Author: Lorraine Leete

January 2018 Report on Rights Violations and Resistance in Lesvos

Violations of Rights Exposed at Europe’s Borders

At the close of 2017 in the period since our last report, the inhumane treatment of migrants in Lesvos continues to be widely reported on and denounced by refugees and migrants, solidarity activists, the media, and human rights organizations. In response to this pressure, in November and December roughly 3000 asylum seekers were transferred from Lesvos to mainland Greece and Crete. However during the same time period approximately the same number of individuals arrived to Lesvos from Turkey.

Whilst the number of arrivals decreased somewhat in January, as a result of rainy, windy, and cold weather, an estimated 7000 migrants are still living in Lesvos. As recently reported by Amnesty International, for those trapped on the island, conditions remain unbearable; in violation of the right to adequate housing, health care, and freedom of movement. The European Union continues to blame Greece for the conditions in the hotspots. However, inhumane and crowded conditions are ensured so long as movement from the Greek islands to mainland Europe is prohibited for the majority of asylum seekers – something that has been enforced since the EU-Turkey Statement in March 2016.

Europe continues to measure success of the EU-Turkey deal in terms of curbing the total number of arrivals to Europe, but in effect this means that more individuals are stuck in unsafe and inhumane situations on the frontier of Europe – in Lesvos, but in even greater numbers in countries at Europe’s borders such as Turkey and Libya. As has been shown throughout history, halting migration is impossible, as borders will inevitably be crossed and individuals will continue to migrate in search of refuge.

Thirty-Year-Old Man Drowns Attempting to BOARD FERRY to ATHENS

The tragic consequences for individuals denied safe passage were seen this month in Lesvos as on 1 February 2018, an unidentified man’s body was found in the port of Mytilini. It was presumed that he drowned, having died 10 days earlier. The body was identified by authorities as that of a Moroccan man who had registered for international protection in Lesvos in July 2017.

Whilst he is yet to be formally identified, given that his friends have not been permitted to see his body, they believe that the man found was actually Saihi, a 30 year old Algerian, who ten days earlier had attempted to swim to climb aboard a ferry bound for Athens. His friends believe he registered his nationality as Moroccan because he feared that the authorities would discriminate against Algerians. However, even though registered as a Moroccan he found no protection in Greece. Even in death, his family is being denied the right to bury him and mourn appropriately; his body still lays in the Mytilini morgue due to their inability to pay the fees to expatriate his body to Algeria.

Saihi had recently celebrated his thirtieth birthday with friends and after over six months trapped in Lesvos he decided to take his chances to leave the island. Tragically, the dangerous journeys people make to reach Europe do not end when they reach Lesvos. Although they are in Europe, since the EU-Turkey deal, people who arrive to the Greek territories from Turkey are prohibited from leaving the islands until the lengthy asylum procedure has completed. If rejected, they face deportation to Turkey, where rights are systematically denied and where non-Syrians face certain imprisonment and likely deportation to their home countries.

Saihi was one of many people trapped on the island who risk their lives attempting to reach the European continent. As he did not have legal status in Greece, he was denied assistance by NGOs. He was left on his own in Lesvos; staying in an abandoned house in Mytilini, without electricity, water, or any aid apart from food assistance provided through No Borders Kitchen. He had left Moria Camp approximately four months earlier, to get away from the unsafe environment where police violence and daily fights are routine. Employment opportunities in Lesvos are limited even for Greeks, and it is even more difficult for foreigners to support themselves given language barriers and discrimination. Many individuals trapped in Lesvos living either in the inhumane conditions of Moria Camp or on the streets and abandoned houses of Mytilini self-medicate with horribly addictive prescription drugs, such as the insomnia medication Flunitrazepam (commonly known as “Bubli”). Prescriptions for these drugs are illegally sold in the open in Moria Camp and the parks of Mytilini under the eye of Greek police, who rarely intervene. Saihi was one individual who self medicated in order to build up the courage to face the swim to board the ferry to Athens.

Instead of investigating the rampant sale of drugs to desperate migrants and refugees who have few options for survival in Lesvos, the Greek police operate an unchecked campaign of discrimination and violence against such marginalized persons. Systematic racial profiling by the police who regularly ask individuals for proof of their legal status means a life of constant stress, in particular for individuals denied protection by the Greek government and assistance by NGOs.

In Lesvos, assistance provided by many humanitarian NGOs is linked to legal status, in direct contrast to established humanitarian principles, such as a commitment to provide assistance with impartiality,

which requires that it be provided solely on the basis of need and in proportion to need. This reflects the wider principle of non-discrimination that no one should be discriminated against on any grounds of status.

Mercy Corps International, for example provides cash assistance only to those who the Greek government has designated as asylum seekers or refugees. This means that humanitarian aid is provided only when the Greek government legitimizes an individual’s presence in Greece. Individuals whose applications have been rejected in the second instance and individuals who have not made an application to the Greek Asylum Service (often due to delays in the processing of applications) are unable to receive this aid, regardless of their need. Similar requirements for UNHCR coordinated housing and other services prevent many individuals in need from being provided housing outside Moria Camp, in shelters run by other NGOs.

Saihi’s death is a tragic consequence of Europe’s illegal policies of exclusion and containment. While they are not responsible for their creation, humanitarian NGOs must do more to distance themselves from such policies and instead adhere to the principles of impartiality and independence if they are truly nongovernmental and humanitarian.

Arbitrary Detention in Lesvos Continues

In January 2018, the so-called “pilot” program to detain throughout the asylum procedure individuals from low recognition rate countries officially ended. Since its initiation, The Legal Centre has denounced the practice of detention based on nationality as illegal. While we welcome the end of this policy, Greek Authorities continue to arbitrarily detain individuals on arrival.

The police enforcing the detention, justify such action based on the individual’s responses during their initial registration, citing that these individuals have applied for international protection “in order to delay or frustrate the enforcement of a return decision”. While this is one of the legal grounds for detention under Greek Law, this reasoning is being used to detain individuals immediately upon arrival in Greece, before they have even completed their initial registration.

While the stated reason for detention has changed, it seems that detention is still largely based on nationality, given that most of those detained upon arrival are from countries where the majority of citizens are denied international protection.

