Since its re-establishment in early 2020, the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum has regularly presented data on the implementation of the Greek asylum system in the form of information notes, interviews with domestic and international media, and statements in Parliament. At the same time, however, the authorities have suspended the publication of statistical information by the Asylum Service and continue not to comply with duties to release detailed data under national legislation. The use of asylum statistics by the Ministry raises questions of methodology and interpretation, liable to bear impact on the reliability of the information it provides.
Μinistry press releases as the sole source of asylum data
The Asylum Service has stopped publishing monthly statistical data from the end of February 2020, without any justification. The statistical reports of the Asylum Service provided detailed monthly figures on the number of applications registered by Regional Asylum Office and Autonomous Asylum Unit, the number and type of decisions taken (refugee status, subsidiary protection, rejection on the merits, inadmissibility by specific ground, withdrawal), recognition rates for key nationalities, as well as extensive information on the implementation of outgoing and incoming Dublin procedures.
In addition, transparency and publication obligations imposed by Greek law on administrative bodies such as the Appeals Authority remain ‘dead letter’ to date. The Appeals Authority has never published quarterly activity reports pursuant to Article 4(3) of Law 4375/2016, in which it should include statistics on appeals lodged, the percentage of cases processed in written and oral procedures, processing times of appeals, recognition rates, applications for annulment lodged against Appeals Committee decisions, applications for legal aid and beneficiaries of legal aid.
Suspending the publication of detailed Asylum Service data leaves a critical knowledge gap as regards the functioning of the asylum procedure in Greece. Such a gap cannot be covered by brief figures made available to the public by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum press releases. In this respect, it is worth highlighting that the Ministry appears to have also stopped the provision of weekly data to the European Commission, as implied by a recent letter of the Director-General for Migration and Home Affairs to the Minister.
In the absence of detailed statistics, the figures presented by the Ministry only allow for a limited understanding of the work of asylum authorities and of the situation of the asylum system. Two examples analysed below concern the productivity of the Asylum Service and the percentage of asylum seekers found to be in need of international protection.
Asylum service productivity
The latest Ministry of Migration and Asylum information note stresses that the issuance of asylum decisions by the Asylum Service rose by 88% in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, in particular due to the increased productivity of the authority in April 2020 which led to 15,853 decisions that month. These figures were recently put forward by the Minister before the European Parliament as a clear indication of enhanced efficiency of asylum procedures.
The above numbers undoubtedly point to an increase in the number of decisions taken by the Asylum Service. Yet, they omit important factors linked to such productivity, since (1) the Asylum Service was not registering new asylum claims from early March to mid-May 2020, due to the suspension of the asylum procedure and the subsequent halt of operations due to COVID-19, and (2) caseworkers did not conduct interviews with asylum seekers during the period of COVID-19 restrictions. The suspension of interviews largely contributed to a rising number of decisions being issued during that period, without undergoing quality control.
As mentioned above, information on asylum applications registered across Greece is no longer made available. According to Eurostat, however, Greece and Estonia were the only European Union Member States registering zero applications in April 2020.
Persistent references to “migrants”, not “refugees”
The Ministry of Migration and Asylum insists on framing current developments as a “migration crisis”, claiming that the majority of arrivals in the country do not have a “refugee profile”. This claim is dispelled by Asylum Service statistics, however. According to the latest information note of the Ministry, the percentage of positive “asylum decisions” as first instance in the first half of 2020 was 44%, as opposed to 33% in the first half of 2019. These percentages are calculated on the basis of “negative decisions” including both in-merit rejections and inadmissibility decisions, thereby conflating cases in which the applicant was found not to be in need of protection with cases where protection needs were not assessed. It should be recalled that Eurostat statistics also conflate rejections on the merits with inadmissibility decisions, thereby making an incorrect representation of recognition rates.
According to a correct reading of recognition rates for the first half of 2019, based on in-merit decisions taken by the Asylum Service, the rate of positive decision was 55.1%, of which 45.3% refugee status and 9.8% subsidiary protection. During that period, the Asylum Service had taken 2,207 inadmissibility decisions on various grounds such as the Dublin Regulation, the “safe third country” concept, subsequent applications etc. A similar practice seems to have been followed in 2020 since, according to data transmitted by the authorities to the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers in the framework of supervision of the execution of the M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece ruling, the Asylum Service took 2,967 inadmissibility decisions in the first months of 2020.
Based on the figures submitted to the Council of Europe, the Asylum Service took 17,986 positive and 12,979 decisions on the merits in the first five months of 2020, pointing to a 53.15% recognition rate at first instance. In light of this, the first instance recognition rate during the first half of this year is in fact higher than the 44% figure presented in the Ministry note.
Whereas the Ministry statistics make no reference to rates for specific countries of origin, the latest available Asylum Service data point to first instance rates of 69.1% for Afghanistan and 98.5% for Syria, the two main countries of origin of arrivals according to Frontex.
- Note that the Asylum Service monthly statistical reports included appeals lodged by country of origin of appellants. ↑