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.
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