Further frustrating judicial review of these decisions, individuals are often detained without a written comprehensive order from the Police Director, stating “complete and comprehensive reasoning” for the detention, as required by Greek Law 4375, Article 46(3). The lack of such an order makes it difficult for individuals and lawyers alike to legally challenge the decision in court.

Additionally, Greece continues the practice of detaining individuals who have requested “voluntary” return to their home countries. Many individuals spend months in detention after they make the difficult decision to give up on their hope of receiving protection in Europe.

Under Greek and international law, asylum seekers cannot be detained simply because “he/she entered irregularly and/or stays in the country without a legal residence permit,” and detention should be enforced “exceptionally and if this is considered necessary after an individual assessment under the condition that no alternative measures” can be applied. [Greek Law 4375, Article 46]. While we condemn the containment policy as a violation of individuals’ right to freedom of movement, when most asylum seekers in Lesvos are in any case prohibited from leaving, there is no legal excuse for keeping individuals in detention upon arrival on the closed island of Lesvos, or when they are coerced into returning to their home countries.

Legal Centre Updates

Moria 35+2

Six months have passed since the police violently raided the African section of Moria Camp, and a trial date still has not been set for the Moria 35. On the 13 December 2017 the Municipal Court renewed for another six months the pretrial detention for the 30 defendants currently detained awaiting trial. This is despite petitions by the Legal Centre and Solidarity Now attorneys to release individuals with severe mental and physical health conditions. Since their arrest on 18 July 2017, these men have now been imprisoned for over six months, without any credible evidence against them.

Furthermore, it has been confirmed that two individuals arrested in Lesvos in the weeks following the 18 July raid of Moria Refugee Camp face identical criminal charges as the 35 originally arrested. These two men have been released with restrictive measures and continue to live in Lesvos. It is expected that they will be scheduled for trial together with the original 35.

While they are not in an official prison, the seven defendants who were released with restricted measures are still in an open air prison, restricted to Lesvos island and many still live in the militarized and inhumane Moria Refugee Camp; the same place where they were brutally attacked by the police on 18 July 2017. They are marginalized and have limited access to health care and humanitarian aid, making their life extremely difficult. Many still suffer health problems that were caused or aggravated by the police violence against them, and have ongoing health needs that they do not have funds to pay for. They are in a state of limbo, denied aid from organizations like Mercy Corps, because their asylum claims have been rejected in the second instance, yet they are prohibited from leaving the island (even if it were to return to their home country) due to the ongoing criminal case against them.

Despite the lack of justice found in the Greek court to date, there has been a growing solidarity movement to support these men and demand their freedom, as activists from around Europe have learned of their unjust arrest and continued detention.

At the Legal Centre, we have also launched a successful crowd funding campaign to both raise awareness and funds to ensure an effective legal defense.

Funding Updates

The Legal Centre continues to operate with the exclusive support of individual donations and entities that are not complicit in human rights or environmental abuses. Our ethical funding guidelines allow us not only to maintain our independence, but through our funders we have also begun to build relationships with solidarity organization outside Lesvos, in particular in Barcelona. We have renewed funding from both Fons Catalá and Fundación Heres for 2018, and received support from ASIC La Garriga‘s December fundraising campaign.

Thanks to this funding we are now are able to support a small team of two full time Greek attorneys, three part time interpreters, and a full time coordinator. Volunteer lawyers and legally trained individuals continue to serve as caseworkers in the Legal Centre and provide invaluable assistance to ensure that the Legal Centre can continue to have an open door policy and provide individualized consultation to any migrant in Lesvos who seeks our legal assistance. In 2017, through advocacy of our volunteers, interpreters, and lawyers, hundreds of Legal Centre clients were granted refugee status, subsidiary protection, and permission to leave Lesvos for the European continent.


  1. Moria Refugee Camp Unlivable and Containment Policy Unsustainable
  2. OPEN THE ISLANDS Campaigns initiated throughout Lesvos and Greece
  3. Sappho Square Sit-In
  4. Memorials Held for Refugees Killed at Sea and in Lesvos
  5. Legal Updates
    • Asylum Seekers Whose Right to Legal Aid Was Violated Forcibly Returned to Turkey
    • Detention Policy in Violation of International Law Extended to Syrian Men
    • Shifting Practices for Registration and Granting Permission to Leave the Island
  6. Legal Centre Lesbos Updates
    • Moria 35 Update
    • Legal Centre Lesbos Founder Receives Paris Pro Bono Award

1. Moria Refugee Camp Unlivable and Containment Policy Unsustainable

In October over 2260 individuals arrived in Lesvos from Turkey. During the same period, only 1189 asylum seekers were allowed to leave Lesvos and provided with accommodation on the mainland. This brings the total population of refugees and asylum seekers in Lesvos to approximately 8000, with an estimated 6000 staying in or around Moria Refugee Camp. Last month we reported on the inhumane conditions in Moria, and this month these problems have only compounded, putting asylum seekers lives in acute danger. Now, over 1000 children are living in Moria, unaccompanied minor children are living together with adults, and 3000 individuals are living in summer camping tents without heating. Reception conditions do not come close to “ensur[ing] . . . a dignified standard of living,” as required by EU Regulations (Recast Reception Conditions Directive 2013/33/EU).

Tragedy has already befallen asylum seekers in Lesvos. Two residents of Moria died in October – a five year old Syrian girl, and a 43 year old Iraqi man. While both reportedly suffered from prior medical conditions, the access to health care for asylum seekers remains appallingly inadequate.

The Greek State has received 700 million Euros to manage the arrival of refugees, and it is the obligation of the Greek State to ensure adequate standards of living and health care. However, solidarity and volunteer groups continue to be the key actors working daily directly with refugees and asylum seekers. Boat Refugee Foundation (BRF) and Emergency Response Centre International (ECRI) are the main providers of health care in the camp, and both are volunteer based organizations. Volunteer and donation based organizations such as Attika warehouse have also provided many of the tents in Moria and winter products distributed among the refugees.

