Greece: #1 European Union to remove existing guarantees against Turkey returns

Elliniko. Credit: ECRE/R.Carvalho

The European Commission published today its Fourth Report on the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, which aims to take drastic measures to ensure an increase in the number of returns from Greece to Turkey. Since the statement, 748 people are reported to have returned to Turkey, compared to 20,638 arrivals in Greece since April 2016.

A Joint Action Plan of the EU Coordinator on the implementation of certain provisions of the EU-Turkey Statement outlines several legal and operational modifications to the asylum procedure with a view to stripping away some of the crucial guarantees available to persons entering the Greek islands since 20 March 2016. These include:

 

Abolition of exemption of Dublin and vulnerable cases from exceptional border procedure

Under Article 60(4)(f) of the Greek Law (L) 4375/2016, asylum seekers falling within the family provisions of the Dublin Regulation or belonging to vulnerable groups are exempt from the exceptional border procedure applied on the islands, which assesses the admissibility of asylum applications. The former guarantee stems from the requirement in EU law for the determination of the Member State responsible to precede the examination of asylum applications, despite the possibility for any Member State to send a person to a safe third country under the Regulation.

The Joint Action Plan recommends the examination of admissibility for persons falling within Dublin cases, on condition that the right to family life is guaranteed and that information obtained by EASO and Member States indicates that they may benefit from family reunification in Turkey. Vulnerable persons will also be subject to admissibility examination, with possible exemption only of those in need of special procedural guarantees as per Article 24(3) of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive. Applications by such persons, which particularly include victims of torture or other forms of violence, are always examined under the regular procedure in Greece. In order to implement these commitments, Greece would have to amend Article 60(4)(f) L 4375/2016.

 

“Segmentation of case categories” in the processing of asylum applications

Differential treatment of specific nationalities is not applied on the basis of L 4375/2016 but pursuant to a “segmentation of case categories” proposed by the Joint Action Plan. Discrimination on the basis of nationality has already governed the examination of asylum applications on the islands, with priority given to admissibility assessments of Syrians and in-merit examination (without an admissibility assessment) of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian nationals. To that end, the Action Plan suggests the establishment of “guidelines or text elements” to speed up decision-making, in what seems to codify the notion of decision templates reported in the islands.

The recommendation to further accelerate the in-merit examination of low-rate nationalities such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Algeria, Morocco or Tunisia, with support from EASO builds on a procedure developed outside the scope of Greek legislation. The Commission report confirms that a “fast-track process has been put in place on Lesvos for migrants from the Maghreb countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, with registration, interview and notification all taking place within a few days”. The examination of these claims on the merits falls under the regular procedure in Greek law and therefore cannot be conducted under the exceptional border procedure on the islands, for which EASO has been authorised to conduct personal interviews.

 

Higher pressure on the appeal system

So far, despite a modification of the Greek appeal system under EU pressure in June 2016, a significant number returns to Turkey have been prevented by appeals rebutting the safe third country presumption in individual cases. Since the adoption of the statement, the following decisions have been taken at first and second instance on the islands:

 

Applications and decisions since the EU-Turkey deal: 20 March – 27 November 2016

First instance (Asylum Service)

Asylum applications

9,304

Admissibility decisions

4,506

In-merit decisions

1,534

Total first instance decisions

6,040

Second instance (Appeals Committees)

Appeals submitted

2,014

Admissibility decisions

407

Positive decisions (reversal)

390

95.8%

Negative decisions

17

4.2%

In-merit decisions

431

Positive decisions (reversal)

62

14.4%

Negative decisions

369

85.6%

Total second-instance decisions

838

The new Appeal Committees established under L 4399/2016 have issued 366 decisions, i.e. 352 on merits and 14 on admissibility.

The Joint Action Plan urges Greece to exert stronger pressure on Appeals Committees for faster decisions: “Without prejudice to their independence, the Appeal Committees to increase the number of decisions per committee through: a) the use of legal assistance in drafting decisions, b) specialisation of the committees and c) exploring the possibility of full time engagement of committee members. The Greek authorities to adopt the necessary legal provisions as soon as possible.”

The Joint Action Plan also calls upon Greek authorities to explore the possibility to limit the number of appeal steps in the context of the asylum process, so as to remove guarantees available to persons at risk of return. Similar to proposals for curtailment of appeal rights in countries such as Italy, the abolition of appeal possibilities is incompatible with the right to an effective remedy guaranteed by the recast Asylum Procedures Directive and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

 

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