GREECE: Protect the most vulnerable to ensure protection for everyone!

Letter originally published on Greek Forum of Refugees website, 25 March 2020 – accessible here

Pdf of the letter with all the signatories can be downloaded here


The President of Greece, Katerina Sakellaropoulou

The President of the Hellenic Parliament, Constantine An. Tassoulas

The Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis

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 on 6 March 2020, signed by more than 250 organizations throughout Europe, the undersigned organizations reiterate the dangers stemming from persisting in current arrangements on the management of the reception of asylum seekers and the respect for 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.

Asylum seekers, amongst them many 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 1March 2020. The E.L.D. has suspended the registration of asylum applications allowing for the immediate deportation of those entering the Greek territory to their countries of origin or Turkey. A large number of refugees and migrants are now being held in prisons and in formal and informal detention centers that keep springing up throughout Greece. This is happening without ensuring minimum standards of hygiene or protection, even during this public health emergency. They are deprived of the right to apply for asylum and are detained under the threat of deportation. In a breach of all international Conventions that protect the right to seek 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-refoulementis an unprecedented abrogation of international obligations in post-war Europe. At the same time, following the Greek Asylum Service’s suspension of operations, in the context of social distancing to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the backlog of asylum applications and the uncertainty of asylum seekers who arrived in Greece before the 1st of March are growing daily, as no interim procedures have been 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 preceding and especially those following 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 immediately protect public health with 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 those asylum seekers who are most at risk 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 implement alternatives to detention for all administrative detainees throughout Greece, and to prevent ongoing arrests by the police authorities 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 asylum seekers 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 necessary checks to avoid spread of Covid-19.

  • 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 population of refugees and migrants, and particularly through avoidingghettoization” 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 International Human Rights Standards.

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 commonEuropean system of values.