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August Report on Rights Violations and Resistance in Lesvos

  1. Freedom from Illegal Detention for Hunger Strikers
  2. Moria 35 Update
  3. Increase in Raids and Arbitrary Arrests
  4. One Year Anniversary of Legal Centre Lesbos
  5. Legal Updates:
    • Resumption of detention and accelerated procedure for individuals of certain nationalities
    • Continued violation of right to lawyer on appeal
    • Right to marriage for asylum seekers in Lesvos recognized

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  1. Freedom from Illegal Detention for Hunger Strikers

On Tuesday 8th August 2017, Behrooz Aresh and Kuzhin Hussein were released after enduring 35 days on hunger strike. With this victory, Arash Hampay ended his 41-day hunger strike, two weeks after his brother Amir Hampay was released from Moria Detention Centre on the 24th day of the hunger strike. The release of these three men from illegal, arbitrary detention is a victory for refugee rights in Lesvos and for the Lesvos solidarity movement. The hunger strikers victory also comes at an important time for resistance movements in Lesvos, given fear generated by authorities disproportionate response to demonstrations against human rights abuses, detailed in sections 2 and 3 below.

Amir, Behrooz, and Kuzhin are asylum seekers with cases pending in administrative court, and have committed no crime. On 28 June, after months in detention, and silenced by new restrictions limiting their contact with the outside world, the three prisoners were driven to start a hunger strike protesting their illegal detention. They were joined a day later by Amir’s brother, Arash Hampay, who made his protest in public view from the main square of Mytilene.

Over the past month activists around the world, including from Mosaik Centre and the Legal Centre, have mobilised in solidarity with Arash Hampay and the prisoners on hunger strike. Arash made daily statements on social media and for international press, communicated with the imprisoned hunger strikers and stationed himself in Sappho square around the clock with signs in Greek and English, to amplify the demand for freedom. Activists spread awareness through solidarity hunger strikes, fought to ensure hunger strikers received adequate medical attention and protection from intimidation, and put pressure on the Greek authorities to release them. Solidarity actions, including a march from Moria Detention Centre to Mytilene on 8 July, a rally on the main street of Mytilene on 1st August and a peaceful protest outside Moria Detention Centre on 5 August, led to increased coverage. One member of European Parliament issued a statement in support of the prisoners’ release.

The release of Behrooz and Kuzhin came just days after they broke their strike due to rapidly deteriorating health conditions. Behrooz had lost 30% of his body weight. Arash Hampay, whose health had been more closely monitored as he was not detained, decided to continue. He remained on hunger strike demanding the release of imprisoned hunger strikers for 41 days: breaking his hunger strike only when Behrooz and Kuzhin were finally released by court order, following petitions made by their Metadrasi lawyers.

The hunger strikers’ struggle and eventual victory has succeeded in raising local and international awareness about arbitrary detention in Lesvos. However, the unlawful practice that landed Amir, Behrooz and Kozhein in detention, of indiscriminately detaining all applicants for international protection whose cases are rejected on appeal, continues to be applied systematically. International pressure to end this practice must be maintained. As Arash said, in a statement on the day of Behroos and Kuzhein’s release:

“The heart of this victory is the people overcoming the state…The hunger strike ended today. We were victorious. [But] the struggle will always continue as long as injustice remains. Prisons still exist in our world and so do borders, which continue to separate people from each other.”

Photos from Arash’s facebook.

     2. Moria 35 Update

35 individuals were arrested on Tuesday 18th July 2017 in Moria Refugee Camp, Lesvos, in raids following clashes with riot police using teargas and violence. The individuals arrested have been charged with serious crimes including arson, damage to property, and rioting, which carry lengthy prison sentences and could signify exclusion from international protection. There is mounting evidence that individuals were arbitrarily arrested on the basis of their race, nationality and presence in the camp at the time of police raids. There is also considerable evidence that police used excessive force during and after the arrest of these individuals. Amnesty International Greece has urged authorities to investigate police violence possibly amounting to torture. See our previous report for further details.

The Legal Centre Lesbos, supported by Lesvos Solidarity, provided representation to all 35 in their preliminary hearings, and is now working with a larger coordinated group of organizations and criminal defense lawyers to ensure the 35 receive adequate representation both in their defense, and in their complaints against the police for excessive use of force.

     3. Increase in raids and arbitrary arrests

On the mornings of Monday 17th and Tuesday 18th of July, before the mass arrests, refugee communities largely from Sub-Saharan Africa organized peaceful protests in front of the European Asylum Support office in Moria, demanding freedom of movement for those who have been trapped on the island for over six months. Their demands are in line with International, EU and Greek constitutional law, which guarantee free movement rights. In fact, a recent administrative court ruling in Spain, found that restriction of asylum seekers to Ceuta (a city on the Northern coast of the African continent that was colonised and is now part of the Spanish State) was in violation of their constitutional free movement rights.

