306/2005 on irregular migration. While in theory, a failed asylum seeker could return to the asylum system by submitting a new claim, the way law 3386/2005 is implemented renders this solution illusory: a failed asylum seeker who wants to submit a new claim based on new evidence, will be automatically arrested when he will try to submit his claim and will face 6-12 months detention with a view to deportation notwithstanding his pending claim. The law does not distinguish between failed asylum seekers who make a new claim and irregular migrant who do not seek asylum at all. At the same time, arrest and detention are unavoidable since the fresh claim has to be submitted in person before the police authorities. Given the inhuman conditions in Greek detention centres, the vast majority prefers not to lodge a new claim but flee to another European country even at the risk of a return under Dublin II. This rule of automatic arrest and detention applies to all individuals who make a new claim, including Dublin returnees or vulnerable categories like victims of torture, pregnant women, families etc.

16. In practice, new claims are only submitted in very few cases, by failed asylum seekers who have already been arrested, detained and released and who hold a valid deportation order which allows them to submit a new claim before its deadline expires. This presupposes however that the asylum seeker manages to collect new evidence within very strict deadlines, which is unrealistic given the difficult situation in countries of origin that face serious problems.

17. Even in those few cases where a new claim has been submitted, the individual does not receive a pink card. While his claim is pending, he only receives a copy of the police records confirming the submission of his fresh claim. This copy does not entitle him to work, have access to health care, housing, education or social services. It is supposed to be protecting him from deportation alone. Survival therefore is very hard, especially due to the fact that the admissibility of a fresh claim may take many months or year to be examined. In addition, this copy is neither meant to protect from detention nor does it contain a picture of the asylum seeker. As a result, asylum seekers who submit fresh claims get arrested during police controls and are placed in detention until the police station receives confirmation from Petrou Ralli of the validity of that document and the identity of its holder. Such confirmation may take up to several weeks during which the person remains in detention under inhuman conditions.

18. As far as access to the European Court of Human Rights is concerned, it is illusory to expect from asylum seekers including Dublin returnees to lodge all by themselves a complaint before the Court. Those who are not in detention face serious survival problems and complaining before the Court is therefore not within their priorities. Those who are in detention and risk imminent refoulement cannot access the Court since they are held under conditions where they lack the necessary facilities for this (pen/paper, access to telephone/fax machine/contact with the outside world). Supposing that they would dispose of the necessary facilities, still, they would not know how to do this since detainees do not receive information about the Court machinery.

19. To sum up, as far as the obligation of mutual trust and co- operation between EU Member States is concerned, the Dutch Government cannot invoke community law and/or the Dublin II when it is well aware that Greece violates in multiple ways its international obligations under the Refugee Convention. This has been acknowledged by the Greek Government itself. We refer to the words of the Deputy Minister himself, Sp Vougias who publicly stated on 15 July 2010 that unless the implementation of the Dublin II Regulation gets suspended, Greece is unable to live up to its international and community committments.[4] The return of asylum seekers from the Netherlands to Greece, where the Dutch Government is well aware that asylum seekers will not have a fair and effective examination of their asylum claim and where they run a real and imminent risk of suffering treatment contrary to Article 3 ECHR, raises questions of international responsibility also of the Dutch Government.

31 August 2010

[1] The following case was made known by the Ecumenical Refugee Programme: In October 2009, a man from Eritrea who was returned under Dublin II was not collected by the Greek authorities at the airport. Since no legal aid was available at the airport and he had no information, he eventually found his way a few weeks later to the ERP in central Athens. His case was communicated to the competent authorities so that he would be allowed to submit an asylum claim. While his return under Dublin II was confirmed by the Greek authorities, the asylum department of the airport denied him access to the asylum procedure and instead raised charges against him for illegal entry into the country.

[2] Legal aid programmes for asylum seekers and refugees in Greece are funded primarily by the European Refugee Fund. Due to delays by the Greek authorities in allocating EU funding, NGOs and organisations have been unable to pay for their lawyers and translators over the past months, most of whom had to leave. For instance, since February 2010, the Ecumenical Refugee Programme has been left without a full-time lawyer and without translators. Its co-ordinator gets occasional help from a part-time volunteer lawyer. The Greek Council for Refugees occupies by now only two lawyers who have not been paid for months, instead of an average of 10 lawyers as was the case over previous years. Assistance offered by NGOs to asylum seekers, including Dublin returnees, has thus seriously diminished.

[3] The lack of procedural safeguards in detention exposes all asylum seekers including Dublin returnees to a very high risk of refoulement. For instance, most recently, August 2010, an Iranian man who had been granted subsidiary protection, was stopped during a regular police control. Even though he carried as he claimed his documents with him and repeatedly told the police in Greek the number of his asylum file, that he is a recognised refugee and that he wants to call UNHCR, the bag with his documents was confiscated and never returned and he was put in detention. A week later, still in detention, he was transferred to Petrou Ralli. His records there were not checked and following his refusal to sign a repatriation paper he was issued with a deportation order. It was only after his case became known and with the intervention of the Ecumenical Refugee Programme before the Police Headquarters at the Ministry, that new documents confirming his status of subsidiary protection were issued to him and he was able to make an application to revoke the deportation order.

[4] see Press Release by Ministry for the Protection of the Citizen: