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OCTOBER REPORT ON RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AND RESISTANCE IN LESVOS

  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:
#opentheislands
#winteriscoming

September Report on Rights Violations and Resistance in Lesvos

  1. Inhumane and dangerous conditions in Moria camp
  2. Afghan community protest
  3. Anti-fascist demonstration in Mytilene
  4. EU Co-ordinator of the EU-Turkey Statement meets with resistance on his visit to Lesvos
  5. Legal Centre Lesbos Legal Updates

    • Family Reunification
    • Moria 35
  6. General Legal Updates
    • Decision of Greek Council of State sets dangerous precedent for forcible returns to Turkey under EU-Turkey Deal
    • Returns to Greece begin from Germany and other European States
    • Detention of 28 nationalities in accelerated procedure

  1. Inhumane and dangerous conditions in Moria camp

Living conditions in Moria camp have become unbearable over the past month as a dramatic increase in arrivals coincides with a deterioration in the weather and inadequate provision of food, shelter, healthcare and hygiene. Between the 1st and 26th of September 2017, 2,238 people risked their lives crossing the Mytilene Strait from Turkey to Lesvos, while during September 2016, 1068 people made this journey. Authorities have given estimates that the number of new registrations is over 200 people per day, which is the highest since March 2016. Moria camp is now at over double its capacity: at least 4,831 people are living in a camp equipped to accommodate no more than 1,800. In recent days, tents – which are fundamentally unfit for winter weather or long term accommodation – have been flooded from the rain.

Clients visiting the Legal Centre report that summer camping tents are crammed into every available space in Moria to accommodate new arrivals, that there are up to 20 people housed in containers meant for 5, that access to water gets cut off for days at a time, that there is no access to healthcare, that there are particularly vulnerable individuals – heavily pregnant women, people in wheelchairs, survivors of sexual, psychological, physical violence and torture, unaccompanied minors and pregnant minors – among those living in conditions unfit for human habitation; that there is widespread despair and mounting unrest.

In the winter of 2016-2017, in similarly crowded and inhumane conditions at least five people died in the cold in Moria Camp. When questioned about plans for ‘winterization’ of the camp for the approaching winter, a UNHCR representative responded that one solution would be increased returns to Turkey. Return to Turkey of asylum seekers violates the basic tenets of rights guaranteed to refugees and is clearly not a solution to the inhumane treatment that asylum seekers currently face in Lesvos.

The current reception conditions in Lesvos are in abject violation of the provisions of the Recast Reception Conditions Directive 2013/33/EU, Recital 11 of which demands “Standards for the reception of applicants that will suffice to ensure them a dignified standard of living”, and Article 17(2) of which mandates:

“Member States shall ensure that material reception conditions provide an adequate standard of living for applicants, which guarantees their subsistence and protects their physical and mental health. Member States shall ensure that that standard of living is met in the specific situation of vulnerable persons, in accordance with Article 21, as well as in relation to the situation of persons who are in detention.”

In the face of the deplorable violation of these requirements that current conditions constitute, removing geographical restrictions amounts to a binding legal obligation under Article 7(1) of the Reception Conditions Directive since the assigned area of Lesvos does not allow sufficient scope for guaranteeing access to all benefits under the Directive:

“Applicants may move freely within the territory of the host Member State or within an area assigned to them by that Member State. The assigned area shall not affect the unalienable sphere of private life and shall allow sufficient scope for guaranteeing access to all benefits under this Directive.”

Legal Centre Lesvos therefore calls on Greek and EU authorities to immediately remove geographical restrictions placed on applicants for international protection and permit free movement to mainland Greece, where other European states must respect relocation programs so that the minimum reception conditions required to safeguard human dignity can be met. The current situation in Moria only compounds the already well-documented fact that reception conditions under the Common European Asylum Procedure are being systematically violated in Lesvos.

                                                   

Photo credit: Lesvos Solidarity – Pikpa Facebook

  1. Afghan Community protest

On Monday 28th August, the Afghan refugee community in Lesvos marched from Moria to Sappho’s Square Mytilene, protesting their confinement to the island for what in many cases has been over a year. Protesters wore T-shirts with their asylum status – “no decision” – and their dates of arrival in Greece marked in red pen – like the red stamp on International Protection Applicant documents that signifies geographical restriction to Lesvos. The protest echoed the demands of both the Afghan community protests in Athens the prior week, and the collective protests in Moria held on 17th and 18th of July. The Afghans participating in the protest issued the following statement:

“Today Afghan refugees are protesting our imprisonment on Lesvos. Many of us have been here for over a year trapped on this island, and we are still waiting for decisions. We join the struggle of protests held on 17 and 18 of July, and demand that the right to freedom of movement be granted for asylum seekers who have been here since 2016. We also join the call of Afghan refugees who protested last week in Athens, and call on Greece to halt all deportations of Afghans. From the recent massacres of unarmed civilians in Mirzaolang in northern Afghanistan, in which children, women, and elderly were ruthlessly killed, to the daily suicide bombings across the country, to the reckless US drone strikes in Nangarhar, Afghan Asylum Seekers in Greece say — Afghanistan is not a safe country, and all deportation should stop.”

