The fact that people seeking protection in Greece struggle to claim asylum due to systemic deficiencies in the asylum system is well-documented and has been known for many years. The situation is currently worse than ever.
Ignored by the authorities, unreasonable delays
Imagine arriving in Europe as a refugee and being unable to claim asylum. Imagine spending years, liable to detention and ineligible for any proper support, calling Skype to claim asylum but your call not being answered. Imagine, due to a lack of legal aid never understanding that with evidence of your ‘vulnerabilities’ you can bypass the Skype system. Imagine finally finding an organisation to assist you — they email the responsible authorities requesting an appointment to register your claim for asylum — you then wait almost a year and a half to receive an appointment at which you can claim asylum.
Imagine approaching the designated government offices directly and being given an appointment to claim asylum as far away as 2022.
In the years awaiting these appointments, people seeking protection are undocumented — left to live without legal papers to evidence their existence, or claim for asylum, in Greece.
Unable to meet basic human needs or access legal rights
Whilst unable to register their claim for asylum, people are not entitled to the limited financial support offered by UNHCR to asylum seekers. Nor are they able to access public healthcare, legally work or rent accommodation in Greece.
People waiting to claim asylum are also unable to apply for family reunification, to join close family members elsewhere in Europe. Families are separated for prolonged periods when they are legally entitled to be reunited, simply because they cannot lodge their claim for asylum and submit necessary documents.
The man in the photograph above, who was recently provided a registration appointment on 30/01/2022, has a wife and two children already with refugee status in Switzerland— despite his wife’s Swiss lawyer’s best efforts, no family reunification process can begin until he has first registered his claim for asylum in Greece.
Furthermore, the handwritten post-it notes that the asylum offices give people noting their registration appointment mean nothing to the Greek police, leaving refugees liable to arrest and detention at any moment.
Even minors are left undocumented, with the Greek Asylum Service advising that long wait times must be endured due to the high volume of requests. This is unacceptable — if the Greek Asylum Service cannot cope, urgent action must be taken so that people can claim asylum.
People seeking protection are left in limbo, unable to meet their basic human needs or access their legal rights.
Online self-registration still leaves people undocumented
In June 2020, the Greek Asylum Service launched their online self-registration platform. Designed to enable people to register their own claims for asylum — the system is both legally and practically flawed.
It is only possible to complete one’s self-registration for asylum online, if the person seeking protection has what is called a “willingness number”, which is found on papers issued by Greek police upon encountering an undocumented asylum seeker. The majority of people entering Greece via the land border do not have such willingness numbers since there is only one Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) on the Greek mainland — the infamous Fylakio RIC. Fylakio is near the Greek/Turkish border in Greece’s Evros region and has an official capacity of 240 persons, though it is often overcrowded with many more people.
Though there has never been state legal aid to assist people in Greece claiming asylum, registration interviews were previously undertaken by staff of the Asylum Service in a private environment. The online self-registration system allows for unqualified or unknown persons to assist people with their registration. Countless people I have met explain that they accepted assistance from strangers who submitted incomplete or inaccurate information. Answers cannot be changed on the online platform once submitted.
Once the online form has been completed, the person must await correspondence from the responsible asylum office. After waiting a few months, some people are emailed with an appointment to attend the Greek Asylum Service in person, in order to complete their registration and receive their International Protection Applicant Cards. Others wait indefinitely, unsure when they will receive correspondence and why they have not heard anything. Though the 65 questions have been answered online, people seeking protection remain undocumented.
After claiming asylum, people face further delays
It is often impossible for people seeking protection to claim asylum in Greece. Why is this systemic deficiency in Greece’s asylum system still not being addressed?
Once people finally manage to claim asylum in Greece, they face further delays as asylum interviews are often scheduled years later. How is it that Northern European countries are still returning people seeking asylum to Greece, despite there being such fundamental flaws with the asylum system here?