Aza and Royar's children trying to sleep on a bench. Photo: private

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