2. OPEN THE ISLANDS Campaigns INitiated throughout Lesvos and Greece

As a result of the abysmal conditions refugees face in Lesvos and other Greek Islands, October saw the convergence of many different actors in the Greek islands and throughout Europe joining forces to call on the Greek government to open the islands and allow asylum seekers to travel to mainland EU. On 12 October, the Legal Centre Lesbos joined a collective of what has now grown to over 100 solidarity groups and grassroots organizations from the Greek islands, mainland Greece, and abroad, calling for urgent action from Greek government to address the untenable situation for refugees on the Greek islands. We demand that the EU government protect the rights of asylum seekers and immediately cancel the inhumane EU-Turkey deal, and allow refugees free movement rights.

On 23 October, the call to open the islands was echoed by larger NGOs and human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who the Legal Centre Lesbos joined in issuing an additional statement recommending that the Greek state allow asylum seekers free movement throughout Greece.

Lesvos LGBTIQ+ Refguee Solidarity also published a damning report on the complete lack of protection for LGBTIQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in Lesvos. Many face continued persecution and revictimization within Moria, on the streets of Lesvos, and from Greek authorities. They also demand that the islands be opened to allow LGBTQI+ refugees to reach safety on mainland Europe.


3. Sappho Square Sit-In

On the 20 October, due to the insecure, inhumane conditions, many families – the majority from Afghanistan – fled Moria Refugee Camp with all of their belongings. That night they slept in the street, rather than return to Moria Camp. The next day, despite attempts by the police to block their passage, they walked to Mitilini and occupied Sapfous square in central Mitilini. The occupation of Sapfous Square appears to have happened organically without prior organization or planning, in reaction to insecure conditions that refugees face when they arrive in Lesvos and are forced to stay in Moria Refugee Camp. Since 21 October, Afghan families and Kurdish and Iranian refugees have staged a sit-in in Sappho Square. Their central demand is to be allowed free movement rights to travel throughout Greece. The demands of those occupying Sapfous Square are in line both with international law and the Greek constitution which recognize free movement rights.

Throughout the past twenty days of protest, the police continue to have an intimidating presence in and around the Square. They routinely stop Europeans who are present in Sapfous Square, asking for IDs, threatening arrest, and demanding information about what individuals are doing in Greece. The attempt to intimidate Europeans from speaking with the protesting refugees and documenting their testimonies plays into a practice throughout Europe of keeping refugees out of the public eye, in refugee camps far from urban centres, where systematic violations of refugee rights can take place with impunity.

Despite the attempts by the police to silence the protesters and solidarity groups, Greek activists and solidarity groups including from Musafarat collective against detention centers, Κατάληψη στο Μπίνειο (Binio Squat), Εργατική Λέσχη Λέσβου (Workers Union Lesvos) and No Borders Kitchen Lesvos have led solidarity actions and provided support to the protesting refugees throughout the past twenty days.

In addition to organizing to put pressure on Greek and European authorities to open the islands, the Legal Centre Lesbos will continue to monitor the police’s response to the occupation of Sapfous Square so that the right to protest is respected, and that any violation of this right is documented.

4. Memorials Held for Refugees Killed at Sea and in Lesvos

Welcome to Europe held a memorial in Thermi, Lesvos on 25 October in remembrance of the victims of Fortress Europe, who died at sea attempting to reach the safety of Europe, or who died while trapped on Lesvos.

A second memorial was held in Eftalou organized by Phillipa and Eric Kempson of the Hope Project, to mark two years since the preventable tragedy in 2015 when dozens were lost at sea attempting to reach Europe.

The Legal Centre Lesbos condemns the EU policies of exclusion which continue to arm the repressive Turkish regime, and fail to provide safe passage to individuals fleeing war, persecution and imperialist policies of economic and environmental exploitation.

5. Legal Updates

  • Asylum Seekers Whose Right to Legal Aid Was Violated Forcibly Returned to Turkey

In July and August we reported on the lack of legal aid available for asylum seekers on appeal, in direct violation of their right to legal aid on appeal under Greek Law 4375, Article 46. Two months later, the individuals who appealed the rejection of their cases without a lawyer are now being rejected on appeal and deported to Turkey. This includes one individual who was politically involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and faces persecution if returned there. As is the case for many sub-Saharan Africans, his claim was rejected on credibility after being interviewed by a European Aslum Support Office (EASO) “expert”. In theory, EASO does not make decisions, but issues an opinion after the interview(s) which, along with the interview transcript, forms the basis of the Greek Asylum Service decision. This is particularly concerning when it comes to determinations of credibility. Often, minor inconsistencies and a detached manner of recalling events are used to find individuals non-credible – when these are the very symptoms that a survivor of trauma might express.

The involvement of EASO experts in the Greek asylum procedure was challenged and upheld in the recent Council of State decision that found Turkey to be a Safe Third Country. However, we continue to condemn the lack of clarity regarding the extent of EASO’s mandate, particularly given ongoing concerns over the training and quality control of EASO “experts.”

As just one example of the callous institutional attitude of EASO, and the prioritisation of securitisation over upholding international human rights and refugee law, one EASO officer was overheard in a Mitilini cafe this month stating that “All Africans are lying”, and the primary role for EASO in Greece is to protect Europe from Isis.

“All Africans are lying,” - EASO Officer, Lesvos, October 2017.

Unfortunately, rejection on appeal is not limited to individuals without a lawyer and the Appeals Committee have served mainly to rubber stamp the initial decision made by the Greek Asylum Service. The recent European Commission report on implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement shows that ONLY 1 % OF DENIALS OF INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION WERE REVERSED ON APPEAL in cases made by non-Syrians from the Greek islands. This lack of effective remedy is a clear violation of asylum seekers right to access justice.

Given the large number of inconsistencies reported regarding interviews conducted and decisions made in Lesvos, these statistics are alarming and have tragic consequences for the individuals who have risked everything to reach the safety of Europe, only to be returned (via Turkey) to the countries where their lives may be at risk. Prohibitively expensive court fees and lack of sufficient legal aid actors on Lesvos has meant that asylum seekers are unable to challenge these routine violations in court and there has been no effective remedy or redress for violation of their rights.

  • Continued Detention in Violation of International Law Extended to Syrian men

The illegal practice of detention based on nationality for the duration of examination of applications for international protection continues, and has been extended to single Syrian men. This apparently is following the Council of State decision from last month which found that Turkey was a Safe Third Country for Syrians. HIAS successfully challenged the detention of three Syrian men, however, the three were released based on individual circumstances, and the general practice of detaining single Syrian men upon arrival continues.

