ARSIS calls for immediate action to stop the escalation of the migrants´ situation in Greece and the respect of Human Rights

On 6th March 2020 SOLIDAR and SOLIDAR Foundation, together with other Civil Society Organisations including our partner ARSIS, addressed an open letter to the Prime Minister of Greece, the President of the European Parliament, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission, severely criticising the new legislation on the reception of migrants and asylum seekers, also expressing their concerns and calling for the respect of human rights. 

The organisation ARSIS, supporting migrants in Greece, states that:  

The new Emergency Legislative Decree of Friday 1 March 2020 created a totally new situation in Greece, much worse than the pre-existing one. According to Article 1 of this Decree, on the one hand there is no legal way for the persons who entered Greece after 1 March 2020 to submit an asylum application in Greece, as this right has been suspended for one month. On the other hand, all the above-mentioned people will be returned without registration to their countries of origin or transit. 

These provisions have been strongly criticised by various key actors in the field of humanitarian law. UNHCR Greece states that neither “the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees nor EU refugee law provides any legal basis for the suspension of the reception of asylum applications” and that “persons entering irregularly on the territory of a State should also not be punished if they present themselves without delay to the authorities to seek asylum”. 

The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), called on the Greek Government to reverse the suspension of the asylum applications and the automatic removal of the third country nationals who have entered Greece after 1 March 2020, to ensure the access of every person to political asylum by legal and coordinated means, while also transferring the trapped asylum seekers from the islands of the Eastern Aegean Sea to continental Greece.   

In addition to these legislative changes, there has also been a severe harshening of the penal procedures against persons, both adults and minors, who illegally crossed the continental border between Greece and Turkey. While previously the public prosecutor would normally overlook an illegal crossing or impose a suspended sentence at most, since 1 March, penalties of 3½ to 4 years of imprisonment are imposed.  

In collaboration with the Greek Council of Refugees and under the UNHCR mandate, ARSIS followed the case of six minors from Afghanistan accused of illegally entering Greece in early March. Ten days after entering Greece, they were brought before court, which is exceptionally fast. ARSIS´ lawyer Ioanna Damdouni stated that the minors were surprised and frightened that long-term imprisonment sentences would also be imposed on them, and they would be directed to jail. For now, their trial is postponed to November 2020, due to the presence of lawyers and the absence of proper translators. In the meantime, they will stay in Fylakio Evros Reception and Identification Center (RIC).  

Thomas Charalampidis 

ARSIS Child Protection Lawyer-Thessaloniki