29th Sep 2023


Depriving migrants of food is policy in an EU member state — Greece

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Beginning on May 18, the EU-funded Lesvos "Closed Controlled Access Centre" (CCAC), which houses over 2,000 asylum seekers, stopped providing food and water to adults residing in the camp that have either received international protection status or a final rejection of their asylum application.

This policy resulted in approximately 300 people being denied these basic necessities of life.

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Undoubtedly, Greek authorities, through this policy, are instrumentalising food insecurity to deter people from seeking protection on Lesvos, and to force asylum seekers already on the island out.

However, authorities attempt to achieve these goals by trampling on people's fundamental rights and by breaching Greek, European, and international law.

Greece's migration ministry has stated that European and Greek law only consider people currently applying for international protection as eligible for material reception conditions such as food. The ministry's interpretation excludes people who have already been granted international protection or whose applications have been rejected.

Regardless of status, however, under international law, the state still has an obligation to provide food to these people, especially since it is the government's own policies that prevent them from providing for their own subsistence.

The right to food is a recognised fundamental human right codified in international law. Everyone has a right to be free from hunger and the right to access a quantity and quality of food sufficient to satisfy their nutritional and dietary needs. States must provide an environment which enables people to to either produce food or buy it for themselves.

And every state, including Greece, has an obligation to ensure these minimum needs are met and to facilitate access to food, especially when people cannot access it themselves.

The vast majority of those residing in the CCAC who have been granted international protection have no way to sustain themselves outside the camp and are thus unable to pay for food— Greek and EU policy failures are to blame. While beneficiaries of protection, in theory, are eligible for social benefits from the state, in practice, bureaucratic obstacles make access to these supports virtually impossible.

Endemic lags in the issuance of residence permits, along with travel documents and a taxpayer ID, prevent recognised refugees from accessing the labour market and social benefits.

Compounded by inflation and high unemployment, many recognised refugees have no means to feed themselves aside from the provisions offered within the CCAC.

Also excluded from food provisions are asylum seekers who have received final rejections on their applications. Here too, policies of the Greek government deny people legal status for arbitrary and irrational reasons.

For example, included in this bucket are people whose asylum applications were examined, and rejected, solely on admissibility grounds due to Greece's baseless consideration of Turkey as a safe third country for nationals of Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Many, if not most, of these people's experiences fit within the requirements for refugee status. But, an inadmissibility decision means their requests for international protection are rejected solely based on their transit through Turkey instead of whether they experienced persecution to begin with.

Turkey, however, has not accepted a single readmission since March 2020.

Nevertheless, the Greek government's nonsensical decision has forced nationals from these five countries into a legal limbo: unable to be readmitted to Turkey and unable to access the right to seek asylum in Greece.

The CCAC's announcement means that now, on top of all these hardships, these asylum seekers may also lack access to food, further exacerbating their existing vulnerabilities and their limbo situation.

Since the enforcement of these policies was announced, NGOs have attempted to fill the gap left by Greek authorities. However, NGOs limited resources mean they can only operate as a temporary solution; they are unable to provide a quantity of food that meets human rights obligations as most can only give a maximum of one meal per day.

Moreover, CCAC authorities have the discretion to stop NGOs from distributing food within the camp at any time.

No one, irrespective of their legal status, should be deprived of food. Food insecurity as a policy is unacceptable and should never be legitimised, especially as a policy of a European state.

Seeking asylum is already a deadly endeavour, as most recently evinced by the drowning of an expected 500 people off the southern coast of Greece.

In this dire context, the least authorities could do is ensure people who survive these traumatising journeys have access to food, regardless of their status. Instead, hundreds on Lesvos now find themselves denied this necessary sustenance.

As of late June, Greece has a new government and a new minister of migration — hopefully this administration will choose to change course and respect, rather than undermine, the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Indeed, we expect better from European Union and Greek governance than to tolerate forced hunger on their soil.

Author bio

Giovanna Garcia, is advocacy officer at Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid in Lesvos and Athens, an NGO offering asylum seekers and migrants legal representation, case management, advocacy, and community engagement.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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