Lawyers working with detained individuals have reported that detainees lack basic information about their rights – such as the right to appeal, and to information about their application in a language they understand. Lawyers have also reported that detained individuals do not have access to effective legal aid as police limit the amount of time detained individuals have to consult lawyers and often interrupt confidential consultations. The practice of keeping individuals in detention throughout the processing of their applications for international protection have horrifying consequences for the individuals detained, and due to limited access it is difficult to monitor the extent of violations taking place. There have been several reports of self harm and suicide attempts by individuals detained in Moria Camp. The Legal Centre has long denounced the illegal practice of detention based on nationality without individualized assessment, as this practice violates asylum seekers right to effective legal aid, and be free from arbitrary detention, and to be free from discrimination based on nationality.

  • Shifting Practices for Registration and Granting Permission to Leave the Island

During October 2017, the Greek Asylum Service changed its containment policies for asylum seekers who arrive to Lesvos. In the past several months individuals were made to wait until at least after their first interview with EASO or the Greek Asylum Service in order for their request to have geographic restrictions lifted considered. Thousands of asylum seekers are contained for months, some for over a year, on Lesvos awaiting the decision on their applications for international protection. For several weeks in October this practice shifted and individuals who were able to establish that they are vulnerable (a legal term under Greek law) at the full registration of their application for international protection were allowed to travel throughout Greece. Many of these individuals were transferred to the mainland and had their cases transferred for processing by the Greek Asylum Service in Athens and Thessaloniki.

As of the end of October, this policy has been rescinded, and once again individuals must appear for their first interview regarding their application for international protection in Lesvos before the Greek Asylum Service will consider lifting geographic restrictions.

The constantly changing policies and inconsistent and arbitrary treatment of asylum seekers has led to increased tensions within the refugee population in Lesvos as new arrivals have been allowed to leave the island and have been provided with housing on the mainland while many others face a second winter in Moria. “Vulnerability” under Greek law has been used as a criteria to lift geographic restrictions. But, as we have seen in many cases, non-visible vulnerabilities such as psychological problems and trauma frequently go unrecognised, despite being indicators of vulnerability under Greek Law 4375, Article 14(8). Moreover, while vulnerable asylum seekers are guaranteed certain safeguards and protections under Greek law, those found not-vulnerable also possess a significant bundle of legal rights which are currently being violated. All asylum seekers have the right to adequate reception conditions, to access a fair process, and to freedom of movement – all of which is being routinely violated in Lesvos, and in particular for those living in Moria Refugee Camp.

6. Legal Centre Lesbos Updates

  • Moria 35 Update

Three months after the July 18 arrests, the preliminary hearing procedure in the case of the Moria 35 has closed. A trial date has not yet been set. The three Bambara speaking defendants provided their own interpreter and agreed to be interrogated. With representation by HIAS and Legal Centre Lesbos, the three were ordered released with restrictive measures awaiting trial. With the conclusion of interrogation of all 35 defendants, the preliminary procedure now has closed and we await a trial date to be set.

While five of the 35 defendants are free in Lesvos awaiting trial, 30 have now been detained for three months, awaiting trial, despite lack of credible evidence against them.

Meanwhile, investigation of excessive use of force by the police against the 35 is ongoing. Several individuals who had filed complaints against the police for excessive use of force were visited by police while in detention, as part of the police department’s own internal investigation.

  • Legal Centre Lesbos Founder Receives Pro Bono Award

Each year since 2012, the Paris Bar organises a Pro Bono Award Competition which rewards solidarity actions led by Parisian lawyers. This year, among the thirty candidates who presented their projects, Norma Jullien, one of the co-founders of the Legal Centre Lesbos, was nominated.

On Tuesday 10th of October, the Pro Bono Award Ceremony took place in Paris and gathered nearly 400 lawyers and many representatives of the associative world. On this occasion the Henri Leclerc Prize dedicated to trainee and young lawyers has been awarded to Norma Jullien for her action in favor of the refugees of Lesbos and her work with the Legal Centre Lesbos.

After having dedicated her award to the entire team, Norma Jullien recalled the degrading and inhumane conditions in which the Moria camp population is staying, the systematic breaches of human rights they are subjected to and the crucial role of the international community of lawyers to fight these abuses.

Currently training at the Paris Bar School, Norma Jullien will be fully qualified to practice as a French lawyer next autumn 2018. Meanwhille she remains involved with the Legal Centre Lesbos from abroad as a volunteer coordinator.

Solidarity Groups call for closing “hotspots” for refugees as winter approaches

Today, 12 October, 2017, the Legal Centre Lesbos joins over 40 solidarity groups and organizations from the Greek islands, Athens, and abroad, calling for urgent action from Greek government. We also demand that the EU immediately cancel the inhumane EU-Turkey deal.
Since the EU Turkey statement came into force on March 20th 2016, thousands of refugees are trapped on the Greek islands. Last winter, six people who were seeking refuge and protection in Europe died in Moria Refugee Camp, their deaths linked to inhumane winter living conditions. We are shocked and outraged at the current situation in Lesvos as winter sets in, with approximately 5000 people living in a camp with less than half the capacity. Many refugees face their second winter living in Moria Refugee Camp.
We have joined forces with grassroots and solidarity organizations today to demand that Moria Refugee Camp and other hotspots be closed and that refugees be granted freedom of movement, so they can freely travel off the Greek islands to contintental Europe.

For our full statement and list of signatories, and to follow the campaign, please see:



35 individuals were arrested on Tuesday 18th July 2017 in Moria Refugee Camp in Lesvos, Greece, after clashes with riot police using teargas and violence, which followed the peaceful protest refugees held in the morning. The 35 refugees who were arrested in Moria Camp on Tuesday have preliminary hearings tomorrow and Saturday, the 21st and 22nd of July.

Many of those arrested were not even part of the morning’s peaceful protest or clashes between a handful of protesters and riot police, leading observers to conclude that they were arrested simply due to their race and location in the camp when raids and arrests took place. Many of the 35 were brutally beaten by the police; some still have visible injuries, many require medical attention, and one remains hospitalized. Their access to food, water and medical care has been restricted, and many remain without shoes. All 35 face exaggerated criminal charges including arson, attempted assault, resisting arrest, rioting and disturbing the public peace.

