Mytilene, 17 September 2020: Only a few days after the fire that completely destroyed Moria camp in Lesvos, and while the majority of the asylum seekers remain homeless and without guaranteed access to basic services, the authorities’ decision to immediately restart asylum procedures on the island jeopardizes asylum seekers’ fundamental rights.
More specifically, according to the Lesvos Regional Asylum Office’s announcement on 15-09-2020, from Monday 21-09-2020 a scheme of remote interviews will begin, for the first time in Greece, for the asylum seekers residing in the new facility at the former military firing range in the area of Kara Tepe, without having ensured that legal representatives and lawyers have access to the site.
It should be noted that neither asylum seekers nor legal organisations have so far had any kind of information from the Greek authorities regarding the aforementioned facility and its nature, and no information at all about the new system that the authorities are planning for the examination of applications for international protection (procedures, interview rooms, staff, case workers etc).
Despite all of the above, from today asylum seekers will start receiving calls to present themselves at the location where the remote interviews will be conducted, while there is no information regarding their legal representatives’ access to the premises and legal representation during the interview. At the same time, it is unclear whether the platform chosen for conducting the remote interviews will safeguard the confidentiality of such a serious procedure and will guarantee the protection of the personal data of the persons interviewed.
We, the undersigned legal organizations, express our serious objections to the premature restarting of the process of examining applications for international protection, without the necessary guarantees, of people who are currently experiencing, once more, a severe humanitarian crisis, and are being deprived of access to any form of medical, psychosocial and legal support.
As we have already stressed in our joint letter to the competent authorities on 14-09-2020, before restarting the asylum procedure the authorities ought to address a series of legal issues and questions that have emerged, in a way that will ensure that asylum seekers are able to fully exercise their legal rights and to respond to their legal obligations.
It is reported that currently asylum seekers are deprived of access to food, water, washing and sanitation facilities, as well as to legal, psychosocial and other necessary services. The fact that they are forbidden to exit the facility makes them unable to meet their legal obligations. Namely, among others, they cannot submit residence certificates before the Appeals’ Authority, which is a legal prerequisite for their asylum request not to be automatically rejected in the second degree of the asylum procedure. The hasty conducting of remote interviews under the aforementioned circumstances renders particularly difficult Greece’s obligation to provide appropriate support to asylum seekers in need of special procedural guarantees, as provided by article 67 of L. 4636/2019, and thus to safeguard the quality of the procedure at first degree.
In view of these exceptional circumstances, the large number of questions that remain unanswered, and the lack of an official announcement by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum and the Lesvos Regional Asylum Office, we reiterate once more our request for the immediate suspension, with retrospective effect from 02-09-2020, of (i) all the asylum seekers’ legal obligations, (ii) all the relevant deadlines and, most importantly, (iii) all interviews, until it has been ensured that asylum seekers are in a position to exercise fully their legal rights, in the context of a fair and effective asylum procedure.
Furthermore, we ask for the explicit suspension of the examination of appeals before the Appeals’ Authority, taking into consideration the current circumstances on the island of Lesvos.
We call on the Greek State to immediately act to cover the basic needs of asylum seekers who have been affected by the fires in Lesvos, to ensure access to organisations that provide medical, legal, social, psychological and other necessary support to asylum seekers and to facilitate communication between them.
We call on the competent authorities to respect the rule of law and to abstain from any actions that compromise asylum seekers’ rights, as such actions do not conform to our legal acquis but rather violate national and EU law, causing irreparable damage to asylum seekers. Last but not least, we believe that such actions are exposing our country to future convictions by European and International courts and institutions.
The undersigning organisations:
Diotima Centre for Research on Women’s Issues
European Lawyers in Lesvos
Greek Council for Refugees
FENIX Humanitarian Legal Aid
Legal Centre Lesvos
Refugee Support in the Aegean (RSA)