02.08.2017
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Refugees protest today in front of the German embassy and demand immediate transfer of all families to their relatives. Photo: Salinia Stroux

Refugees in Greece are waiting for indefinite periods for their family reunification to Germany. PRO ASYL and Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) are calling for an end to be put to the suffering of more than two thousand refugees who are stuck in Greece while waiting to be reunited with their family members in Germany.

Dramatic cases of deaths during separation

RSA and PRO ASYL have docu­men­ted dra­ma­tic cases, whe­re even lives have been lost during peri­ods of sepa­ra­ti­on. The­re are still refu­gees who despe­r­a­te­ly fear that they might not see their wives, hus­bands, child­ren or par­ents ali­ve again, as they are wai­ting in lim­bo for an ans­wer to their app­li­ca­ti­ons for fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on and for their trans­fer to final­ly take place.

Mean­while, long wai­ting peri­ods in Greece result in more anguish for alre­ady vul­nerable pro­tec­tion see­kers, and poor recep­ti­on con­di­ti­ons are lea­ding to a dete­rio­ra­ti­on of the phy­si­cal health of many refu­gees and in some cases even seve­re inju­ries.

Losing a child

The fami­ly of Abda­la A., a 44-year-old man from the IS-held town of Al Asha­rah (Deir Ezzor pro­vin­ce) in Wes­tern Syria, reached the Greek island of Chi­os on March 17th, 2016 –short­ly befo­re the imple­men­ta­ti­on of the EU-Tur­key State­ment and new restric­tion on thousands of refu­gees who could no lon­ger lea­ve the Aege­an islands.

“We escaped from Syria becau­se of the war and becau­se we wan­ted our child­ren to stay ali­ve. We alre­ady had lost four child­ren: Three died of heart pro­blems and one due to a weak liver. Bombs fal­ling in the neigh­bou­ring hou­ses, the sound of the war pla­nes fly­ing clo­se over our heads, the lack of doc­tors and medi­ci­ne… the­se pro­blems were not beara­ble for us – even more due to the health pro­blems of our kids,” says Abda­la.

His oldest (but still underage) son had left Syria ear­lier with his uncle. They reached Euro­pe, app­lied for asyl­um in Ger­ma­ny in Decem­ber 2015 whe­re the child was gran­ted refu­gee sta­tus in March 2016.

Emergency accommodation despite severe illnesses

When the rest of the fami­ly reached Greece, they were with a three-month-old baby who was suf­fe­ring from a serious heart con­di­ti­on (myo­car­di­al disea­se), which had not been dia­gno­sed yet by that moment and a six-year-old girl who suf­fers from a kid­ney disea­se (nephro­pa­thy), as well as their two other child­ren.

Along with hund­reds of other refu­gees they were evacua­ted from the islands befo­re the imple­men­ta­ti­on of the EU-Tur­key Deal. The fami­ly as trans­fer­red to Katsikas camp, which at that time was offi­ci­al­ly cate­go­ri­sed as one of the “emer­gen­cy accom­mo­da­ti­on sites”.

“Everything in Katsikas was a problem”

Katsikas camp is loca­ted in Nort­hern Greece, near Ioanen­na. The army-run tent camp was built on peb­b­le stone ground. During the first days the­re was repor­ted­ly no elec­tri­ci­ty and thus no light at night. The­re were not even plastic she­ets on the floor of the tents. Accord­ing to activists, UNHCR ent­e­red the camp more sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly only in May to pro­vi­de basic pro­tec­tion mecha­nisms, and in July a few NGOs fol­lo­wed to offer legal advice and aid. Pri­ma­ry medi­cal aid was pro­vi­ded initi­al­ly only by the Hel­le­nic Army, which sin­ce mid-April, repor­ted­ly had only a spo­ra­dic pre­sence in the camp. Refu­gees who requi­red medi­cal atten­ti­on had to refer them­sel­ves to the alre­ady over­bur­den­ed public health sys­tem, without inter­pre­ters and with a wai­ting time for an ambu­lan­ce which fre­quent­ly excee­ded 30 minu­tes.

