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The dismantling of the Greek asylum system

6 Questions & Answers on the unlawful Greek “safe third country” list

The dismantling of the Greek asylum system

6 Questions & Answers on the unlawful Greek “safe third country” list

The “safe third country” concept is applied as an inadmissibility ground. As a result of the Decision, the Greek Asylum Service dismisses the asylum claims of asylum seekers originating from these five countries without looking into their merits.

The decision introduces the rejection of asylum claims as inadmissible and converts persons of the above five countries from people in need of protection to ‘returnees’ to Turkey.  Asylum seekers from these nationalities represent more than 67% of asylum seekers in the country.

Tens of thousands of people, families, men, women and unaccompanied children will end up at risk of refoulement, trapped again in detention, without documents or rights.

The Joint Ministerial Decision applies to all asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh who have not yet been interviewed by the Asylum Service, including people who have been residing in the country for several years. As a result, three out of five asylum seekers in Greece are denied an examination of their case on the merits.

From 2016 to present, the asylum authorities applied the “safe third country” concept to Syrian nationals in the fast-track border procedure. However, following the Decision, the “safe third country” concept is applied throughout the country – both on the islands and the mainland – regardless of the type of procedure used. Therefore, people who are not under the fast-track border procedure on the Eastern Aegean islands, including vulnerable persons, are now also affected. It also includes those denied family reunification with family members in other EU Member States, as well as asylum seekers returned from EU Member States.

Only unaccompanied children below the age of 15 are exempt from the application of the Decision.

The Asylum Service interviews asylum seekers covered by the Decision solely on “safe third country” grounds. Interviewers are instructed to ask individuals only about their treatment in Turkey and to refrain from collecting information on the reasons for which they fled their home country. As a result, crucial information on the personal circumstances of asylum seekers is disregarded in the asylum procedure.

The process is very rapidly conducted: interviews for new asylum seekers are scheduled shortly after arrival and decisions are issued a few days or weeks after the interview. The majority of first instance decisions seen so far are negative.

The Decision does not meet the standards set by international and EU law, namely the compliance with the non-refoulement principle. Moreover, it does not even meet the required methodology rules setting out the process and criteria to assess whether a country qualifies as a “safe third country” for an applicant. The Decision only refers to a recommendation from the Asylum Service, not officially made public to date*. This recommendation only collates sources of information and reports on Turkey without any further analysis or assessment of how the safety criteria are met.

Therefore, the Decision is unlawful.

* The recommendation was obtained by civil society organisations.

The Decision declares Turkey to be safe for refugees, even though it evidently is not:

  • Turkey is not fully bound by the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol on Refugees: Non-European refugees – in this case nationals of Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, defined as ‘returnees’ in the Greek decision – do not fall under an international protection status pursuant to the Geneva Convention.
  • Official reports and constant jurisprudence of international courts and bodies demonstrate systematic and longstanding flagrant violations of human rights and the rule of law in Turkey.
  • Turkey persecutes human rights defenders, has open military fronts with minorities, has invaded Syria and contributed to forced displacement.

Accordingly, Turkey is not a “safe third country”.

RSA supports and represents asylum seekers in navigating the new policy at all stages of the asylum procedure on the islands and the mainland. Our lawyers are helping people prepare for their interviews with the Asylum Service and challenge negative decisions before the Appeals Committees and the courts while contesting the compliance of the Decision with international, constitutional and EU law. Practitioners are exploring avenues to litigate the Decision itself before domestic courts.

RSA has previously mounted legal challenges of the use of the “safe third country” concept by Greece before domestic and international courts. Related cases are pending before the European Court of Human Rights.  

More information published by RSA can be found below:

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