The protesters camped in Sappho Square, waiting for the Greek Authorities respond to their demands. After police threats, harassment and detention of community leaders, two days after their protest began a representative of the European Asylum Support Office in Lesvos and the Commander of Lesvos Police met with the protesters. The representative of EASO reportedly promised them that the following Tuesday decisions would be issued for Afghans who had been waiting in Lesvos since 2016, so they decided to end their sit-in. The following Tuesday 5th September, representatives of the Afghan community were again told by EASO officials that they must wait for decisions.  The community attempted to meet with the Greek Minister of Immigration Policy – Ioannis Mouzalas – when he visited Moria Camp on 6 September, but he refused to meet with any refugees. They also submitted a letter to the Regional Greek Asylum Office, EASO, and the Greek Ministry of Migration on 7 September 2017, with two simple demands – first, the issuance of decisions and granting freedom of movement throughout Greece for all asylum seekers who arrived in Lesvos in 2016; and second, an end to all deportations to Afghanistan and Turkey. To date this letter remains unanswered and Afghan asylum seekers remain in limbo on Lesvos.

                

Photo credits: Joan Mas

  1. Anti-fascist demonstration in Mytilene

On Monday 18th September, Αντιφασιστικός Συντονισμός Λέσβου (Lesvos Antifa) organised a march through Mytilene to: “make it clear once again that any right-wing fascist logic has no place on the island of Lesvos”. The demonstration formed part of co-ordinated anti-fascist actions across Greece, commemorating four years since the anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas (Killah P) was murdered on 18 September 2013 by fascist George Roupakia, who worked for and publically supported Golden Dawn – the fascist party that currently holds 17 seats in Greek parliament. At the time, Fyssas’ murder sparked a wave of anti-fascist resistance across Greece and Europe. It is now central to ‘the biggest trial of fascist criminality since Nuremberg’, in which members of the Golden Dawn party leadership stand accused of directing criminal violence including Fyssas’ murder and other violent street attacks perpetrated by fascists against migrants and leftists, including against a group of Egyptian migrants and members of a communist-affiliated trade union. Proceedings in this politically charged trial began again at the beginning of September. While a ruling on the Golden Dawn party that casts it as institutionally criminal would be significant, in a post about resistance on September 18th, Αντιφασιστικός Συντονισμός Λέσβου (Lesvos Antifa) was careful to highlight the limitations of this form of justice in the struggle against fascism; by tracing the connections between fascist ideology, the state and the violent logic of borders:

Fascism has historically never been institutionally fought by state mechanisms, as it is the most violent and oppressive form of capitalism. And that is because it is the state that builds fences and minefields at the border, evacuates the occupations of migrants, creates concentration camps, attacks those who organise resistance “from the bottom”, i.e the same subjects that are the target of the fascists.”

“In contrast to this, our world is that of equality and solidarity, and we are willing and prepared to do everything we can to defend it.”

                                             

Photo credit: Αντιφασιστικός Συντονισμός Λέσβου Facebook

  1. EU Co-ordinator of the EU-Turkey Statement meets with resistance on his visit to Lesvos

On Thursday 21st September, Mr. Maarten Verwey, EU coordinator for implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, traveled to Lesvos and met with authorities in Moria Camp, Karatepe Camp, and the Mytilene mayor’s office. He did not, however, meet with any of the individuals best placed to brief him on the impact of the EU-Turkey Statement: the refugees and asylum seekers who know all too well how refugees are treated in Turkey, and as a consequence of the ‘deal’, have been trapped on Lesvos for months and years living in inhumane and degrading conditions in perpetual fear of deportation.

Mr. Verwey visited Lesvos just a few weeks after the European Commission issued its Seventh Report on the Progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement. As in previous reports, the European Commission recommends increased returns to Turkey, and notably omits information on conditions for non-Syrian refugees who are deported to Turkey under the “readmission” scheme despite clear evidence that Turkey systematically violates the rights of refugees returned from Greece.

The report also echoes previous recommendations by the European Commission to increase security, decrease risk of absconding, and recommends that Greece consider returning to Turkey vulnerable individuals and individuals applying for family reunification within European States under the Dublin III Regulation. It also recommends keeping vulnerable individuals restricted to the Greek islands throughout the asylum process. Until now, the Greek State has not returned to Turkey any individuals whose Dublin applications for transfer to a second European State have been accepted, and the Greek Asylum Service has granted freedom of movement throughout Greece to individuals who they find to be vulnerable. The European Commission putting continued pressure on Greece to refuse entry to even the most vulnerable refugees exposes their intention to prioritise maintaining Fortress Europe above respect for international human rights protections and basic humanity.

                                                                        

Local actors and refugees will continue to denounce, organize and protest against the EU-Turkey Statement and its devastating impact on the lives of individuals and families seeking protection in Europe.