Only in May 2016, NGOs star­ted to offer pri­ma­ry health care and medi­cal aid for refu­gees with chro­nic disea­ses or men­tal health pro­blems. “Ever­y­thing in Katsikas was a pro­blem,” the father said about their living con­di­ti­ons during the first mon­ths in Greece.

Application for family reunification at German embassy

At the begin­ning of June 2016, Abdala’s fami­ly app­lied for a visa for fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on at the Ger­man embas­sy, try­ing to get a visa to join their underage son. “We did only the embas­sy pro­ce­du­re for fami­ly reuni­on, becau­se the­re was no other pro­ce­du­re at that time; they only star­ted the asyl­um app­li­ca­ti­ons in July/August 2016. For four mon­ths I kept try­ing to make an appoint­ment at the Asyl­um Ser­vice, cal­ling via Sky­pe, but without suc­cess.”

Later, in the sum­mer of 2016, a rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ve of an orga­ni­sa­ti­on repor­ted­ly told the fami­ly that they would not have to app­ly for fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on through Dub­lin III, as they had alre­ady app­lied for the fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on pro­ce­du­re at the Ger­man embas­sy.

Deplorable living conditions despite medical emergency

Despi­te the family’s medi­cal histo­ry with a high child mor­ta­li­ty rate and the four small child­ren they were not trans­fer­red to bet­ter accom­mo­da­ti­on until Novem­ber 2016, when their then 11-month-old baby had to be trans­fer­red first to Ioan­nena hos­pi­tal and then to the children´s hos­pi­tal in Athens with an air ambu­lan­ce.

Until then they were stay­ing in a tent – for a total dura­ti­on of eight mon­ths. Accord­ing to the fami­ly, they were not inclu­ded in the UNHCR accom­mo­da­ti­on sche­me as they were neit­her relo­ca­ti­on app­li­cants nor asyl­um app­li­cants.

No visa for the children

On Novem­ber 18th the fami­ly recei­ved shocking news. Only one week befo­re the child had to be trans­fer­red as a case of emer­gen­cy to the hos­pi­tal, the family’s visa app­li­ca­ti­on had been ans­we­red – in part posi­tively but in part also nega­tively: The par­ents recei­ved visas, but the child­ren did not.

One week later, the baby had to be trans­fer­red to Ioan­nena hos­pi­tal, whe­re she had alre­ady been trea­ted twice befo­re and from whe­re she had always been sent back to the camp after tre­at­ment without any fur­t­her noti­ce of a seve­re heart defect. On Novem­ber 26th, she and her father were trans­por­ted to Athens and she was hos­pi­ta­li­sed in the children’s hos­pi­tal.

At the begin­ning of Decem­ber, the mother who was pregnant again, and the remai­ning three child­ren also arri­ved in Athens, whe­re the fami­ly was accom­mo­da­ted in a hotel fun­ded by the UNHCR accom­mo­da­ti­on sche­me. While the mother herself sent a let­ter of appeal against the rejec­tion of the visa app­li­ca­ti­on of the child­ren, on Novem­ber 29th the par­ents’ visas were issued at the Ger­man embas­sy in Athens; howe­ver, the mother’s appeal was rejec­ted in mid-Janu­ary 2017.

Separation of the family

The mother left Greece and ent­e­red Ger­ma­ny in mid-Janu­ary 2017, whe­re she app­lied for asyl­um at the end of March and was gran­ted refu­gee sta­tus in May. The father remai­ned in Greece with the four child­ren, two of whom were sick.

The baby was released from the hos­pi­tal, and a few days later the father, try­ing to find a solu­ti­on to join his wife and son in Ger­ma­ny and to find ade­qua­te medi­cal help for the sick baby, final­ly went to the Greek Asyl­um Ser­vice and asked for an appoint­ment to app­ly for fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on. On March 7th, 2017 the father and the four child­ren final­ly app­lied for fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on.