The protests calling for freedom of movement followed months of organizing peaceful resistance to state policies that continue to violate basic human rights in Lesvos. Refugee communities sent letters to European leaders, met with Greek authorities and European Parliament members and held peaceful demonstrations. Community leaders announced collective demands on Greek radio. The protests of July 17th and 18th were organised to take place during a week when an Action Camp organised by Lesvos Solidarity and Amnesty International to “shine a spotlight on the dire situation facing refugees trapped on Lesvos” had brought the attention of international media and activists to the island. Many refugee community leaders in Lesvos participated in this Action Camp, which culminated in a symbolic action denouncing the EU-Turkey deal responsible for trapping refugees on Lesvos.

On Monday 24th July, a week after the peaceful protests and subsequent mass arrests of the Moria 35, police carried out a coordinated pre-dawn raid of Moria Refugee Camp, where approximately 3000 refugees are currently living. From 5am, police surrounded the camp, preventing humanitarian workers from entering and proceeded to systematically search the ISO-box containers and tents, demanding refugees show applicant for international protection identity documents. 54 people were arrested during this raid. 21 of the arrestees were later released, while 23 were incarcerated in the detention centre in Moria. The apparently arbitrary nature of these raids and arrests raise concerns that authorities are employing a policy of intimidation calculated to instill fear and put a stop to refugees collectively organising to protest brutal conditions on the island; which is difficult enough in the face of a legal procedure that functions to divide people on the basis of nationality.

Increasing ID checks in the streets, combined with these raids and mass arrests have led to an increase in refugees seeking legal counsel in the Legal Centre as fear of arbitrary arrest grows. In the past month, we have taken on over 50 new cases, and over 80% of these new clients were referred to the Legal Centre by other refugees.

      4. One Year Anniversary of Legal Centre Lesbos

The Legal Centre opened its doors inside Mosaik Support Centre one year ago, in August 2016. With a small dedicated team of interpreters, Greek attorneys, and long-term legally trained volunteers, we have provided individual consultation to over 500 individuals and families seeking refuge in Europe. We have always operated an open door policy, providing legal aid and information to all who seek our help, regardless of legal status or strength of claims for international protection.

Over the past year our work has evolved as the challenges facing refugees in Lesvos constantly change. To meet these challenges, we have now hired two Greek attorneys, who provide representation to refugees not only in asylum procedures, but also to advocate for refugees rights wherever they are violated, such as in criminal and administrative proceedings.

In addition to providing individualized access to legal advice, we support refugee-led activities to advocate for human rights protections in Lesvos and organised with refugee communities, local activists and solidarity groups in the fight against the long-term structural injustices of the European Asylum System.

     5. Legal Updates

  • Resumption of detention and accelerated procedure for individuals of certain nationalities

Legal actors in Lesbos have raised collective concerns that authorities are detaining individuals upon arrival who come from countries with less than 25% acceptance rate for asylum. These individuals are also subject to expedited procedures for their asylum claim, sometimes to an extreme degree. In at least a few cases, the individuals arrived, had their interview the next day, were denied the day after the interview, appealed, and the examination of the appeal was scheduled a mere eight days after their arrival on the island. These individuals were detained throughout the process, with no medical attention and no access to legal services. Discrimination on the basis of nationality is prohibited by international law, while Article 46 of Greek Law 4375 provides that detention can be used only as a measure of last resort, for limited time periods, and must be individually assessed in every case. International law also mandates the right to due process and freedom from arbitrary detention.

  • Continued violation of right to lawyer on appeal

The Greek government continues to violate the rights of asylum applicants by not providing lawyers to represent them on appeal. Article 44 of Greek Law provides that “in procedures before the Appeals Authority, applicants shall be provided with free legal assistance”, transposing Articles 19-23 of the 2013/32/EU ‘Procedures Directive’, which requires the same. Though Metadrasi resumed taking cases some time in late July, with only five full-time and one part-time attorney, they are at reduced capacity. Refugees who have been denied on the first instance continue to be bounced around to all of the legal actors on the island looking for representation after being told that Metadrasi doesn’t have capacity to assist them. It appears that the situation will not improve in the near future. Metadrasi is funded at the current level through the end of 2017. The Greek government recently approved funding for 26 more lawyers to start in September nation-wide, but only one will be stationed on Lesvos. The funding level for legal aid was based on the needs assessment from 2014, before individuals arriving to Lesvos were prevented from travelling to the mainland.

Since late June 2017, the Legal Centre has consulted at least 17 individuals whose cases were rejected who have been told there is no lawyer available to represent them on appeal. Because the Legal Centre has limited capacity, we prioritize providing legal aid where people don’t have the right to a lawyer provided by the Greek State, as they do at this stage of the appeal. With only two Greek attorneys in our office, we also did not have capacity to assist these individuals. They are being denied their right to access to justice, and risk being denied on appeal and potentially deported to countries where they could face persecution.

  • Right to marriage for asylum seekers in Lesvos recognized

In late July, attorneys from HIAS won an important case regarding the right to marry. Previously, asylum seekers in Lesvos were denied marriage licenses, no matter the legal status of their intended spouse. The individuals that HIAS represented were an asylum seeker and an individual with legal residency as a refugee who had been denied a marriage license. The asylum seeker did not have a certificate of no impediment or any other document from her country of origin certifying her age. The court noted that refugees by definition have a damaged relationship with their home country, and should not be expected to provide these documents. It stated that the Greek State must be flexible and open-minded in these cases to protect the fundamental rights of refugees such as the right to family. In place of a certificate of no impediment, a statement that there is no impediment for the individual concerned is sufficient.

