Α joint letter was addressed to Greek authorities by 7 NGOs, regarding the imposition and non-lifting of geographical restrictions on international protection seekers having entered the Greek territory through the maritime borders. As legal aid partners we can confirm that this challenging situation is leaving many vulnerable cases that had to flee the islands in a de facto vacuum that may affect the protection space in Greece.
Recipients: Central Asylum Service, Greek Police, Ministry of Migration Policy, General Secretariat of Reception (contact details to be added)
Copied: Ombudsman, Children’s Ombudsman
We would herby like to draw your attention and bring under your kind consideration the issue of the imposition and non-lifting of geographical restrictions on international protection seekers having entered the Greek territory through the maritime borders. As legal aid partners we can confirm that this challenging situation is leaving many vulnerable cases that had to flee the islands in a de facto vacuum that may affect the protection space in Greece.
Following the implementation of the EU-Turkey Joint Declaration of 18 March 2016, the Hellenic Police and/or the Asylum Service started imposing restrictions on the movement of all those entering the country across the sea border without the formal documents until the end of the asylum procedure or their removal from the country (“geographical restrictions”), without always assessing whether applicants fell within the exceptions of Article 60 of Law 4375/2016.
It should be noted that among those people of concern, many have particular vulnerabilities that fall within the exceptions of Article 60 § 4 (f) of Law 4375/2016, either pre-existing or occurring during their stay in the island, due to the harsh living conditions, including detention conditions and living in RICs. As a result, many vulnerable asylum seekers are forced to violate their geographical restrictions and reach the mainland in a state of emergency, affecting their vulnerability and potentially endangering the life, health and physical integrity of their family.
During their stay in the mainland, the maintenance of the geographical restriction impedes their access to the asylum procedure and consequently to the services and benefits provided to asylum seekers (i.e. accommodation, food, allowance, medical and psychosocial support), increasing their vulnerability and exposing them to further risks. Those who have tried to invoke the application of Article 60 §4 f of Law 4375/2016 are excluded from the actual exercise of their legal rights, as the authorities, in their vast majority, refuse to consider their eligibility as long as they are in the mainland, and ask the applicants, irrespective of their vulnerability, to return on their own expenses and means to the island, while in many cases they are arrested by the Police and prosecuted in accordance with Article 182 of the Penal Code.
Characteristic is the case of two asylum seekers who, in a judgment of the Criminal Court (decision No. 2627/2017 Thessaloniki), were found innocent in relation to the aforementioned criminal offense (182 PC), and were subsequently ordered by the police to return on their own means to the island, following their discharge. In the case of a patient, the geographic restriction was provisionally lifted under the condition of returning to the same living conditions in the island after the end of the treatment, but the disease itself was intensified due to the conditions on the island.
This practice tends to be intensified, as there are many cases where geographical restrictions were imposed without being lawful, or where the Greek Police or the Asylum Service refused, expressly or implicitly, to lift the imposed geographical restrictions, citing lack of competence in the mainland. Among them there are cases of gendered based violence survivors, serious psychiatric incidents, including those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for whom the restriction was maintained despite the Public Prosecutor’s order for transfer to a psychiatric clinic in the mainland, addicts that need treatment not provided in the islands, single-parent families, unaccompanied minors, Dublin Regulation cases, people with serious medical problems, e.g. cancer, elderly (over 65), minors, but also cases that are vulnerable without falling under the vulnerability categories prescribed under the law, such as survivors of human organs trafficking, large families with many underage children, as well as people threatened or injured by gangs operating in the islands.
In view of the above, we consider it necessary to bring under your attention the following:
- The imposition of an administrative residence restriction is a measure of freedom limitation alternative to detention, therefore its systematic and indiscriminative enforcement is arbitrary. Such restrictions may only be imposed on the basis of an individualized and sufficiently reasoned judgment, provided that the measure is strictly necessary and reasonable.
- Before imposing any geographical restriction, Your Services need to assure the substantive assessment of the vulnerability, as well as the other explicit exceptions (family reunification) imposed by article 60 par. 4f of Law 4375/2016, in order to limit the above mentioned phenomena in the future. The decision on the imposition of geographical restrictions, including on the non-existence of grounds for exception, must include a complete and detailed statement of reasons as required by the Constitution for all unfavourable individual administrative acts.
- In the event of a vulnerability of a case with geographical restriction, either on the islands or on the mainland, the public Service, which identifies it, should refer it – if necessary – to the Service responsible for the assessment of the vulnerability, which then should either lift the geographical restriction, or propose without delay its lifting by the Service that imposed it without the need for the person to go back to the island if s/he is in the mainland.
- The decision on the application for the lifting of the geographical restriction must be written, fully justified, legally served on the person concerned and contain an indication of the remedy, which may be exercised, and the time-limit within which it may be exercised.
Hellenic League for Human Rights
GREEK COUNCIL FOR REFUGEES
TERRE DES HOMMES GREECE