Statewatch article: RefNo# 36649
EU-GREECE: Asylum: Commission calls on further efforts from Greece to allow resumption of Dublin transfers
Statewatch News Online, June 2016
The European Commission has today adopted a second Recommendation setting out requirements that Greece must meet to allow the resumption of transfers of asylum-seekers to the country under the Dublin system. Dublin transfers to Greece were suspended following judgements in the European Court of Human Rights case M.S.S v Belgium and Greece and the European Court of Justice case NS v Secretary of State for the Home Department.

The new Recommendation follows one adopted in February this year and provides more detail on "the significant amount of progress" that Greece must make in seven areas: reception conditions and facilities; access to and resources for the first instance asylum procedure; appeals authority; legal aid; treatment of unaccompanied minors and vulnerable persons; use of EU funding under national programmes; and reporting on actions taken.

See: Commission Recommendation of 15.6.2016 addressed to the Hellenic Republic on the specific urgent measures to be taken by Greece in view of the resumption of transfers under Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 (C(2016) 3805 final, pdf)

The February recommendation can be found here (pdf). Greece is also under pressure to meet 50 demands made in a Council Decision adopted in February in relation to the "management of the external borders" (pdf).

Commission press release: Commission adopts second Recommendation identifying steps to restore Dublin transfers to Greece (15 June 2016, pdf)

The issue of the appeals authority, which deals with appeals against decisions taken in asylum procedures - for example, to return people to Turkey - has been in the news recently, with New Europe reporting that the Council of the EU "urged Greece’s government to explain to the country’s judges that Turkey is safe for Syrians and to review the composition and role of the appeal committees since people from civil societies are not neutral."

The text of the Commission's Recommendation is rather more circumspect:

"Greece should ensure that the new Appeals Authority is instituted without delay and that it has an appropriate number of Appeal Committees to take decisions on applications for international protection, and that these are adequately staffed to deal with all pending and likely future appeals."

Further demands call for "sufficient human resources", the need to bring the Appeals Authority and Committees into operation as soon as possible, and the clearing of "all pending requests for judicial review of administrative decisions that are currently outstanding as soon as possible and in any event by the end of 2016."

Political pressure on Greece continued last week. A subsequent New Europe report, published last Friday (10 June), quoted Dutch Minister for Migration Klaas Dijkhoff as saying that: “The Greek authorities are also looking towards this process and what improvements can be made," while EU home affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said:

“The Greek authorities will set up new appealing authorities to deal with admissibility decisions. This is separate from asylum applications of the backlog committees. We have to wait and see how it to be implemented... until the new authority is established, the backlog committees under their current composition, will continue to fulfil the function of appeal committees.”

The Recommendation also says:

"Greece should ensure that the reception facilities are sufficient and that the reception conditions in all reception facilities for applicants for international protection meet the standards set out in EU law, notably Council Directive 2013/33/EU."

Frequent reference is made to the need for open reception and accommodation facilities. Whether this means that Greece will now transform into open facilities the "hotspots" on the Aegean islands that were turned into closed detention centres following the entry into force of the EU-Turkey deal remains to be seen. See: Greece: Refugees detained in dire conditions amid rush to implement EU-Turkey deal (Amnesty International, link)

The Commission's recommendations

Reception conditions and facilities

(1) Greece should ensure that the reception facilities are sufficient and that the reception conditions in all reception facilities for applicants for international protection meet the standards set out in EU law, notably Council Directive 2013/33/EU. In particular Greece should as a minimum:

(a) establish an appropriate number of permanent open reception facilities that corresponds to the number of applicants for international protection it receives, or is likely to receive, and that are capable of accommodating all applicants for international protection and their dependants in adequate conditions for the duration of the asylum process;
(b) ensure that an appropriate number of temporary open reception facilities is available, or can be made available at short notice, to allow for the accommodation of unexpected inflows of applicants for international protection, and that are capable of accommodating all such applicants for international protection and their dependants in adequate conditions;
(c) ensure that these facilities have separate open accommodation places for single men, single women, families and vulnerable persons, particularly unaccompanied minors that can guarantee privacy and family unity;
(d) ensure that unaccompanied asylum seeking minors are immediately placed in suitable accommodation and are not kept in sub-standard conditions in detention. Greece should urgently create the necessary accommodation places for unaccompanied minors and ensure those facilities are sustained;
(e) ensure that accommodation is maintained and that various contractual services such as cleaning, sanitisation and catering, is adequately funded to avoid an interruption of services;
(f) ensure that all temporary facilities in Greece are upgraded to provide for all of the above where asylum applicants are accommodated and remain in Greece for the duration of the asylum procedure.

Reception conditions in all reception facilities should also:

(g) make sure that applicants receive the necessary healthcare, which shall include at least emergency healthcare and essential treatment of illnesses and of serious mental disorders;
(h) give minors effective access to the state education system for the duration of the asylum procedure, including language classes so no child is left without an education.

The Greek authorities should carry out a needs assessment in terms of total reception capacity required, and the nature of that capacity, and continuously update this assessment in the light of new developments. This needs assessment should continuously inform the capacities established in line with recommendations 1(a) and (b) above. The Greek authorities should also ensure continuous management and coordination of all facilities, and ensure that the responsible ministries have adequate resources for this purpose.

