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UPDATE June 2018
Declining legal support for asylum seekers and refugees in Northern Greece
Following the continuous decrease in EU funding and private donations, it has become difficult to ensure that every asylum seeker in Greece has access to legal assistance as foreseen by law. Many large NGOs have made significant cuts to legal aid projects in Northern Greece. This is leading to serious gaps in legal resources across the region, from which many refugees and migrants will have to suffer. As a result, many family reunification applications and asylum procedures will be carried out without legal support, which will certainly lead to rejections that, with assistance, could easily have been avoided. Consequently, certain asylum seekers will not be able to access protection and urgently needed services, families will remain separated, which will draw desperate people into the hands of smugglers, with unforeseeable results for everybody involved.
In response to this unfortunate development in Northern Greece, the Mobile Info Team is now seeking to extend its operations to provide at least some of these people with the support they deserve. Nearby, in the refugee camp of Nea Kavala, the Team’s presence is much needed as all legal assistance will very soon been withdrawn from the camp, leaving more than 800 residents in the camp without any legal support! The Team is eager to expand their resources and ensure that sites like Nea Kavala do not remain without reliable information for long… But for this, we need your help. Without sustainable funding we will not be able to respond to the growing demands in Greece. Please donate to help us ensure that asylum seekers can be treated with fairness and respect on European soil!
Serious problems with applying for asylum on the Greek mainland persist
Applying for asylum does not only offer the opportunity to seek protection from war and persecution, but also allows the applicant to access much needed services, like cash assistance, accommodation or health care. Without being able to communicate the wish to apply for asylum to the authorities, all these services remain inaccessible and people are ending up in the streets of Athens and Thessaloniki in often horrifying conditions.
Those who wish to apply for asylum on the Greek mainland continue to encounter major obstacles in the process. The system in place remains random and doesn’t ensure fair and just access to the asylum procedure. In order to inform the Greek authorities about a refugee’s wish to apply for asylum, the applicant needs to call a specific Skype ID during very limited time slots each week, which are set according to the applicant’s language and location in Greece. The schedule changes frequently without this being clearly communicated to the concerned people by the authorities, so that a lot of them are calling at the wrong times and they have no chance of their call being received. Calling is further complicated by the number of fake Skype ID’s, which make the official ID not clearly recognizable. These fake Skype ID’s can be used fraudulently, by people who abuse the despair of asylum seekers and sell fake asylum seeker cards.
On top of that, in the last two months the already very limited registration capacity has even decreased. In this time frame we have only met three people who have been able to pre-register and we were in contact with hundreds of individuals that are still desperately trying to apply. These included cases where vulnerable applicants, like mothers with children who are a few months old or people with serious health issues, have been living on the streets for several months or more, because they are unable to get through on Skype.
Helping people to apply for asylum
In certain cases, for example, where vulnerability is evident or a person has already communicated his/her wish to apply for asylum to the police, the Mobile Info Team was able to assist the application for asylum by avoiding the inaccessible Skype procedure. This has very much improved the situation for the individuals who were eligible. For example, Hamid*, a homosexual asylum seeker with health issues who had to live on the streets for 5 months because he tried to reach the Asylum Service via Skype without success, was registered with the help of the Team. LGBT individuals are always at risk of their sexual identity being disclosed, which can lead to harassment with serious consequences. Hamid can now finally receive cash assistance and may be able to find accommodation in a shelter soon.
For a lot of asylum seekers Skype remains the only way to apply for asylum in Greece. The Mobile Info Team is trying to fill the information gap the authorities are leaving behind. We inform applicants in detail about the process and the difficulties of this procedure in multiple languages through frequent posts on Facebook, on our website and in weekly visits to the homeless asylum seeker population of Thessaloniki.
*name was changed to ensure privacy
Ongoing case work successes
The Mobile Info Team again achieved some successes in June, as several of the Team’s cases were approved for reunification and others were finally allowed to travel to be reunited with family members. As always, it was an important, primary part of our work to advocate on behalf of our cases in front of the administration, for example by arranging additional proof as to why a family should be reunited on humanitarian grounds. Furthermore, we continued to upkeep our responsibilities to the people concerned by explaining the various asylum or reunification processes, easing their uncertainty and making sure that they can always make decisions based on all the available information.