Last July the Federal Constitutional Court stopped the deportation of a Syrian refugee to Greece. The ruling was based, amongst others, on a PRO ASYL/RSA legal report, which has been updated in the meantime. The case of an Iranian family deported from Switzerland illustrates the hopeless situation refugees find themselves in when deported to Greece
The Federal Constitutional Court ruled on July 31st 2018 that it cannot be generally assumed, that recognized beneficiaries of international protection in Greece can be returned. It has to be examined on a case-by-case basis whether the livelihood of those affected is guaranteed and whether access to shelter, food and sanitary facilities is ensured. The complainant drew largely upon a legal report produced by PRO ASYL/RSA in June 2017. Lawsuits conducted by recognized refugees against deportations to Greece before administrative courts, referring to the findings of the PRO ASYL/ RSA report, have also been successful.
The bottom line of our 2017 report was: »The current living conditions of beneficiaries of international protection in Greece are alarming, as beneficiaries do not only suffer from the lack of integration prospects into Greek society, but they are often faced with inadequate living conditions and humanitarian standards, a precarious socio-economic situation, and even have problems in securing their very existence. Such a situation undermines the effectiveness of the provided protection in line with The 1951 Refugee Convention and European law. An international protection status, which in practice does not necessarily secure a dignified life for its holder, amounts to no more than protection ‘on paper’.«
In August 2018 we updated the legal note demonstrating that the living conditions for recognized refugees in Greece have not changed. Until now, there are nationwide deficits regarding access to shelter, food and psychological treatment or to the labor market. It is still the case that protection for recognized refugees in Greece exists only on paper.
Case study: The Odyssey of an Iranian refugee family
Since the beginning of September 2018, PRO ASYL/RSA has been accompanying a Kurdish family, who fled from Iran to Greece. Aza*, her husband Royar* and their two children were granted refugee status there.
In August 2016 the family reached the Greek island of Chios. They were obliged to stay there for months under inhumane conditions. Royar is a torture survivor in his country of origin. Aza suffers from mental health problems and one of the family’s two children has a chronic illness. Eight month after their arrival in Greece, in April 2017, they received their recognition as refugees.
In Athens the couple tried to find a job – without success. There is no integration program in Greece for beneficiaries of international protection. Around ten years after the beginning of the world financial crisis, the Greek state is still not able to secure social services for its own citizens. The unemployment rate of 18,6 % is the highest in the EU.
The family decided to move on to Switzerland. In their asylum claim they referred to the harmful living conditions for refugees in Greece, but their claim was denied. On August 31st 2018 the couple and the two children were deported on the basis of a bilateral agreement between Switzerland and Greece.
Deportation into a dead-end
PRO ASYL/RSA met with the family in a park in central Athens five days after their deportation. They recounted that they did not have access to an effective remedy to challenge the Swiss authorities’ decision before the court. Upon their arrival in Athens, they have not received information about accommodation or other support. They were completely on their own. Fortunately, during the first few days they could stay with friends.
»We had to sleep for two nights in a park when we could not find any more help. We were scared, and it was cold. We got sick. We didn’t know where to go. During the days, we visited one NGO after the other, but they told us there were no shelters for people with refugee status. We had no money and no place to go.«
Since the first meeting with the family in early September, PRO ASYL/RSA staff have followed their everyday life, documented their living conditions and provided them with legal and social support. RSA/PRO ASYL has been supporting the family in their request for shelter before competent authorities and humanitarian organizations.
Excluded from public support
In spite of the effort, it was not possible to find accommodation for the family. The UNHCR ESTIA program (Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation) is not designed for recognized refugees. Municipality shelters for the homeless in Athens have limited places, long waiting lists and do not accept families. Other shelters defined requirements that are impossible to meet for a refugee family.
PRO ASYL/RSA has been supporting the family in the collection of all required documentation in order to apply for social benefits. However, the family’s application failed as they could not provide proof of address or a homelessness certificate. Homelessness certificates are only given to those identified as living in the streets by staff of the Athens Municipality Reception and Solidarity Center. The authorities have not regulated the procedures that will allow persons sleeping in houses of friends or acquaintances temporarily and do not have a permanent address or persons living in abandoned houses or other informal spaces to apply and obtain a homelessness certificate.
Aza: »No address, no money. No money, no address. We are homeless, but we don’t receive the certificate. We need to sleep in the streets, otherwise we won’t get the certificate.« For her, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
The family is only one example out of many. Refugees, even particularly vulnerable ones, are deported from European countries to Greece disregarding the perils they face, when trying to survive in Greece.
PRO ASYL/RSA calls upon the European Union and its Member States again, to take reports on the hopeless situation there seriously and to finally stop deportations to Greece.
*names were changed