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Punitive bill for asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors

On 7 March 2023, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum submitted the draft “Immigration Code” to public consultation. Although the bill counts a total of 180 articles, yet it was tabled in a truncated one-week consultation, until last Tuesday, March 14. This is an unjustified deviation from the general two-week rule laid down in law, while no “sufficiently substantiated grounds”  have been put forward for resort to shorter deadlines.

In the opinion of Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), the process of public consultation is an extremely important indicator of the functioning of a rule of law, and should be given substantial importance – and sufficient time for its conduct. Besides, the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee of the European Parliament, upon completion of a visit to Greece on March 6-8, denounced among other rule of law issues the kakonomia”/maladministration in the Greek law-making process, including ineffective and non-essential public consultations.

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) submitted its detailed recommendations to the public consultation of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, based on its experience and action, in the context of legal assistance combined with social support, as well as research and advocacy for highlighting broader issues and challenges of the asylum system at the Greek and European level.

In our recommendations, we present our observations on the specific effects of the selected provisions of the bill on the protection of persons in need of international protection, with an emphasis on the provisions on the exemption of humanitarian assistance from the felony sanctions for transport to Greece (article 25), family reunification (articles 83 et seq.) and residence permits (articles 165-167). We express our strong protest and concern for the restrictions placed by the bill on residence permits for humanitarian and exceptional grounds (Article 134) but also the exclusion of those who arrived in Greece as unaccompanied children from actual access to legal residence (Articles 134 & 162).

In addition, we reiterate civil society recommendations, which we have already formulated in a previous public consultation of Law 4825/2021 on the “Reform of deportation and return procedures”, to achieve, at a minimum, the necessary harmonization of Greek legislation with EU law. Amending the provisions of the Asylum Code and related legislation is all the more pressing in light of infringement procedures initiated by the European Commission against Greece for incorrect transposition of EU law, namely through letters of formal notice on the Return Directive 2008/115/EC in September 2022 and on the Reception Directive 2013/33/EU in January 2023.

We also note that, although the laws in force (L 4251/2014 and respectively L 3386/2005) – as well as this bill – exclude, by definition from their scope of application, persons subject to international protection provisions, the instruments contain a range of provisions that are adversely applied against them by the Greek administration and courts, subject to no exception, and therefore persons in need of international protection are treated as irregular migrants and faced with extremely stringent penalties in relation to entry and/or residence in the country.

The drafters of the bill purport to “streamline existing categories of residence permits, by repealing those stemming from national provisions and introducing them under similar categories of residence permits set out in EU law, as well as grouping them based on purpose and relevance…” This, however, not only is not served but on the contrary is deconstructed in the draft law, resulting to the exclusion of persons who live and are integrated into Greek society and in particular rejected asylum seekers, including children who arrived in Greece as unaccompanied minors and remain in the country as adults, from the possibility to obtain a residence permit.

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