People seeking protection in Greece denied a fair asylum process – Oxfam and Greek Council for Refugees

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People who seek protection in Greece are regularly denied access to a fair and efficient asylum process, Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) revealed in a report published today.

No-rights zone highlights the severe and chronic lack of lawyers and access to crucial information in the overcrowded EU ‘hotspot’ camps in the Greek islands. This means that many people are stuck in the camps with no chance of a fair asylum process, and risk being sent back to a place where they face danger.

The report warns that the situation is set to get worse with Greece having recently passed a new, regressive asylum law and the recent announcement that they might replace the existing EU ‘hotspot’ camps on the Greek islands with de-facto detention centres. This will make it even harder for people seeking asylum to access crucial information and legal assistance, while at the same time creating an even greater need for it.

Currently only one in five people seeking asylum in Greece have access to a state-appointed lawyer. The situation is much worse on the Greek islands, with only two out of 100 appeal cases getting access to free legal aid.

The organisations are calling for urgent action to make the Greek asylum system more fair, credible and transparent, by hiring additional lawyers and interpreters to provide essential information and guide people through the asylum process.

Renata Rendón, Oxfam’s head of mission in Greece, said: “People who flee war, conflict and persecution need to rebuild their lives in safety and dignity. Many people seeking asylum are dealing with multiple traumas, and on top of this, they are left to navigate complicated legal procedures on their own.

“Without proper information and support, there is a high risk that people’s legitimate requests for asylum are rejected, and that they are sent back to life-threatening circumstances.”

For ordinary people, it is nearly impossible to understand the complicated, ever-changing asylum procedures in Greece. It is especially difficult for those who do not speak the language. Many have gone through long and perilous journeys, risking their lives to reach safety, and are dealing with severe and multiple traumas resulting from persecution, war or trafficking. They also face appalling living conditions in overcrowded and dangerous refugee camps.

While the Greek government announced it will move people on from the islands ‘hotspots’ camps in 2020, the Greek parliament passed a new asylum law that could lead to people seeking protection in Europe being locked up in ‘closed’ centres on the islands for extended periods of time. In practice, this will make mounting an appeal against a negative decision on their asylum request nearly impossible. In addition, the law will reduce existing safeguards that protect the most vulnerable people, thus severely restricting their ability to receive the protection they need.

Maria Papamina, Head of GCR’s Legal Unit, said: “With the new law and plans for closed detention centres on the islands, the Greek government is weakening fundamental safeguards of the reception and asylum systems.

“Generalised and lengthy detention is used as a means of deterring people in need of protection from reaching Europe. With children and families constituting the largest group in the current hotspots, and with most of them coming from war and conflict-torn countries, these measures will affect them worst.”

Oxfam and GCR call on the Greek government and the European Union to immediately take measures to make sure that people seeking protection in Greece have access to a fair, effective and transparent asylum procedure. Greece must fulfil its obligations under EU and national law regarding the provision of information and legal assistance to asylum seekers by allocating additional funding and hiring more lawyers, staff and interpreters.

The European Union has a responsibility to ensure all its member states including Greece uphold national, EU and international laws on protecting the human rights of those seeking asylum.


Spokespeople are available in Athens and Brussels in Greek and English. For more information or a copy of the report, No-rights zone, please contact:
Sofia Hansen in the Oxfam Brussels Press Office on: +32 473 56 22 60 or email:
Danae Leivada at the Greek Council for Refugees in Athens on: +30 210 3800990-1 [ext. 102] or email:

Notes to editors:
· As a result of the EU-Turkey deal, which traps people seeking asylum on the Greek islands, the number of asylum applications filed there skyrocketed since 2015. On average, around 5,500 people applied for international protection every month during 2018. This is five times more than in 2015. In Lesvos alone, applications tripled between 2016 (5,000 applications) and 2018 (17,270 applications).
· The length of asylum procedures on the islands has increased significantly to an average of 8.5 months in 2018 – with some people caught in limbo for more than two years before they receive a decision on their request for protection.
· There is a critical and chronic understaffing: there is too few staff for first reception and identification, too few state-appointed doctors, and too few translators. As a result, there are severe backlogs for registration, medical assessment and asylum interviews. This does not only lead to longer asylum procedures, forcing people to stay longer in dire conditions on the islands, it also leads to uncertainties on the quality of the process and more bureaucratic errors that put people at risk.
· At its highest in 2019, the maximum number of lawyers present in Lesvos and able to support asylum seekers for free was 30. At the same time, there were 23,000 arrivals on the island. Due to the complexity of the context, the ever-changing procedures and the large case load of already pending cases, each lawyer is on average able to open only 10 new cases a month.
· Greece has been condemned in several cases before the European Court of Human Rights for due to the lack of information provided to asylum seekers and the resulting lack of effective remedies available.
· According to UNHCR, not having sufficient information and clarity on asylum procedures is a source of anxiety and frustration, which has severe implications on psycho-social wellbeing and mental health.
· Oxfam’s program in Greece provides free legal aid to asylum seekers and protection for people in the Moira hotspot. Oxfam focuses on individuals’ and communities’ roles in protection, help to find community-based solutions and empower people to advocate with duty bearers, as well as doing advocacy and campaigning to improve EU and Greek migration policy.
· The Greek Council for Refugees is the largest Greek NGO dedicated to refugees and asylum seekers. GCR is specialized in the provision of legal and psychosocial services and has a presence throughout the country. GCR has led on (joint-agency) research, advocacy & litigation projects on de facto detention (e.g. alternatives to detention and the expansion of de facto forms of detention) and on the broader impact of EU policies in Greece, with the aim of redressing rights’ violations and affecting institutional change.

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