[Evros, gateway to Europe 4] The reception and treatment of refugees under the pressure of the EU Turkey agreement

(B2, in Greece) Some asylum seekers in Greece are now making an appointment for 2025 with an officer of the national asylum service! This delirious delay is the image of a situation that is struggling to stabilize. The journey of asylum seekers in Greece remains very laborious

« Greece's national asylum system has long been well below standard. It took several years to build an asylum system in line with European standards “, indicates an actor of this site. Significant progress has been made since 2015. Today, the system is still undersized to meet needs.

Embolism on the islands

An identity check for migrants in Athens (© B2/ES)

In recent months, the situation in the five main islands of the Aegean has again made the headlines in Greece. With her, images of children living without shelter. Of families facing winter in destitution. The reception device is not clogged. It implodes (1). This has prompted protests in recent weeks. Residents on one side. With sometimes violent slogans. " We want our Islands and our lives back ". At the beginning of February, it was the asylum seekers who, in turn, held up placards to demand dignified treatment. While on the mainland, in Athens, checks on migrants are regular.

The perverse effect of the EU-Turkey agreement

Tag on a wall in Thessaloniki (© B2/ES)

In fact, the journey of refugees and asylum seekers has become more complicated since the EU-Turkey agreement, the migration pact, operational since March 20, 2016. On the islands, asylum seekers are effectively blocked while their situation is being examined. They must stay there until they have 'the interview. Gold, " hotspots were built for a much smaller number of candidates to receive ". While refugees are stuck here, others are arriving regularly. At the rate of ten new arrivals on the islands per month, the pressure does not have time to go down.

Expandable Exam Duration

The processing time for an asylum application can take years. The Minister for the Protection of Citizens, Michalis Chrisochoidis, said it in the precincts of the Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) of the European Parliament, last November: “ You have to wait three months to get your first asylum appointment ". In addition to this already long initial period, there are any time limits for appeals. This causes the congestion observed today on the islands. There are not enough officers to collect and process testimonies. Everyone has to wait. And some live in the open.

The new asylum law

Before the year 2020, vulnerable people, such as pregnant women or sick people, were given priority to reach the continent. This changed with the reform law of the Greek asylum system adopted this autumn 2019. Since January 1, “ the spirit of the law is that everyone should be interviewed on the island and only then will be transferred to the mainland if they fit into the priority categories explains an expert.

The continent's delays

On the continent, the journey of refugees and asylum seekers is not necessarily faster. Because asylum seekers who arrive by the land border must complete an additional and preliminary step, by registering via a web platform. This pre-registration step conditions the granting of a first appointment. It can take months...

Hosting rather than containers?

Containers from the Athens camps (© B2/ES)

The accommodation of asylum seekers is the big problem. In fact, Greece has never had a reception system for asylum seekers adapted to needs. In 2016, at the peak of arrivals and as the Balkan route closed at the North Macedonian border, a makeshift camp grew and grew, until the chilling images of these people sinking into the torrents of mud, force the dismantling of the camp by the Greek authorities. With the support of other member states, such as France, to relocate refugees. The refugees were distributed to camps scattered across northern Greece, often disused military bases.

Accommodation to be built

The ESTIA program has been run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since 2016. It has made it possible to mobilize nearly 25 places in rented apartments in various cities and towns on the mainland, and even in Crete. They are all busy. The government announces the opening of 000 additional places. But these projects come up against the discontent of local elected officials and part of the population. " Many say they are not consulted or associated with these projects, while they think they have already done enough to welcome refugees. The question of internal redistribution is similar to that between the Member States of the European Union. Everyone says why at my place? “says a diplomat.

Political shift 

Tags in Thessaloniki (© B2/ES)

The political climate is no stranger to this outcry. In the opinion of all the interlocutors met, this climate has changed with the new right-wing government of Kyriákos Mitsotákis, which succeeded that of Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the left-wing Syriza party, last July. " The issue of migrants has not been at the center of political debates so far, even in the campaign this summer. But the situation is changing, with harsher rhetoric “Slips a seasoned political observer. The asylum reform (International Protection Act) aimed at speeding up the procedures makes many defenders of the right of asylum cough. The organizations engaged in the reception of the refugees have the still discrete criticism. In contrast to organizations like MSF, which openly denounce the setbacks in fundamental rights. In particular on access to care for the most fragile (read article to follow).

(Emmanuelle Stoesser)

  1. Photographer's aerial shots Dimitris Tosidis provide striking evidence.

Journey of the asylum seeker

As soon as they arrive in Greece, the asylum seeker must register in a 'front desk service', the Reception and Identification Service (RIS). The police and Frontex collect his identity. It is then necessary to be registered by the asylum service which finds out the country, the language that he wishes to speak for the rest of his steps, the papers he has. Without this 'registration', impossible to get an appointment to submit an asylum application. The appointment is fixed by the Greek Asylum Service. The date will be more or less distant depending on other necessary steps, such as a medical appointment (to establish a health problem). The given date often depends on the availability of interpreters, which one can easily imagine as being essential, as well as the officers in charge of collecting the person's story. The officer who collects the story instructs the file. It gives an opinion, favorable or unfavorable. The final opinion is issued by the Greek Asylum Service. The person has the right to lodge an appeal if they contest the decision. If this appeal confirms the decision of the asylum service, the person is considered to have been dismissed. The EU Turkey agreement provides that she can be sent back to Turkey.

All the articles from our report [Evros, gateway to Europe]

  1. The Evros River, the other gateway for refugees to Europe
  2. Turkey is pulling the strings at the EU's external borders (G. Koumoutsakos)
  3. In Greece, the number of pending asylum applications explodes
  4. The reception and treatment of refugees under the pressure of the EU-Turkey agreement
  5. EASO will double its workforce in Greece
  6. UNHCR, guardian of the right to asylum, in a balanced position
  7. For MSF, the only crisis is that of a lack of political will
  8. Sharifi G. wanted to join his sister in Germany, he was imprisoned in Greece

Emmanuelle Stroesser

A journalist for magazines and the press, Emmanuelle specializes in humanitarian issues, development, asylum and migration and human rights.