 

  1. Legal Centre LesBos Legal Updates

  • Family reunification

The Legal Centre has had good news in the case of a client we have been representing for nearly a year. After rejecting the application twice, Germany has finally accepted an application for family reunification under the discretionary and dependency provisions of Articles 16 and 17 of the Dublin III Regulation 604/2013 thanks to the coordinated efforts of the Legal Centre team. The chances of success in such cases are vanishingly slim, particularly in light of Germany’s recent suspension of family reunification procedures. As such, we are very happy to announce that the client will soon travel to be reunited with her daughter and grandchildren in Germany. The case serves as an example of why it is always worth fighting to do everything possible de jure, irrespective of the de facto collapse of some parts of the applicable European legal framework.

  • Moria 35

The preliminary hearing procedure in the case of the Moria 35 has been ongoing for two months due to the Greek state’s failure to provide Bambara and Wolof language translators for four defendants. While this preliminary procedure is unconcluded, the 30 defendants interrogated by the judge in July and ordered detained awaiting trial, remain incarcerated in prisons in Chios and Athens despite a lack of credible evidence against them. However, the delay has contributed to a victory in the case of one of the four defendants. While it is the obligation of the State to provide interpreters, on 29th September 2017 the Wolof speaking defendant himself provided an interpreter and agreed to be interrogated. At conclusion of his interrogation and on application by the criminal defence team co-ordinated by the Legal Centre, the court ordered that he be released with restrictive measures awaiting trial. The defense team argued that because of his health conditions, his residence in Moria Camp, lack of any criminal history, and the fact that he has been duly reporting to authorities and showing up to court each week for two months, he should not be detained awaiting trial. Both the public prosecutor and judge agreed. The court still has not provided a Bambara translator for the remaining three defendants, which means the preliminary procedure remains unconcluded, and all 35 continue to wait for a trial date to be set.

  1. General Legal Updates

  • Decision of Greek Council of State sets dangerous precedent for forcible returns to Turkey under EU-Turkey deal

On 22nd of September, the Greek Council of State Plenary – Greece’s highest administrative court – ruled that Turkey is a safe country. By a vote of 13 to 12, the court decided not to refer the question as to whether Turkey can be considered a “safe third country” for determination by the European Court of Justice. If the ruling is enforced, the applicants in this case will be the first to be officially forcibly returned to Turkey on the basis that it is a safe third country since the EU-Turkey Statement of March 2016: setting an extremely dangerous precedent. The concept of a ‘safe third country’ for the purposes of the Common European Asylum System is set out in Article 38 of the Recast Asylum Procedures Directive 2013/32/EU, which lists five principles that competent authorities must be satisfied that applicants for international protection will be treated in accordance with:

(a) life and liberty are not threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion;

(b) there is no risk of serious harm as defined in Directive 2011/95/EU

(c) the principle of non-refoulement in accordance with the Geneva Convention is respected;

(d) the prohibition of removal, in violation of the right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as laid down in international law, is respected; and

(e) the possibility exists to request refugee status and, if found to be a refugee, to receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Convention

The Legal Centre has consistently denounced the EU-Turkey deal for its hypocritical, politically expedient reliance on the notion that Turkey – not even a signatory of the 1968 protocol to the Refugee Convention – can be considered a ‘safe third country’, given overwhelming evidence that each of five principles listed above are systematically violated by Erdogan’s repressive authoritarian regime. Indeed, the Greek Council of State’s decision came just as Amnesty International released a report documenting the heightened risk of violations of the principle of non-refoulement for refugees in Turkey since the state of emergency was put in place. 

  • Returns to Greece begin from Germany and other European states

The Legal Centre is concerned at recent moves made by Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, and other European states to resume returning refugees to Greece under the Dublin Regulation, which provides that the first European member state an asylum seeker enters is responsible for the examination of her application for international protection. Transfers back to Greece have been suspended since 2011, when decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union found that returns to Greece would amount to violations of the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3 ECHR, Article 4 European Charter) in combination with the right to an effective remedy (Article 13 ECHR, Article 47 EC), due to systematic deficiencies in asylum procedures and reception conditions. As systematic violations of these standards continue and conditions deteriorate, any European country returning refugees to Greece will risk acting in violation of non-derogable human rights.

  • Detention of 28 nationalities in accelerated procedure

The Legal Centre condemns the policy being used by Greek authorities that keeps applicants for international protection from countries with “low rates of recognition” detained for the duration of their asylum procedure, which is also accelerated. This policy is in violation of international human rights law: amounting to discrimination on the basis of nationality, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and precluding the right to effective access to procedures and effective remedy. The policy also violates 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. The disturbing assumptions underlying this manifestly unlawful policy should be evident from the fact that a police circular describing the policy on 18th June 2016 termed people from “low rate of recognition” nationalities as “economic profile”, as opposed to “refugee profile” applicants.

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

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.”

                                                                                                                 

Photo credits: Arash Hampay’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 longÍ-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.

2. 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.

3. 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 WELCOMES NEW GREEK LAWYER TO THE 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


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:

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, 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