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24th Feb 2024

EU commission keeps asylum report on Greece secret

  • Greece controversially suspended all asylum applications for a month, in the wake of manoeuvres by Turkey (Photo: European Union)

The European Commission is refusing to release a preliminary legal assessment into Greece's decision to temporarily shelve asylum applications.

Greece froze applications for a month in early March, following Turkey's failed bid to use migrants as political leverage after sending thousands to its side of its shared border with Greece.

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The Greek government's unilateral action attracted widespread criticism from both civil society and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) while the European Commission itself declined to take a stand.

The commission insisted it first needed to study the measure - a position it continues to maintain almost three weeks after Greece lifted the suspension on 1 April and in light of the current pandemic.

However, an internal note from the European Commission's legal service had already been drafted and shared with president Ursula von der Leyen shortly after Greece imposed the restrictions.

Dated 4 March, the note contains a preliminary analysis of the national measures taken by the Greek government.

On that same day, the European Commission said they were in talks with Athens to find out more details.

"We are now in dialogue with the Greek authorities to find out what exactly that is," Ylva Johansson, EU home affairs commissioner told reporters.

Margaritis Schinas, a vice-president of the commission in charge of migration, made a more blunt assessment.

"EU support will be unequivocal," he said of Greece.

Highly sensitive

However, when asked that the document be released through a freedom of information request, the European Commission declined.

"The frankness, objectivity and comprehensiveness of the legal advice would be seriously affected if legal advice on highly sensitive subjects, as in the present case, would be disclosed," it said.

They also argued it could upset international relations, given links to the controversial EU-Turkey pact to curb migration towards Greece.

Von der Leyen held a meeting with Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on 9 March, along with European Council president Charles Michel.

Asked to further comment on Monday (20 April), a European Commission spokesperson said final positions are formulated by the college, referring to the weekly round-table meetings of the 27 commissioners.

"It is not because there is an existing paper somewhere as part of the reflection process of the European Commission that necessarily there is a specific opinion of the College that we can communicate," he said.

"To our understanding the asylum procedures in Greece right now are functioning as well as they can in the current circumstances."

Greece's prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his government's move was legal.

Mitsotakis says the government in early March invoked an article (78.3) within the EU Treaty, which can be triggered if there is "emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of nationals".

But it must first be based on a proposal by the European Commission with input from the European Parliament. No such proposal was put forward.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has offered some updated guidelines on asylum in the context of the pandemic. It says all applications for international protection must be registered and processed, even if with certain delays.

It doesn't mention Greece by name, but it does say some rules may be sidestepped "in case of a large number of simultaneous applications."

Commission silent on Greece suspending asylum claims

Greece is now "Europe's shield" said the European Commission, as it shores up border patrols on the Turkish border. But when it comes to Greece suspending asylum claims, the same institution was unable to comment.

Up to Greece to investigate 'black site', EU says

Revelations by the New York Times that Greece is running a black site where asylum seekers are detained, denied legal rights and then deported, will not be probed by the European Commission.

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The new EU pact on migration is set for publication sometime in June. Final tweaks are still underway as commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson says she remains cautiously optimistic on finding a solution to the most pressing issues.

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Germany is expanding agreements to return rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin as part of a wider shift in Europe to curtail migration. Berlin has reached deals with Georgia and Morocco since December.

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