Access to and resources for the first instance asylum procedure

(2) Greece should continue its efforts to ensure that all applicants for international protection have effective access to the asylum procedure by:

(a) proceeding as a matter of urgency with the recruitment of staff to ensure that the Asylum Service is sufficiently staffed to allow for all offices to be fully operational and capable of processing all asylum applications in a timely manner. This requires to swiftly put in place a recruitment procedure for a very significant increase in case handlers and other relevant staff for the Asylum Service;
(b) opening as a matter of urgency additional Regional Asylum Offices in the region of Attica (Piraeus), Kos, Leros, Crete (Heraklio) and Western Greece (Patra) and Thessaly and Epirus (Volos and Ioannina);
(c) ensuring an effective case management procedure to guarantee that cases are handled in a well-organised manner and increase the authorities' ability to measure current performance, detect potential bottlenecks, and plan upcoming resource requirements;
(d) ensure that the Asylum Service has an adequate number of administrative support staff for each office that can book interviews, make appointments for registration, book interpreters and manage the overall workflow of each office for a well-functioning asylum process;

The Greek Asylum Service should identify, on the basis of a full and continuous assessment, how many members of staff it is likely to require to process the intake of asylum applications within the six month deadline specified in the Asylum Procedures Directive 2013/32/EU. This needs assessment should be continuously updated and should include information on the number of staff to be recruited in line with recommendation 2(a) above.

Appeals Authority

(3) Greece should ensure that the new Appeals Authority is instituted without delay and that it has an appropriate number of Appeal Committees to take decisions on applications for international protection, and that these are adequately staffed to deal with all pending and likely future appeals. In particular Greece should:

(a) ensure a sufficient number of human resources and of committees the Appeals Authority will need to hear appeals made by applicants and keep this assessment continuously updated;
(b) proceed urgently with the appointment of all necessary staff for the Appeals Authority and Committees, including the number of support staff for each Committee;
(c) bring the Appeals Authority and Committees into operation as a matter of urgency;
(d) clear all pending requests for judicial review of administrative decisions that are currently outstanding as soon as possible and in any event by the end of 2016;

The Greek authorities should identify, on the basis of a full and continuous needs assessment, the number of Appeals Committees under the new Appeals Authority it will need to hear all appeals submitted by applicants for international protection and the number of human resources to continue the smooth-functioning of those Committees in line with recommendation 3(a) and (b) above.

Legal aid

(3) Greece should ensure that access to free legal aid is effective in practice and that all asylum applicants are provided with the necessary legal assistance for judicial review of administrative decisions on applications for international protection. In particular, Greece should:

(a) swiftly adopt and effectively implement a Ministerial Decision for the provision of free legal aid services;
(b) allocate the necessary funding from the national AMIF programme for the provision of legal aid and swiftly establish a contract for a register of lawyers who can provide these services to applicants at the appeal stage in Greece.

Treatment of unaccompanied minors and vulnerable persons during the asylum procedure

(5) Greece should ensure the establishment of appropriate structures for the identification and treatment of vulnerable applicants, including unaccompanied minors. In particular Greece should:

(a) urgently put in place a suitable guardianship procedure by adopting the necessary Presidential Decree for implementing the relevant provisions under Law 4375/2016;
(b) establish and recruit the necessary staff for the Directorate for Reception and the Department for the protection of unaccompanied minors to provide the necessary guarantees under the asylum acquis for family tracing, and legal representation;
(c) ensure the procedures for identifying applicants with special procedural and reception needs are implemented in practice so that these applicants are provided with the necessary psychosocial support, particularly where they may have been victims of sexual violence and exploitation or trafficking.

Use of EU funding under national programmes

(6) Greece should ensure that the substantial EU funding being provided is fully used, notably by mobilising without further delay the resources available under its AMIF and ISF national programmes and exploring complementary funding from Structural Funds. In this context, Greece should urgently complete the ongoing revision of the national programmes, to better adjust them to the new priorities, as well as ensure that the new authority responsible for the management of the Home Affairs Funds becomes immediately operational.

Reporting on Actions Taken

(7) Greece is requested to provide, by 30 June, a report covering the progress in implementing this Recommendation and the Recommendation of 10 February. Thereafter, Greece should report to the Commission by the end of each month on its progress in implementing the measures identified in this Recommendation. The reports should also include a description of how the Greek authorities have, or plan to, put in place the necessary human and material resources referred to in paragraphs 1 to 5 of this recommendation. These reports should also include a description of the continuous needs assessments referred to in paragraphs 1 to 3 of this recommendation, on the basis of which the planned and implemented measures are or have been based. Each report should also include the following information:

(a) the total current and planned permanent and temporary reception capacity for hosting applicants for international protection and the nature of that capacity;
(b) the total number of current and planned staff for processing asylum applications registered with the Asylum Service and for the Directorate for Reception; and
(c) the total current and planned number of staff and the number of Committees which the Appeals Authority has progressively made operational.

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