ELDH report on the activities of the Lesvos Legal Centre

Last October, the Lesvos Legal Centre published a report on the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy & World Human Rights (ELDH) website.

capture-decran-2016-11-04-a-20-35-10Full report available here

Since our opening last August, we have identified various serious breaches of human rights which are primarily the result of an unresponsive and intransigent EU asylum system that refuses to place the needs of refugees at the centre of its approach.

The breaches concern in particular:

Delay

The Greek Asylum Service is simply required to register the individuals ‘…as soon as is rendered possible’. (Article 36, Greek Law 4375). Thousands of people, men, women, children, disabled, mentally unwell amongst others, have been kept waiting over half a year awaiting to be registered because of the application of this provision.

Without lodging an application, an individual does not have the ability to be considered for family reunification either under Dublin III or the national schemes of other European Member States, cannot be considered for relocation under the two Council Decisions of September last year and of course cannot have their application for asylum determined by the Greek Asylum Service. Delay, without any foreseeable end, awaits those who arrive here.

Inhumane reception conditions

The situation in Moria detention centre is illustrative. The camp is surrounded by high fences and barbed wire. Inside, space is scarce, with crowded tents inhabited by whole families, including children. Unaccompanied minors are detained as a matter of course in a separate part of the camp, whose facilities are barely able to cope with the amount of children contained there. Despite being recognised by the Greek Asylum Service as vulnerable, individuals face huge obstacles accessing assistance for medical conditions. Victims of torture struggle to gain access to mental health services, heavily pregnant women are left to lie on the floor in tents for months awaiting receipt of adequate pre natal care, medical attention is severely restricted to a few who are able to exhibit severe symptoms, amongst other issues. Riots are therefore an unfortunately frequent phenomenon. 

Controversial Turkey-EU Agreement

Rather than attempt to distribute the responsibility of processing asylum claims to other Member States, the EU Commission has deemed it appropriate to designate Turkey a ‘safe third country’ to which Greece can return ‘irregular migrants’.

This is particularly worrying considering Turkey’s highly controversial hierarchy of protection, which allows Europeans to claim full protection as refugees, but only provides limited and temporary protection to Syrians claiming international protection. This alongside the well reported instances of push back (often violently) of refugees at the Syrian border, refoulement, detention in atrocious conditions and the state’s recent decision to suspend the application of the European Convention of Human Rights, leads many to conclude that the EU is simply attempting to outsource its responsibilities under the 1951 Convention and Protocol to a politically volatile country that is actively hostile to refugees.

Lack of legal aid and denial access to justice for asylum seekers

As it stands, legal aid is not provided at ‘first instance’, i.e. for the asylum interview stage. Until recently, no legal aid was available for ‘second instance’ appeals to the appeals committee for rejections of asylum. Legal aid is also absent for those who wish to dispute their designation as adults, a crucial decision which greatly impacts the options an asylum seeker has in the procedure. Appeals to the Administrative Court are also not funded, leaving asylum seekers with the burden of paying thousands of euros in court and lawyers’ fees if they wish to submit an application.

On 10, 11 and 12 November 2016, Carlos Orjuela (founder and coordinator of the Legal Centre) and Natasha Dailiani (greek lawyer) will attend the International Conference on the 50th Anniversary of the UN Covenants on Human Rights jointly convened by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) and by the Portuguese Association of Democratic Jurists (PADJ).

On this occasion they will present the results of our first 3 months activity report. Stay tuned.

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