These charges carry disproportionately heavy sentences if convicted, and could result in exclusion from the right to international protection and deportation to the countries they have fled because of dangers to their life and/or liberty. There is mounting evidence of excessive use of force by the police on Tuesday, and reports of ongoing police violence against the 35 currently in custody. However, given the extremely limited number of lawyers on the island, and the 48-hour timeline, the Moria 35 face serious criminal charges without access to meaningful due process. Legal Centre Lesbos strongly condemns these arrests and the violence that preceded them.

Although the hearings are not open to the public, we call on all concerned individuals in and near Mytilene to show solidarity with the accused by being a peaceful presence outside the courthouse tomorrow and Saturday from 9am. Follow @lesboslegal on Twitter for updates.

Για τα γεγονότα στις 18-07 στο Kέντρο Kράτησης της Μόριας Λέσβου (Translated)

July Report on Rights Violations and Resistance in Lesvos

  1. Arbitrary Detention Sparks Protests in Moria and Mytilene
  2. Lack of free legal representation on appeal violates refugees’ right to due process
  3. Concerns about rise in hate crimes and discrimination in Mytilene
  4. LCL developments: LCL welcomes new Greek lawyer to team


The Greek government continues to indiscriminately detain all asylum seekers after their cases have been rejected on appeal. As denounced by the Legal Centre Lesbos, this practice is in violation of Greek, EU and international law. Applicants for international protection can only be lawfully detained as a measure of last resort under the specific circumstances set out in Article 46 of Greek Law 4375, which must be individually assessed in every case. In the past week, the practice of administrative detention in Lesvos has led to two separate protests.

Today, 13 July 2017, several detained asylum seekers, and the brother of one of those detained, enter the 16th and 15th day of their hunger strike demanding the release of everyone incarcerated in Moria Camp. Arash Hampay, the brother of one of the asylum seekers on hunger strike in prison, is a human rights activist from Iran. He joined the hunger strike in Mytilene’s public square a day after his imprisoned brother, and reports regularly on the situation of refugees in Lesvos and failure of the Greek State and UNHCR to protect those seeking refuge in Europe.

Arash Hampay, on Day 12 of hunger strike.

Among the practices denounced by Arash Hampay is the new practice of limiting refugee detainees’ access to their phones to one hour per day, and restricting access to medical care. These practices put the hunger strikers´ lives in danger and violate their right to protest. During the past two weeks of their hunger strike, the detained hunger strikers have not been visited by authorities to discuss their demands. The Mytilene police have approached Arash Hampay only to threaten him with arrest and insult him. On Saturday 8 July 2017 approximately 50 refugees marched from Moria Refugee Camp to Mytilene in solidarity with the hunger strikers, and in protest of the detention of asylum seekers. The march ended with a rally in Sappho square, the site of Arash Hampay’s hunger strike, where he made a speech denouncing the inhumane practices of the Greek and EU authorities which was translated into four different languages for the crowd that had gathered.

On 10 July 2017, a protest erupted in Moria Refugee Camp, the main refugee camp in Lesvos, where more than 3,000 refugees live in overcrowded, inhumane conditions for prolonged periods of time. The demonstration was a response to the rejection of asylum claims and systematic detention of asylum seekers in Lesvos. The police in Moria responded by attacking the crowd with tear gas. There were no serious injuries, but the containers of several NGOs caught fire and were destroyed; including the container of EuroRelief, the religious organization responsible under UN auspices for providing basic services in the Camp. Several refugees have denounced EuroRelief for collusion with the police, discrimination against and failure to protect LGBTQ+ refugees, and for prosthelatysing vulnerable inhabitants of Moria Camp. Fire trucks and fire fighters entered Moria Refugee Camp to combat the fire only after the fire had died down.


Greek Law provides that “in procedures before the Appeals Authority, applicants shall be provided with free legal assistance.” Greek Law 4375, Article 44; which transposes Articles 19-23 of the EU Procedures Directive, which requires the same. As of the the last week of June 2017, however, the Greek NGO, Metadrasi, that had been providing this mandatory free legal assistance on appeal has stopped accepting new cases. Metadrasi’s contract to provide legal assistance on appeal ended at the end of June 2017, and no other legal aid provider has been contracted to fill the gap left by the departure of Metadrasi. As a result, all those whose applications for international protection have been rejected in the past two weeks are being told by Greek authorities and UNHCR that there is no lawyer available to assist with their appeal.

Under accelerated border procedures in place in Lesvos, appeals are usually examined only 10 days after an initial rejection. This leaves asylum seekers with little time to secure effective legal aid even when a free lawyer is provided, as required by Greek law. This problem has been aggravated over the past few weeks with asylum seekers unable to secure any legal assistance before their appeals are examined. This process violates asylum seekers’ right to due process, and could lead to the rejection and deportation of asylum seekers who will face persecution in their home countries or Turkey: in violation of the principle of non-refoulement and the non-derogable provisions of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.


In the past week, the Legal Centre has been informed of at least three attacks by Greek nationals and the Greek police against refugees. The Legal Centre helped one refugee file a complaint with the police department after he was beaten by three Greek individuals who stopped him on the street and insulted him for being an “African bastard.” Another individual from Iran was also beaten by three Greek individuals. When he began to defend himself, the police arrived and arrested the Iranian refugee but not the Greek individuals. The Iranian national was taken to the Mytilene police station where he was beaten by the police, and charged with having assaulted the Greek nationals. In the past few weeks we have also been informed of an increase in discrimination against refugees by both Greek civilians and police officers, particularly racism against black individuals. In one reported incident, employees of Tsamakia beach, the main beach in Mytilene, refused entry to a group of black refugees, who were preparing to pay. The individuals were given no explanation for the refused entry, and believe the refusal was racially motivated. It should go without saying that discrimination based on race or national origin violates basic rights guaranteed by Greek, EU and international law.

                                                                                                                   Tsamakia beach, Lesvos


The Legal Centre is happy to welcome Greek lawyer Stefanos Mitropanos to our team. He joins the Legal Centre after several years working as an attorney in Athens and Thessaloniki, defending the rights of refugees and criminal defendants in Greek courts and in the European Court of Human Rights.

