New Greek law reneges on right to asylum

Published: 26th March 2020

The Greek Parliament has voted today to suspend access to asylum in Greece. It will apply to all people arriving between 1 March and 31 March and could possibly be further extended.

Reacting to the news, Oxfam’s EU migration policy advisor, Raphael Shilhav, said:

“Rather than protecting vulnerable people from the spread of the coronavirus, the Greek government is using the crisis to absolve itself from its obligations under international and EU law. The new law means that people who flee war and persecution have no chance of finding safety and protection when they arrive in Greece. Families with children are already held in detention in absolutely inadequate conditions, waiting to be sent back to situations where they face threats to their lives and freedom.”

“This is a clear-cut violation of EU law and the UN convention on refugees. If Greece does not revert its course and fully restores the rule of law, the European Commission must urgently take action against Greece over this severe breach of fundamental rights.”

The president of the Board of Directors of the Greek Council for Refugees, Vasileios Papadopoulos, said:

“In light of the global COVID-19 health emergency, Greece and the other EU governments must act now to prevent a major health crisis in the refugee camps and beyond. As a first step, the Greek government should immediately protect the most vulnerable people by moving them to safe and appropriate accommodation. It is also time for European governments to put into action their commitment to relocate 1600 children from Greek refugee camps to other safe places in Europe.

“Greece along with EU institutions and other EU member states should urgently restore access to fair asylum procedures. The Greek authorities must also stop the indiscriminate detention of people seeking asylum.”

Notes to editors

  • Spokespeople are available in Athens (English, Greek) and Brussels (English).
  • The new law follows a government decree that stipulates that all asylum seekers who arrive in Greece between 1 and 31 March 2020 are denied access to asylum. Their asylum requests are not registered, and they receive no assistance. Greece is planning to deport them even if their safety and freedom are at risk. So far, more than 2,500 people have been blocked from seeking asylum and are held in totally inappropriate detention conditions amid the coronavirus threat.
  • As of 13 March, the asylum service also stopped all further interviews, submissions, etc. This measure is crucial for protecting the health of the staff of the asylum service and of people seeking asylum. However, it is a threat to the mental and physical health of asylum seekers because of the dire conditions in Greece’s refugee camps and detention centres.
  • All asylum seekers who arrived in Greece since July 2019 are denied access to Greece’s public healthcare system.
  • People in the refugee camps on the Aegean islands do not have access to enough toilets, showers or warm water. Most of them are already in a weakened and vulnerable physical state due to their terrible living conditions, and in addition they have very limited access to even basic healthcare. Leaving people trapped in these unsanitary and unsafe conditions is not just a violation of human rights, it also opens up the possibility of a devastating health crisis if COVID-19 reaches these camps.
  • On Wednesday, 121 organisations have called on Greece and the EU in an open letter to urgently take action to prevent a Coronavirus outbreak in Greek refugee camps.
  • Read Oxfam’s and GCR’s latest “Lesbos Bulletin”, a two-monthly update on the situation in the EU ‘hotspot’ refugee camp of Moria, Lesbos.

Contact information

Oxfam: Florian Oel | Brussels | | office +32 2 234 11 15 | mobile +32 473 56 22 60

GCR: Danae Leivada | Athens | | office +30 210 380 09 90 | mobile +30 693 266 99 50

For updates, please follow @Oxfam or @OxfamEU.