Protect the most vulnerable to ensure protection for everyone!

25.3.2020 ‘Restore legality to protect refugees and the society at large amidst the pandemic’

Open letter signed by χχ Organisations, Initiatives……

To

  • The President of Greece, Katerina Sakellaropoulou
  • The President of the Hellenic Parliament, Constantine An. Tassoula
  • The Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mistotaki
  • The President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli
  • The President of the European Council, Charles Michel
  • The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen
  • The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet
  • The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović
  • The Director General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom

Athens, 25 March 2020 – Recalling the letter issued 6 March 2020, signed by more than 200 organizations throughout Europe, the undersigned organizations reiterate the dangers stemming from persisting in current arrangements on the management of the reception of refugees and the respect of their right to seek asylum in Greece. Apart from violating national, EU and international laws, amid the pandemic, these arrangements also pose a major public health danger, arising from overcrowding in Greece’s Reception and Identification Centers (RICs) and in the country’s detention centers.

Refugees, many amongst whom children, who entered Greece with the aim of seeking protection are being detained for the purposes of return, as a result of the Emergency Legislative Decree (E.L.D) issued on 1 March 2020. The E.L.D. suspended the registration of asylum applications and allows the immediate deportation of those entering the Greek territory to their countries of origin or Turkey. A large number of refugees are now being held in prisons and in formal and informal detention centers that keep springing up throughout Greece. This is happening without taking care to ensure minimum standards of hygiene or protection, even during this public health emergency. They are deprived of the right to apply for asylum and detained under threat of deportation. In a breach of all international Conventions that protect the right to asylum, Greek Courts have imposed severe penalties on them.

We stress that the suspension of the right to seek asylum and the violation of the principle of non-refoulement is an unprecedented abrogation of international obligations in post-war Europe. At the same time the backlog and uncertainty is growing daily, following the suspension of the operations of the Greek Asylum Service, in the context of social distancing to curb the spread of the coronavirus, as no interim procedures are defined.

More importantly, the coronavirus pandemic is threatening to affect refugee accommodation sites and camps. The camps, especially on the Aegean islands, suffer from severe overcrowding and lack of adequate sanitary facilities, making it impossible to ensure social distancing and hygiene conditions for both residents and employees. This poses a major threat to public health for both asylum seekers and for society as large. Similarly, the significant increase in the number of third-country nationals placed in administrative detention, in the weeks before and especially since the E.L.D., notwithstanding issues of legality, puts the health of detainees and employees alike at grave risk.

We address all competent Greek authorities, requesting:

  • To take immediate public health steps, designed to protect those residing in camps, camp employees and society at large. The first step should be to urgently decongest the islands, by prioritizing the transfer of the most vulnerable asylum seekers to the Greek mainland or to other EU Member States, in a manner that will protect the health of all involved, as well as public health.
  • To rescind the E.L.D, which is due to expire on 2 April 2020; to clarify that refugees who have entered Greece after 1 March 2020 will be granted protection and to suspend deportation decisions that, especially during the pandemic, jeopardize the lives, health, freedom and basic rights of returnees. Reinstating access to asylum, and in particular respecting the principle of non-refoulement, will restore the state of legality.
  • To use alternatives to detention for all administrative detainees throughout Greece and to prevent police authorities from ongoing arrests on account of the lack of legal documents, for the duration of the pandemic.
  • To take all necessary measures to ensure that, even under these emergency conditions, everyone wishing to apply for asylum will be able to do so before the Greek Asylum Service, in a way that safeguards the health of refugees and employees alike.

We once more address the Institutions of the European Union and all member states, requesting:  

  • To safeguard the right to seek asylum, one of the core rights underlying the fabric of post-war Europe, by exercising their responsibility to ensure all EU member states comply with their international obligations.
  • To establish timely and fair relocation mechanisms that will, at minimum, take the most vulnerable, such as children and people with disabilities, away from the Greek islands and into appropriate accommodation within the reach of health services. As this is a health emergency, relocation should be facilitated, keeping only checks.
  • To support the Greek Government in its effort to safeguard public health, which can only be achieved through the extensive decongestion of the RICs, the adoption of protective measures that include the refugee population and, particularly, through avoiding “ghettoization” or generalized detention.

We address the bodies of the Council of Europe and the United Nations, requesting:

  • To provide Greece with all possible assistance to avoid the public health crisis that could result, particularly, from the situation in the camps.
  • To strengthen the monitoring procedures and oversight for the European Union’s and its member states’ compliance with International Conventions and Regulations.

In closing, we call on everyone to restore legality and be mindful of not neglecting refugees, and other vulnerable groups, in times of crisis. Prevailing conditions in the camps, coupled with the inadvertent effects of suspending access to asylum, not only undermine our laws, but can undermine public health in its entirety. These considerations only act to amplify our original plea to restore legality and safeguard our common European system of values.

LIST OF SIGNATORIES

  • ACTIONAID HELLAS
  • AITIMA (Greece)
  • ANASA CULTURAL CENTER (Greece)
  • ARSIS – ASSOCIATION FOR THE SOCIAL SUPPORT OF YOUTH
  • ASYLOS (UK)
  • BABEL DAY CETNRE (Greece)
  • CARITAS HELLAS
  • CENTRE DIOTIMA (GREECE)
  • DUTCH COUNCIL FOR REFUGEES
  • GENERATION 2.0 RED (Greece)
  • GREATER MANCHESTER IMMIGRATION AID UNIT (GMIAU) (UK)
  • GREEK COUNCIL FOR REFUGEES (GCR)
  • GREEK FORUM OF MIGRANTS
  • HELP REFUGEES / CHOOSE LOVE
  • HUMANRIGHTS360 (Greece)
  • Institute of Race Relations (UK)
  • INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR ERITREAN REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS (ICERAS)
  • INTERSOS HELLAS
  • INTERSOS ORGANIZZAZIONE UMANITARIA ONLUS (Italy)
  • ITALIAN COUNCIL FOR REFUGEES
  • JESUIT REFUGEE SERVICE GREECE (JRS GREECE)
  • JRS – PORTUGAL
  • LAW CENTRES NETWORK (UK)
  • LEEDS NO BORDERS (UK)
  • LEGAL CENTRE LESVOS (Greece)
  • MEDECINS DU MONDE – GREECE (MDM – GREECE)
  • MIGRANT VOICE (UK)
  • NETWORK FOR CHILDREN’S RIGHTS (Greece)
  • ODYSSEA (Greece)
  • OMANIAE VZW (Belgium)
  • PAR – PLATAFORMA DE APOIO AOS REFUGIADOS (Portugal)
  • PLATFORM FOR INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATION ON UNDOCUMENTED MIGRANTS (PICUM)
  • PHYSICIANS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (Finland)
  • QUAKER ASYLUM AND REFUGEE NETWORK (QARN) (UK)
  • REFUGEE LEGAL SUPPORT (RLS) (Greece)
  • REFUGEE RIGHTS EUROPE (RRE) (Belgium/France/Greece/Italy/UK)
  • REFUGEE SUPPORT AEGEAN (RSA) (Greece)
  • SAFE PASSAGE INTERNATIONAL
  • THE ROUTES OF THE OLIVE TREE (Greece)