Arbitrary Detention in Lesbos – Refugees Driven to Hunger Strike to Protest Inhumane Conditions

The Legal Centre Lesbos condemns the unlawful practice of indiscriminately detaining people who are in the process of applying for international protection. The Greek Asylum Service is currently automatically detaining applicants whose initial appeals have been rejected, and arbitrarily detaining people of certain nationalities for the entire duration of their applications.

International law forbids discrimination on the basis of nationality, and prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. It also provides that detainees have the right to meaningfully challenge any deprivation of their liberty. All these rights are being systematically violated in Lesvos. Indiscriminate administrative detention also violates the procedural requirements of EU and Greek law, which explicitly prohibit holding people in detention for the sole reason that they have applied for international protection. Detention is only exceptionally permitted for limited time periods as a measure of last resort, under the specific circumstances set out in Article 46 of Greek Law 4375, which must be individually assessed in every case.

On Wednesday, 28 June 2017, four individuals imprisoned in Moria started a hunger strike protesting their arbitrary imprisonment, and demanding freedom for all those detained on the island. Arash Hampay, whose brother is one of those on hunger strike in Moria, has joined their hunger strike from Sappho Square on 29 June 2017, and shared the following statement:

I call for the immediate release from detention of my brother, and the three others who are on hunger strike inside the prison in Moria. We demand the Greek Asylum Service and the United Nations hear our voices, which have fallen on deaf ears for too long.

How dare you speak in the beautiful slogans of human rights? How dare you talk about humanity and law and democracy? How dare you condemn human rights abuses in other countries when you are committing human rights abuses here, yourselves?

We came to Europe for protection. We came because we were hurt, because we were tortured, because our lives were in danger. But instead of showing us mercy, you are treating us like criminals. Barbed wire and prison cells are not the right place for refugees.

From the day we fled the hell we were enduring in our home countries and became refugees in pretentious Europe, we have suffered the worst kinds of psychological torture. We have been humiliated and beaten by the police. We have been denied the right to work and if we do work, we are exploited. We have had our human dignity stripped from us. In the winter in Moria people have died from cold and hunger at night, freezing in thin tents for months on end. We saw our families dying beside us and you did nothing.

The imprisonment of my brother Amir Hampay is a violation of his basic human rights. He has been in prison for 2 months. For what crime? On what legal or ethical basis can you justify arresting and detaining us in this way?

My brother Amir and I are from Iran. Bahroz Aresh and Kozhen Hussain are from Iraq. Tariq Ibrahim is from Syria. They are all on hunger strike from yesterday, and today the 28 June 2017 I have joined them. We will remain on hunger strike until you meet our demand.

Our demand is simple. It is a demand for basic human dignity. We demand you release all the refugees in prison in Lesvos who have not been accused or convicted of any crime. We demand Europe stop keeping refugees in detention.

The detainees on hunger strike in Moria camp, Lesvos, have not been accused or convicted of any crime. They have done nothing more than apply for asylum. Arbitrarily depriving applicants for international protection of their liberty is a systematic violation of fundamental human rights.

The Legal Centre Lesbos is concerned about the physical and mental health of the hunger strikers, especially given extreme summer heat. We stand in solidarity with them in their call for an end to the unlawful and inhumane practice of arbitrary detention.

Refugee “Voluntarily” Returned from Greece Severely Tortured Upon Arrival in Ethiopia

European policies of exclusion and xenophobia were in the media’s spotlight last year with the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, leaving families trapped at borders and in inhumane living conditions in border regions. With payments of handsome sums to Turkey to guard its borders and stop sea crossings, we no longer see the dramatic footage of thousands of people arriving on Europe’s shores and crossing borders in search of safety. Media fatigue has meant that most international press has left Lesvos and other hotspots, where inhumane living conditions persist. Europe has ‘succeeded’ in preventing most of those fleeing war, persecution, and extreme poverty from ever reaching Europe, and likewise has succeeded in keeping Europe’s disgraceful treatment of refugees and migrants (many of them fleeing NATO and the US’s imperialist policies in their home counties) far from scrutiny.

Even those who now arrive in Europe are being kept out of sight, housed in camps far away from urban centres. In a vigorous attempt to keep refugees and migrants out of Europe at any cost, policies are made to encourage the “voluntary return” of individuals kept waiting months for results in their applications for international protection. The International Organization of Migration (IOM) is involved in encouraging the ‘voluntary’ return of asylum seekers to their home countries “at the earliest possible stage” after arrival in the Greek islands1 and new policies further coerce asylum seekers to give up their right to appeal in exchange for assisted voluntary return with IOM.  Between January and March of 2017, 212 people on the Greek islands opted to withdraw their applications for international protection and return to their home countries.2

Mytiline, 3 April 2017, Protest of IOM policies of assisted voluntary return, limiting right to appeal

The results of these polices are tragic. One asylum seeker, Bilisumma*, was living in Moria Refugee Camp in Lesvos for six months, and was still waiting to submit his application for international protection.

Before he fled Ethiopia in 2016, Bilisumma was an active leader in the Oromo community. He was one of the founding members of GDSAO (an organization that promotes Oromo culture) in his high school, and he was active in the Oromo Liberation Front, fighting for Oromo rights and against exploitation of Oromo land and people by the Ethiopian government and multinational corporations. Bilisumma was arrested and tortured many times for his activism, and Bilisumma’s father, cousin, and countless friends were killed by the Ethiopian regime.

Because Bilisumma feared for his own life he fled to Europe in 2016. However, Europe did not provide Bilisumma the refuge that he should have been guaranteed by law. During the six months he was waiting to register his application for international protection, he did not have the right to work in Greece, the right to leave the island or to rent housing in Lesvos. Essentially he was detained in Moria Refugee Camp in a state of limbo. Undiscouraged by this uncertainty, he applied and was accepted to university in the United States, but because he was prohibited from leaving the island of Lesvos he was unable to access the U.S. Consulate to secure a visa. Without any guarantee of when his application for refugee status would be processed, Bilisumma made the difficult decision to return to Ethiopia through IOM’s voluntary return program, and attempt to get a visa from there, stating,

I’ve decided to go back to Ethiopia. I know I could be put in prison and be tortured, but I’m in a prison here and people are dying in this prison too.”

