Entrance of the Council of State in Athens where Human Rights lawyers take the Greek Government for overruling independent second instance asylum committees. Photo: Karl Kopp

Today the Greek Council of State is hearing a complaint of crucial importance for the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal. The complaint is raised against the Greek government for replacing the Asylum Appeals Committees with the new »Independent Appeals Committees«.

Refu­gee rights lawy­ers belie­ve this was an ille­gal poli­ti­cal inter­ven­ti­on by the Govern­ment in order to pro­tect and pro­mo­te a poli­cy rela­ted to the imple­men­ta­ti­on of the EU-Tur­key statement.

In this con­text two Syri­an refu­gees con­test the decis­i­on of the new Inde­pen­dent Appeals Com­mit­tee which dee­med Tur­key to be a safe third coun­try for them. This would mean that both pro­tec­tion see­kers could be depor­ted back to Tur­key. The appli­cants are now see­king to have the­se decis­i­ons annulled.

The result of the hea­ring could have far rea­ching impli­ca­ti­ons for all pro­tec­tion see­kers who arri­ved in Greece after the EU-Tur­key Deal ente­red into force on 20 March 2016. Sin­ce then new­ly arri­ved per­sons in Greece are sub­jec­ted to an admis­si­bi­li­ty pro­ce­du­re befo­re being able to app­ly for asyl­um. The goal of this pro­ce­du­re is to deter­mi­ne whe­ther the respec­ti­ve per­son would be safe in Tur­key and the­r­e­fo­re not admis­si­bly for pro­tec­tion in Europe.

In May 2016 the Asyl­um Appeals Com­mit­tees were estab­lished as the com­pe­tent bodies for exami­ning appeals against the inad­mis­si­bi­li­ty decis­i­ons taken by the Greek Asyl­um Ser­vice in first ins­tance. The Com­mit­tees were con­sti­tu­ted by three mem­bers. One per­son appoin­ted by the Natio­nal Com­mit­tee for Human Rights (E.E.D.A.), one mem­ber assi­gned by the UNHCR and a third mem­ber  appoin­ted  by the com­pe­tent Minis­try itself.

After the imple­men­ta­ti­on of the EU-Tur­key Agree­ment it beca­me appa­rent that in most cases the second ins­tance Com­mit­tees did not con­sider Tur­key a safe third coun­try and did not deli­ver the decis­i­ons wan­ted by the Minis­try and the EU. Fol­lo­wing a peri­od of recur­rent efforts by the Minis­ter for Migra­ti­on and the EU Com­mis­si­on to influence the Asyl­um Appeals Com­mit­tees, and two months after intro­du­cing the pro­ce­du­re the Com­mit­tees were dis­con­tin­ued and the exami­na­ti­on of admis­si­bi­li­ty ins­tead assi­gned to new »Inde­pen­dent Appeals Com­mit­tees«. The­se new com­mit­tees no lon­ger have mem­bers appoin­ted by the E.E.D.A, but con­sist of two jud­ges (cur­rent mem­bers of the Greek judi­cia­ry) and one mem­ber appoin­ted by the UNHCR.

»mana­ging legal issues by use of poli­ti­cal prio­ri­ties rai­ses many ques­ti­ons about the future of the asyl­um sys­tem in Greece, the pro­tec­tion of human rights and the rule of law«

The Natio­nal Com­mit­tee for Human Rights and the Secre­ta­ry Gene­ral for Human Rights expres­sed con­cern and oppo­si­ti­on to the Minis­try­’s initia­ti­ve at the time. In a public let­ter denoun­cing the amend­ment, 18 for­mer Com­mit­tee mem­bers, appoin­ted by E.E.D.A. and UNHCR war­ned that »mana­ging legal issues by use of poli­ti­cal prio­ri­ties rai­ses many ques­ti­ons about the future of the asyl­um sys­tem in Greece, the pro­tec­tion of human rights and the rule of law«.

Whe­ther the intro­duc­tion of the Inde­pen­dent Appeals Com­mit­tees was in accordance with the Greek Con­sti­tu­ti­on and whe­ther their decis­i­ons to enable depor­ta­ti­on to Tur­key will hold or not, will be cru­cial for the pro­tec­tion of refu­gees in Euro­pe and the con­ti­nua­tion of the dir­ty EU-Tur­key Deal.