30th Nov 2023

Greek asylum retraumatising victims of torture, NGO says

  • Camp conditions on the Greek island of Lesbos remain dire (Photo: @refugeemoria2)

EU asylum standards codified by the Greek state are failing traumatised people, according to a Greek NGO.

Among them is the case of an African national and victim of sexual abuse who landed on the Greek islands over a year ago.

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Minos Mouzourakis, a Greek lawyer at Refugee Support Aegean, would not disclose the man's name in order to protect him.

"The specific, let's say exposure, relates to repeated incidences of violence, including sexual violence," he said on Monday (15 February).

But he also said the case is an illustration of systemic problems when Greek authorities rapidly shuffle vulnerable people through border procedures.

Such procedures in theory aim to get rid of unfounded applications for international protection.

But decisions are made quickly, with some unable to defend themselves, in a system that appears geared against them.

People who have been tortured are required to have special treatment. In practice, the tailored help often never arrives and they too fall into the speeded-up process.

Mouzourakis points to the African national as a case in point.

Although the person had been recognised as a victim of torture by the Greek authorities, he was never given any support.

"This also included documentation from public health authorities in Greece," said Mouzourakis, of the man's physical and mental state.

Yet the Greek Asylum Service still made repeated requests for him to appear at interviews to plead his case in a fast-track procedure.

Refugee Support Aegean says the notifications and lack of support only exasperated the applicant's mental distress.

At one moment, he received a notification while in an ambulance en route to a hospital.

Mouzourakis also blamed a disconnect between the different Greek asylum services.

Although one branch had identified the person as a victim of torture, another never took it into account.

Hungary lost a European Court of Justice case in December over similar violations.

The European Commission at the time argued that Hungary violated the Asylum Procedures Directive.

It noted that the directive contains special procedural guarantees for people seeking protection.

The court agreed with the commission, noting Hungary had failed to assess if people would have access to "adequate support".

The same legal dilemma appears to be repeating in Greece.

"It should go after Greece for this, at least to make an assessment of the situation," said Raphael Shilhav, an asylum expert at Oxfam in Brussels.

The NGO last September submitted a 68-page complaint to the European Commission over the Greek abuse.

It noted vulnerable people are not being properly identified, sending them onto the wrong asylum track. Others are denied an appeal.

The whole may be a harbinger of the European Commission's latest proposals to reform asylum laws across the EU. It too includes screening and accelerated procedures.

The commission says young children will skip the border procedure altogether. The point was driven by EU commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas .

"We exclude them from the border procedure so that we make sure that they do not go into this cumbersome, lengthy and often inhumane process," he said last year.

But NGOs remain sceptical.

They say safeguards to make sure people deserving of protection will not be met. They also argue that there will not be enough doctors and lawyers present to make the proper assessment of someone's condition.

"This has been the problem all along," said Shilhav, pointing to what is currently happening in Greece.

EU migration pact to deter asylum

The EU commission's newest pact on migration and asylum seeks to deter people from claiming asylum by speeding up procedures and sending most of them back home.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

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