Recognised refugee returned to Greece, destitute, forgotten and undocumented

Recognised refugee returned to Greece, destitute, forgotten and undocumented

“I am supposed to have a status, a refugee status in Europe, but I have nothing.”

At the time of the writing, Farhad has received only the “ADET Decision” and an asylum seeker’s card as a temporary identification document. The issuance of his residence permit (ADET) is still pending. The ADET is a prerequisite for a beneficiary’s access to social security and welfare. The video was finalised in early February 2022 while Farhad* was still without any identity documents.

Farhad*, a 31-year-old recognised refugee, was returned from Germany to Greece at the beginning of July 2021 after spending more than five years in Germany waiting for his asylum claim to be processed. It was a time when German jurisprudence considered, as a general rule, that beneficiaries of international protection should not be returned back to Greece, as they would face inhuman and degrading treatment. 

Farhad, the son of a family of twelve, fled Afghanistan together with his family to save his life. He had been employed with the Special Forces of Afghanistan and his life was under threat from the Taliban. Farhad had already been injured during an explosion and other attacks by the Taliban when he decided to flee his country. He still carries the signs of the attacks on his body and suffers from the mental trauma to date.

Farhad arrived on Chios in 2016 together with his parents, his handicapped sister and other siblings, and sought asylum. While their asylum application was pending, they were faced with squalid reception conditions and the lack of any social support and welfare, and therefore decided to flee Greece. After a long trip through different countries with many hardships, they managed to reach Germany and sought asylum in May 2016.  While Farhad’s parents, minor siblings and disabled sister received German residence permits (Abschiebungsverbot), Farhad and his other adult sister were not considered vulnerable and saw their asylum claims rejected by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) as inadmissible in 2018. Farhad’s rejection was based on the fact that he had been granted refugee status by Greece, a fact that he was not aware of as neither him nor anyone inhis family had been informed of a decision granting them protection before leaving Greece. 

The BAMF decided his return to Greece invoking a letter dated 8 January 2018 of the (then) Greek Ministry of Migration Policy, assuring the German authorities that the rights set out in the Qualification Directive would be upheld in each individual case. In June 2019 the responsible High Administrative Court of Bavaria ruled that such a letter does not constitute an individual guarantee.

“My family received all residence permits, only I didn’t. I am a political refugee, I have been injured and tortured. I am not fine mentally. I need medication.”

Farhad’s appeal against the inadmissibility decision of the BAMF was dismissed by the competent Administrative Court in 2020. Although, the Court accepted that living conditions for beneficiaries of international protection in Greece are “undoubtedly harsh” taking also into account that beneficiaries are not entitled to accommodation as provided in the case of asylum seekers, however, it assumed that healthy, single and young individuals would nevertheless somehow be able to survive under these conditions.

The Court did not consider Farhad to be vulnerable, despite the fact that he had been a victim of serious violence in Afghanistan and had received emergency medical treatment. Furthermore, while in Germany, Farhad was also diagnosed with a severe psychological disorder and trauma as a result of his work with the international forces in Afghanistan.

Even so, the Court considered him as a healthy, non-vulnerable, single man that could be deported to Greece.

Subsequently, Farhad was forcibly returned to Athens last July, after German officers entered, in the break of dawn, his room in the accommodation facility, brought him to the airport and deported him.

Upon his return to Athens, Farhad was handed to the Airport Police Department and was provided with a police note valid for 10 days. According to the note, he should visit the Asylum Service to proceed with his case. Yet, the note mentioned no address where he could turn for assistance or ask for accommodation, or a place to stay. On the contrary, it clearly stated that he lacked a place of residence.

Farhad with no identity document in his hands, no phone and no money had no clue as to where to seek help.  He was advised by compatriots to seek shelter in an asylum seekers’ camp in a suburb of Athens. It is there where he informally resides until today. Following heavy snowfalls in February 2022 and, as part of an ongoing plan to remove all makeshift constructions from the camp he resides, the authorities demolished his tent and placed him in a container with other single men. As a beneficiary of international protection, Farhad, cannot be formally registered as a resident of the camp and does not receive any material conditions or assistance from the State, such as food.