Urgent need of heart transplant in Germany

In a medi­cal cer­ti­fi­ca­te dated March 28th, the direc­tor of the car­dio­lo­gi­cal Children´s Cli­nic sta­ted that the baby was hos­pi­ta­li­sed due to “non-com­pac­tion car­dio­myo­pa­thy”. He fur­t­her recom­men­ded that for the necessa­ry medi­cal care of their child the par­ents would have to under­go trai­ning, and exp­lai­ned that the strict obser­van­ce of a ste­ri­le envi­ron­ment and con­stant alert­ness would be necessa­ry.

The child would need both par­ents’ 24-hour care. Fur­ther­mo­re, accord­ing to the doc­tor, the baby was in urgent need of a heart trans­plant, a medi­cal inter­ven­ti­on that is not car­ri­ed out in Greece, and for which she would have to be moved to ano­t­her coun­try.

After the baby´s emer­gen­cy trans­fer to the children´s hos­pi­tal in Athens at the end of Novem­ber 2016, the baby was hos­pi­ta­li­sed repeated­ly, and – for a total peri­od of five mon­ths – was at the hotel with her fami­ly only for a few days.

Her father was at her side in the hos­pi­tal while the other three child­ren remai­ned in the hotel with fami­ly fri­ends. „I alre­ady lost four child­ren. I can­not lose ano­t­her one. I want my child­ren to be healt­hy and to live. S. needs to be trans­fer­red to Ger­ma­ny quick­ly so she can sur­vi­ve. I don’t know what to do to help her. Plea­se help me to get her the­re fast“, the despe­ra­te father said.

Baby died

Wit­hin only a few days of recei­ving the medi­cal cer­ti­fi­ca­te from the doc­tor, the Greek Asyl­um Ser­vice sent a request for trans­fer to Ger­ma­ny, to which Ger­ma­ny replied posi­tively on May 3rd. Sad­ly, howe­ver, one day after that hap­py news was recei­ved, the baby pas­sed away at the children’s hos­pi­tal, to whe­re she had been trans­fer­red again.

After S. was buried in Athens, the Greek Asyl­um Ser­vice infor­med the app­li­cants that the Ger­man aut­ho­ri­ties had sud­den­ly redu­ced the num­ber of trans­fers of fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on app­li­cants from Greece to 70 per­sons per month. The father and the three child­ren app­lied again for fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on befo­re the Ger­man embas­sy on June 19th, 2017, in the hope of being able to rejoin their fami­ly fas­ter through this way.

No separation of families!

PRO ASYL and RSA

  • call for the imme­dia­te end of the limi­ta­ti­on of Dub­lin trans­fers in the case of fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­ons from Greece to Ger­ma­ny;
  • demand the imme­dia­te trans­fer of this fami­lies and all others wai­ting for their fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on from Greece to Ger­ma­ny. The­re are lives at risk in Greece and in Ger­ma­ny, while other lives alre­ady were lost in Greece. We ask for the imme­dia­te reuni­fi­ca­ti­on of fami­lies whe­re mem­bers are espe­ci­al­ly vul­nerable or even suf­fer from life-threa­ten­ing con­di­ti­ons. Fami­lies should have access to appro­pria­te medi­cal care in a coun­try that is able to pro­vi­de such care. The right to fami­ly unity has to be respec­ted. Fami­lies should be able to care for each other in times of ill­ness and to be toge­ther in times of grief;
  • call for the respect of the best inte­rest of the child during fami­ly reuni­on, and the pos­si­bi­li­ty for underage sib­lings of minors living in Ger­ma­ny to join their par­ents and to be trans­fer­red toge­ther.

For more infor­ma­ti­on see back­ground note RSA/PRO ASYL: The Dub­lin fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on pro­ce­du­re from Greece to Ger­ma­ny