In February of 2017, six hours after he arrived in Ethiopia, Bilisumma was arrested while reuniting with his mother and family in Addis Ababa. He was taken to an Intelligence Agency black site where he was held and tortured for over two weeks. He was regularly beaten and insulted, and was denied all food except for a small amount of bread and water each day. The Ethiopian government accessed all of his accounts, contacts, and files from his cell phone, and when he was finally released he was under house arrest and was warned that if he contacted the press or anyone outside Ethiopia he would be killed. When he was able to make contact outside of Ethiopia using secure communication systems, he sent the following final plea:

“I understand that they will kill me after they will finish all their investigation . . . Am on the verge of death now,no one can help me now!! I will give the phone number of someone who can tell you when i will be killed! Am counting down days to die! I cant fled anymore! Am frustrated,i gave up! I understand that my journey of life is finished!!”

Four months later, Bilisumma has managed to escape, and is now in a secure location outside Ethiopia. Many other Oromo activists have not been so lucky. But this tragedy could have been avoided if Europe had not failed in its duty to provide protection to people like Bilisumma who are fleeing persecution.

Europe continues to fail asylum seekers

Just this week, on 13 June 2017, Sher Agha*, signed with IOM to voluntarily return to Iran. It is not the first time he is withdrawing an application for international protection. In 2009, he had applied for protection in the UK, but when his mother fell gravely ill he decided to return to Iran in order to see her. The reunion with his mother was delayed, as he was arrested in the Tehran airport immediately upon arrival. He was held for over four years in Evin prison, where he was brutally tortured and held in solitary confinement, accused of being a spy. While Sher Agha knows that he will likely be arrested when he returns to Iran again now, he believes that this fate in Iran is better than the life he has been living for nearly a year in Greece.

Evin Prison in Iran, where Sher Agha was held over four years

Reza has severe mental health problems that have been aggravated by the torture he suffered in Iran. He is unable stay in a crowded camp environment like Moria Refugee Camp without inducing anxiety attacks. Just speaking about life in Moria causes Sher Agha to break out in a sweat, and after most meetings discussing the trauma he has undergone he “just needs to find a quiet place.”

Finding this quiet place has proved impossible in the overcrowded Moria Refugee Camp, and difficult in Lesvos. Sher Agha has been racially profiled, arrested, and beaten by Mitilini police on several occasions.

I thought police in Europe would be different than in Iran,”

he stated after one such beating that left a welt on his head and a large purple bruise on his leg. In March of 2017, the Greek Asylum Office designated Sher Agha as vulnerable as a victim of torture, and because of his documented severe mental health problems.

As a vulnerable individual, by law, Sher Agha’s case should be prioritized, but his interview on his claim for international protection is not until November of 2017 – more than fifteen months after his arrival in Greece. Also, by law Sher Agha should be provided with adequate accommodation while his application for refugee status is pending; instead Sher Agha has been left to fend for himself. While months ago UNHCR received documentation of Sher Agha’s health problems and inability to live in Moria, he has not been provided housing outside Moria Camp and is living on the street in Lesvos. The legal process to challenge Sher Agha’s treatment by the Greek government and agencies is not quick enough to account for Sher Agha’s desperation. Instead of waiting for his rights to be realized, he has been forced to give up his rightful claim to protection, and return to Iran where he faces almost certain imprisonment. Sher Agha hopes that his documented mental health condition will be enough to keep him out of prison, but he acknowledges that this was not enough eight years ago when he returned from the UK.

I asked Sher Agha how he feels after he came to inform our office about his decision to return to Iran. “I’m tired,” he states as he scrolls through pictures on his phone of Rikers Island and Guantanamo.

* Names changed to protect identity

1. “IOM with EU support to intensify campaigns promoting AVRR among migrants at the earliest possible stage.” Fourth Report on the Progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, Annex I, European Commission, Brussels, 8.12.2916 COM (2016) 792 final,

2. Fifth Report on the Progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, Annex I, European Commission, Brussels, 8.12.2916 COM (2016) 792 final,

Amnesty International Chair Arrested in Turkey: How long will EU falsely claim that Turkey is safe for refugees?

On 6 June 2017, the Chair of Amnesty International, Taner Kiliç, was arrested by Turkish authorities.

Unfortunately, this arrest is not an isolated event. Since a State of Emergency was declared throughout Turkey after the failed coup attempt in July 2016, new procedures have severely restricted the rights of associations, lawyers and activists to operate. Hundreds of associations have been declared terrorist organizations and thousands of public employees have been fired. Under new State of Emergency rules, Turkish police were also given the power to arrest lawyers without waiting for a prosecutor signed arrest warrant, as was required previously. In this context, hundreds of lawyers are currently detained in Turkey and over a thousand lawyers have been prosecuted.

As Amnesty International has stated, Taner Kiliç has a long and distinguished record of defending exactly the kind of freedoms that the Turkish authorities are now intent on trampling. Additionally, he has investigated and reported on the violation of refugee rights in Turkey, condemning Turkey for failing to meet international obligations to refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

We have long condemned the EU for returning refugees and migrants to Turkey. However, FRONTEX continues to quietly return to Turkey individuals whose applications for international protection are rejected in Greece, and individuals who have “voluntarily” withdrawn their application after months of uncertainty, detention on the Greek islands, and inhumane living conditions. The future that awaits them in Turkey is dire, where non-Syrians are routinely held in detention without access to legal assistance or basic services, and Syrians’ rights to mobility, health care, and protection from defaulment are breached.

These violations of refugee rights exposed by Mr. Taner Kiliç and his colleagues have been ignored by the EU, and now Mr. Kiliç has found himself victim of the Turkish regime’s repressive policies. We call on Turkey to immediately release Mr. Kiliç and for the EU to cease all returns of refugees and migrants to Turkey.

Please sign, calling for Taner Kiliç’s immediate release:

Legal Centre Lesbos joins NGOs in Decrying New Policy Limiting Asylum Seekers in Exercising their Right to Appeal

Mytiline, Greece – 15 NGOs urge the Greek Government to immediately reverse the recent policy excluding asylum-seekers on the Greek islands who appeal negative asylum decisions from the possibility of participating later on in the International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme and forcing those who wish to participate to forego their right to appeal. The decision follows the direction set by the recommendations in the European Commission’s and Greek Government’s Joint Action Plan on the European Union (EU) – Turkey Statement of 18 March 2016, which aims to limit the steps in the appeals process and remove so called “administrative obstacles to swift voluntary return”.