FREE THE MORIA 35

On Tuesday 18th July 2017, 35 refugees in Moria camp, Lesvos, were arrested. For the second day in a row, protesters sat outside the European Asylum Support Office inside the camp, holding banners denouncing dehumanising conditions, and calling for freedom of movement for those kept on the island for over 6 months. Following this peaceful exercise of the right to protest, there were clashes between a handful of protesters and Greek riot police. Police forces then carried out raids of Isoboxes, and made 35 arrests. Images and videos showing police using excessive force during clashes with protesters and brutal violence during raids and arrests including beatings with police batons and boots, have been published in international media and on social media.Many of the 35 arrested were not present at the morning’s peaceful protest, let alone the clashes between a small number of protesters and riot police that ensued. This led observers to conclude the arrests were arbitrary; people were targeted because of race, nationality, and location within the camp at the time of police raids. 34 of the 35 people arrested were black. Many of the 35 report having been brutally beaten by police during raids, arrests and/or in police custody. 11 have filed official complaints of police brutality, and forensic medical examinations have been ordered. One individual was hospitalised for over a week, and many have needed urgent medical attention. Given the mounting evidence of police brutality, Amnesty International has published a report urging Greek authorities to conduct an immediate investigation into allegations of excessive use of force amounting to possible torture: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur25/6845/2017/en/

During the preliminary hearings on Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd of July, 31 of the 35 people arrested were charged with exaggerated crimes of arson, attempted assault, resisting arrest, rioting, damage to private property and disturbing the public peace. These charges carry disproportionately heavy sentences if convicted, and could additionally signify exclusion from the right to international protection. The Judge Investigator ordered pre-trial detention for 30 of those charged, with alternative restrictive measures ordered for the individual who had been hospitalised. Many of the people subject to pre-trial detention orders have vulnerability status and/or serious mental and physical health conditions which should preclude incarceration. Imprisonment pending trial, which in Greece means on average a period of over 6 months, should be a measure of last resort under Greek and international law. 4 individuals have had their preliminary hearings postponed due to the Court’s inability to find translators. On Tuesday 25th and Wednesday 26th of July, 20 of the individuals charged were transferred to prisons in Athens, and 2 to Chios.

Legal Centre Lesvos denounces use of excessive force, arbitrary raids and arrests, exaggerated criminal charges, lack of access to due process and punitive pre-trial detention on the part of state actors, all of which violate basic principles of international human rights law. The apparently indiscriminate nature of these arrests, charges, and pre-trial detention orders, coupled with the dawn-raids that took place in Moria camp on Monday 24th July, provide reason to believe that authorities are deploying a policy of intimidation intended to instill fear in the camps and prevent organising and protests against the realities of structural violence and dehumanising reception conditions for refugees in Lesvos. The Legal Centre will continue to advocate for the rights of the 35 arrestees and for the rights of all refugees in Lesvos, including the right to freedom of expression and to live in dignity; free from violence, discrimination and inhumane treatment.

  

HEARING TOMORROW AT MYTILENE COURT FOR #MORIA35

PRESS RELEASE

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
  1. Arbitrary Detention Sparks Protests in Moria and Mytilene

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.

  1. Lack of free legal representation on appeal

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.

  1. Concerns about rise in hate crimes and discrimination

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

  4. LCL developments: Legal Centre welcomes new Greek lawyer to team

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.

Strasbourg Court halts return of rejected asylum seeker to Turkey

As reported here by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles

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Strasbourg Court halts return of rejected asylum seeker to Turkey – 30th June 2017

Last week the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) granted interim measures under Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court to prevent the return of a rejected asylum seeker to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal.

The applicant, a national of Pakistan and member of the Ahmadi minority, has had his asylum application rejected as unfounded at both first and second instance and is currently on the island of Lesvos. An application for interim measures has been filed before the Administrative Court of Mytilene against his readmission to Turkey, although such measures have no suspensive effect under national law. The ECtHR requested the Greek authorities to suspend the return of the individual to Turkey until the Administrative Court of Mytilene issues its decision. The Strasbourg Court also ordered the case to be prioritised.

Since the adoption of the EU-Turkey deal on 18 March 2016, more than 1,200 people have been returned from Greece to Turkey. The majority of those returned are nationals of Pakistan.

For further information:

•Greek Council for Refugees,Δελτίο Τύπου του ΕΣΠ για ασφαλιστικά μέτρα από ΕΔΔΑ, 23 June 2017

•AIDA,Country Report Greece, 2016 Update, March 2017

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 Lesvos 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, https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2016/EN/COM-2016-792-F1-EN-ANNEX-1-PART-1.PDF

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, https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2017/EN/COM-2017-204-F1-EN-ANNEX-1-PART-1.PDF

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: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/free-taner/

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.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

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.

Signed:

  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

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.  Please share and help spread the news.

UPDATE DAY TWO:

 

UPDATE DAY THREE:

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.