RSA Comments on the Reform of the International Protection Act

Introduction

On 10 April 2020, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum submitted a bill entitled “Improvement of migration legislation” to public consultation.[1] The reform of the legislative framework of international protection in Greece comes only three months following the entry into force of the overhaul of asylum legislation, brought about by the International Protection Act (L 4636/2019, IPA) adopted on 1 November 2019.

In the explanatory memorandum to the bill, the Ministry details that the amendment of the IPA aims at speeding up asylum procedures and at “responding to practical challenges in the implementation of the law”, as well as bringing several textual improvements thereto.[2] The rationale behind the reform gives pause, given that the new legislative provisions have been applied for a very short period of time and the proposed amendments do not bring about substantial improvements thereto. Against this backdrop, Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) continues to express deep concern about the government’s hasty adoption of legal modification and further restriction of procedural guarantees in asylum procedures, without prior evaluation of existing rules or a coherent plan to improve the Greek asylum system.[3]

At the same time, the launch of yet another reform in the area of international protection presents an opportunity to improve the existing framework, both in terms technical corrections – proposed in various parts of the text by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum – and of sounder transposition of European Union (EU) law and conformity with international standards. Accordingly, RSA comments on the articles submitted to public consultation contain concrete recommendations with a view to improving current legislation.

This note focuses on RSA observations on the provisions relating to asylum legislation. A more detailed analysis of RSA’s positions, including suggested amendments, is available in Greek.

Summary of positions

  1. Registration: The inclusion of Regional Reception and Identification Services as “responsible receiving authorities” for the lodging of asylum claims should be resisted, given that the Asylum Service retains sole responsibility for the issuance of documents such as the international protection applicant card and PAAYPA number, and the conduct of Dublin procedures. RSA also recommends extending interview guarantees such as audio-recording to the stage of registration.
  2. Interpretation: Article 11, allowing for the omission of personal interviews where the applicant does not wish to have the procedure conducted in official language of their country of origin, should be deleted. Expanding the grounds for omitting personal interviews undermines the guarantees afforded by the Asylum Procedures Directive by unduly restricting asylum seekers’ right to be heard and the quality of first-instance procedures.
  3. Legal assistance: The introduction of a “merits test” will deprive the majority of appellants of the right to legal assistance and will add burden to already overstretched Appeals Committees, as they will be required to examine legal aid applications prior to assessing applicants’ right to remain on the territory and to processing appeals on the merits. RSA also urges for the repeal of problematic provisions in force relating to the condition of certified signature for power of attorney and to the automatic appointment of lawyers as representatives ad litem.
  4. Implicit withdrawal: Albeit improved, the proposed formulation of Article 81(1) IPA remains incompatible with Article 28(1) of the Asylum Procedures Directive, since it still makes no provision on the possibility for the determining authority to discontinue the examination of the application. This leaves legal uncertainty as to the process the Asylum Service should follow when a claim is implicitly withdrawn and may not be rejected as unfounded. RSA recommends inserting the possibility to discontinue the procedure upon implicit withdrawal.
  5. Prioritisation: RSA recommends reinstating vulnerable persons and manifestly well-founded cases within the categories of cases eligible for prioritisation, in line with the spirit of the Asylum Procedures Directive and established practice of the Asylum Service.
  6. Safe third country: RSA recommends a consultation with a view to developing legislative measures to properly transpose the methodology rules required for the use of the “safe third country” concept under Article 38(2) of the Asylum Procedures Directive, as interpreted by the CJEU in LH. Until such rules are enacted, the “safe third country” concept under Greek law is contrary to EU law and should not be applied based on the IPA.
  7. Appeals: RSA reiterates its recommendation to repeal derogations from applicants’ right to remain on the territory during the appeal procedure, bearing in mind serious difficulties raised during the implementation of the IPA.
  8. Detention of asylum seekers: RSA recommends deletion of Article 21(2) which imposes detention in a pre-removal centre upon rejection of the appeal and thereby amounts to a flagrant violation of Greece’s duty to resort to detention only as a last resort and the right to an effective remedy.
  9. Age assessment: RSA recommends reinstating the benefit of the doubt principle during age assessment procedures, in line with international and EU law.

Footnotes

  1. Ministry of Migration and Asylum, Draft Law: Improvement of migration legislation, 10 April 2020, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3b48srt.
  2. Ministry of Migration and Asylum, Draft Law: Improvement of migration legislation – Explanatory Memorandum, 10 April 2020, 1, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2VhH3eZ.
  3. Βλ. RSA, Παρατηρήσεις επί του Σχεδίου Νόμου περί Διεθνούς Προστασίας, October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2XuMZUs.

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