"Seven months I lived in different tents and huts inside the camp. I was asking repeatedly for some proper shelter. Only after the last big cold wave, they moved me to a container. I won’t forget those days in a tent covered by snow. I had just moved out from the barrack made of cartons and woods where I was staying, to offer my place to a homeless single mother and her daughter. I stayed with my friends again in a summer tent. Then heavy snowfalls almost broke our tent. We had to constantly push the snow off our roof from the inside. It was too cold to go out. After a few days snow began melting, and water entered the tent. In the container I am now there is no heating and it is still cold but it cannot be compared to the cold I felt these days of snow and I still feel it in my bones.”

Eight months after his arrival in Greece, Farhad still has not received his residence permit. Until recently he was waiting for an appointment with the responsible asylum office. As instructed by the police upon arrival, he repeatedly visited the Asylum Service to issue his residence permit or a temporary identification document. 

During his visits to the responsible Regional Asylum Office, Farhad was refused access and was told to request an appointment online, a procedure which is near to impossible for people who lack the required language and technical skills and assistance, in particular for those deprived access to basic necessities. Even when he managed to send an email, he did not receive a response. 

After RSA lawyers undertook his case, they also addressed the Asylum Service in writing in order for Farhad to obtain his residence permit (ADET), and requested that he at least be granted a temporary card or other identification document to demonstrate his identity to the authorities and engage with public services and other parties. Despite successive appeals to different regional Asylum Offices of the Attica region surrounding Athens, none met the request.

Following further communication with the Regional Asylum Directorate, Farhad was, finally, given an appointment, seven months after his return to Greece. Yet, this appointment only serves for receiving not the residence card (ADET) itself but an “ADET Decision”, a document necessary for triggering the process to issue his residence permit which is done in a separate procedure.

Regrettably, this long-awaited appointment was postponed on the scheduled day, as the competent Regional Asylum Office faced technical issues, and took place only a few days ago. At the time of writing, Farhad has received only the “ADET Decision” and an asylum seeker’s card as a temporary identification document. The issuance of his residence permit (ADET) is still pending. The ADET is a prerequisite for a beneficiary’s access to social security and welfare. 

It is worth noting that for almost 8 months Farhad had not even been provided with a document to prove his awarded status as beneficiary. The complete deprivation of legal documents for all these months barred Farhad from all access to public authorities and transactions with private services or individuals and entities in Greece. He was not even able to certify his signature before the police authorities or Citizens Service Centres (KEP). 

Since his return to Greece in July 2021, Farhad has been living in destitution without access to social rights and deprived of a stable and safe living environment. Given the absence of the required documents he cannot take any action to find accommodation. Even homeless shelters require the possession of a residence permit. Nor is he able to apply for social benefits (guaranteed minimum income), receive a social security number (AMKA), a Tax Identification Number (AFM), or access medical or psychiatric services or needed therapy, let alone open a bank account or work. 

Significantly, without documents, Farhad had no access to Covid-19 vaccination. It is worth noticing that in order to be allowed to enter the building of the competent asylum office someone needs to furnish proof of covid-19 vaccination or recovery or a negative rapid test result, and therefore a social security number, either a temporary (PAAYPA or PAMKA) or permanent one (AMKA) and identification documents is required. None of these existed in Farhad’s case until recently.

“I had nothing when I arrived back in Athens. Not even a phone. No papers. No money. Now I have been here for seven months. I have tried to register in the camp, but they say it is not possible because I have asylum in Greece. I have lived months until now without a proper home. I spent months in different tents and shacks before being placed in a container a few days ago. I still have no papers. I am scared to go out of the camp and get arrested. In the camp they always tell me I have no right to stay. I fear they’ll put me in the streets one day. I need my medication, I need to vaccinate against Covid-19 – but I cannot. I eat what other people in the camp share with me. Sometimes I don’t eat. I have no other clothes than what I have on my body. I am cold. For four months I walk through the streets of Athens with friends who have a small trolley to collect cartons from the garbage and earn a few euros whenever possible. I cannot believe that I am a refugee in Greece and I don’t even have a paper. I don’t see a future. I don’t understand why they accepted me back. I am a recognized refugee in Europe without anything.”

Eight months after his return to Greece, Farhad is still struggling to survive as uncertainty and degrading living conditions further aggravate his mental state. 

Sadly, he is now better placed to answer the question asked to him by the judge during the court proceedings in Germany, that is, why can he not return to Greece alone (while all his family lives and has a legal right to remain in Germany). Farhad now knows the answer very well: “In Greece I have refugee status but I have nothing!”

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