IOM’s AVRR programme provides migrants who cannot or no longer wish to remain in a host country with the support to return and reintegrate into their country of origin. According to IOM, “voluntariness remains a precondition for all its AVRR activities.”1

In direct contradiction to this precondition however, the recently announced policy restricts access to AVRR on the Greek islands as of early April, by dictating that, upon receipt of a negative first instance decision (i.e., inadmissible or rejection on merit), asylum seekers are provided with a choice: appeal this decision as per their right under Greek, EU, and International Human Rights law,2 or forego their right to appeal and benefit from the AVRR package (which includes €1,000). If they ultimately choose to exercise their right to appeal, they lose the opportunity for future AVRR, and if their appeal is negative, they face deportation to Turkey. This policy is not applicable for those on the Greek mainland who remain eligible for AVRR after having appealed their negative asylum decision. Under the new policy, individuals are meant to be given five days to decide. However, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) have already received reports of people being pressured, without allowing time to consult with a lawyer, to make the decision on the spot.

We are concerned that the new policy has both a coercive effect on an asylum seeker’s decision to appeal a negative decision, thereby jeopardizing the right to a fair asylum process as provided by EU law, and also on their decision to return to their country of origin. In addition, this policy presents a high risk of refoulement, given that it can result in asylum seekers with strong asylum claims, who may nevertheless have received a negative first instance decision, to drop their right to appeal.

This new policy is the latest in a series of steps being taken to make access to asylum in Europe more difficult, as outlined in numerous NGO reports3. Europe has a long history of commitment to protecting and upholding human rights, and has the means to fulfill its responsibility to provide international protection for people seeking it through procedures that are not prejudiced, do not discriminate, and do not apply duress to influence the outcome. Instead, these measures would limit the number of people who appeal, pressuring people in need of international protection to give up their claim. Seeking to manage migration at the cost of undermining or compromising asylum norms, sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world to follow.

Everyone applying for asylum should be able to exercise their right to an appeal without foregoing the opportunity to seek AVRR at any point during and after the asylum process. Any person deciding to return home with the assistance of IOM should be able to do so free of duress and in full respect of their basic human rights. Any policy suggesting otherwise threatens to not only jeopardize the integrity of the AVRR programme, but also the asylum procedure in Greece and in turn, the right to asylum in Europe.


Any decision to exercise the right to appeal or to benefit from AVRR must be voluntary and non-coerced. IOM’s AVRR programme should be available to all migrants at any time to enable safe, dignified, and sustainable return, whether or not they have applied for asylum. As such:

  • The Greek Government should reverse the recent policy limiting a person’s eligibility for AVRR.

  • The Commission should urgently assess compatibility of this practice with EU asylum law and the right to an effective remedy.

  • IOM and UNHCR should work together and more vigorously with the Commission and Greek Government to assess the impact of the new policy on asylum seekers’ decision-making, to ensure that the AVRR programme and its implementation under this new policy does not jeopardize the right to claim asylum and protection.

  • The Commission and Greek Government should put in place monitoring and accountability mechanisms to monitor the asylum procedures on the Greek islands, including those that allow for migrant feedback directly to the Greek Ombudsman.

  • The Commission and Greek Government should meet regularly with UN agencies and NGOs to allow for feedback on how policies may impact people and their rights. Consultations should take place regularly before policies are enacted so as to ensure they will not be harmful.


  1. ActionAid

  2. Advocates Abroad

  3. Amnesty International

  4. CARE

  5. Diotima

  6. Greek Council for Refugees

  7. Greek Forum of Migrants

  8. Human Rights Watch

  1. International Rescue Committee

  2. Jesuit Refugee Services

  3. Legal Centre Lesbos

  4. Norwegian Refugee Council

  5. Oxfam

  6. Save the Children

  7. Solidarity Now

Read the Final Joint Statement here:

2Greek Law 61 of 4375/2016; Article 46 of the EU Asylum Procedures Directive which follows the wording of Article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The directive requires EU Member States to allow applicants to remain in their territory until the time limit to lodge an appeal has expired as well as pending the outcome of an appeal. The right to appeal within the ICCPR Article 2 Para 3.

Syrian Kurds on Hunger Strike in Moria Refugee Camp

Eleven Kurdish Syrians and one Arab Syrian have begun a hunger strike in Moria Refugee Camp in Lesvos, protesting the rejection of their applications on admissibility grounds. The EU and Greek government do not deny that these and other individuals are refugees, yet they claim that Turkey is a “safe third country”, and so reject their applications as “inadmissible”. These individuals now face deportation to Turkey, where Kurds are systematically persecuted and repressed by the Turkish regime, and refugee rights are denied.

One of the hunger strikers is a minor, from Kobani, who is in Greece alone. Under Greek Law, as an unaccompanied minor he should be exempt from border procedures and shouldn’t be subject to the admissibility procedures or deportation to Turkey. He has been trying to prove to the Greek Asylum Service that he is a minor, but doesn’t have a way to get his birth certificate as he fled war-torn Kobani.

The Legal Centre has consistently denounced the EU-Turkey deal, and the deportation of refugees to Turkey based on admissibility.

Below find a statement from the hunger strikers, on the first day of their protest:

“We have been here sitting since the morning without food, without water, without anything. We are on an open hunger strike and we will not leave until we get our rights. Most of us have been waiting here for eight, nine months, and some even more than a year, and we have gotten nothing. We still have the red stamp [preventing us from leaving the island of Lesvos]. Some of us were rejected, and after appealing were rejected again, and we don’t know what to do. We are told we could be sent back to Turkey, but we are Kurdish, from Syria. It is impossible and unsafe for us to be returned. The rest of us expect the same result – rejection. This is something that we refuse. The main problem is that we keep hearing the same word from the Asylum Office, “wait,” nothing more. We cannot handle that any more. We can’t wait any more. That’s why we hope with this hunger strike that someone will listen to us and will give us our rights.”

The Greek Asylum Office in Lesvos can be contacted at (0030) 22510 32323.
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All hunger strikers continue to refuse to drink water. One of the hunger strikers collapsed this afternoon from lack of water and food. He has been transferred to the hospital in critical condition, accompanied by a second hunger striker.