THE CAMPAIGN FOR THE ACCESS TO ASYLUM IN ATTICA AREA
- The associations, entities, groups and NGOs co-signing the present report carried out from 17 February 2012 until 7 April 2012 a campaign against the unacceptable situation of denial of access to the asylum system in Greece, focusing on the Attica area, where the vast majority of asylum seekers try to apply for international protection. The longstanding practice followed by the Asylum Department of the Attica Aliens Directorate, the competent authority to receive, register and examine asylum applications in Attica, is to allow submission of a small number of asylum applications and only in the early hours of every Saturday morning.
- Members of the above-mentioned groups and organizations have been protesting and monitoring at the building of the Attica Aliens Directorate (Petrou Ralli Street) from Friday evening to Saturday morning on 17-2-2012 and 6-4-2012, and from 5:00 a.m. to 7 a.m. on 25-2-2012, 3-3-2012, 10-3-2012, 17-3-2012, 24-3-2012 and 31-3-2012.
- These two months of systematic presence and monitoring have resulted in important findings based on personal witnessing and testimonies, most of which have been recorded in audiovisual materials illustrating the deplorable situation regarding the access to the asylum procedure in the Attica area. NGOs, groups and reporters have had the opportunity to witness the whole process emanated by the Greek police while “selecting” asylum seekers, waiting under appalling conditions, in order to have their application registered. A representative of the UNHCR Office in Greece was also present in the morning of 10-3-2012.
- The current report consolidates the findings of the monitoring process from 16-2-2012 to 7-4-2012, presenting also information about the access to the asylum procedure all over Greece and denouncing the violations of international, EU and national law by the Greek authorities with respect to this issue.
A. Observations and findings of the monitoring process
- Asylum seekers are prohibited from waiting outside the entrance of the Attica Aliens Directorate. They are confined to a side street in the proximity of the building. Depending on the weather conditions a group of ca. 80-200 migrants, mostly men but also some women and minors coming from Africa and Asia, are waiting in line along the street-side. On the night of Friday 17 February 2012 they were exposed to severe weather conditions, huddled up the one next to the other, shivering from cold and visibly exhausted. It is noteworthy that during that specific Friday night, the outside temperature was almost as low as 0 C. The migrants who were waiting there informed us that around 50 persons had left earlier, around 18:00, because they could no longer endure the chilling cold.
- The majority of asylum seekers who wait in line to submit their application start gathering at the sidestreet in the proximity of the Attica Aliens Directorate already from Thursday morning (some of them even from Wednesday), hoping to secure one of the front places in the line and to increase their chance of having their application registered. The police use various practices to disperse the crowd and discourage them from forming waiting lines earlier than Friday evening. In particular, as reported to the participants of the campaign, between Thursday evening and Friday morning the police often chase and push the asylum seekers away, even with the use of force (globs). Members of the asylum campaign witnessed the police practice of dismantling the crowd on Thursday 15-3-2012. As a result, many applicants get discouraged and give up their effort to have their application registered. This was obvious in the morning of Saturday 17-3-2012, when we observed that those still waiting in the line were almost half of those waiting on Thursday night. We were also reported that in the evening of Thursday, 1 March 2012 and Thursday, 5 April, the police resorted to the use of chemicals in order to disperse the asylum seekers who had already gathered.
- Those waiting in the line - some of them for three days - have no access to toilet, water or food. Asylum seekers cannot move and leave their position because they will lose their place in the queue. The side street where the crowd of asylum seekers is lining is very poorly lit, dirty, with no sanitary facilities, while litter piles between asylum applicants are getting bigger from week to week.
- Asylum applicants presenting themselves at Attica Aliens Directorate do not necessarily reside in the Attica region, but they may also come from other Greek cities, since, as reported, local police authorities refuse to register asylum applications as they ought to. During our presence in Petrou Ralli we interviewed Syrian and Afghan asylum seekers from Thessaloniki, Patra, Igoumenitsa and Chania, who reported to us that they had come to Attica Aliens Directorate several times in order to apply for asylum.
9. Around 6:00 am on 17-2-2012/25-2-2012/3-3-2012 and 10-3-2012 the police officers “chose” the first 20 applicants waiting in line. On 17-3-2012 they selected the first 17 applicants, on 24-3-2012 and 7-4-2012 they didn’t allow the entrance to the building of Police Directorate to any applicant at all (see par. 16 & 17), while on 31-3-2012 the police made the selection of ca. 30-40 applicants earlier than usual, at 4:00 am. It has to be noted that until recently - as it has been reported to us but also during previous monitoring activities - the police used to choose randomly 20 claims from the queue based on unclear criteria.
- On the days that the monitoring took place (except for the days of 24-3-2012 and 7-4-2012, see par. 16 & 17), once the “selection” was over, the police officers shouted in Greek at the exhausted and disappointed asylum seekers remaining outside the process the phrase: “Go away now, next week”, while clapping their hands rhythmically and pushing back those who were left behind. No explanation or response was provided by the authorities to the remaining asylum seekers, who have no guarantee for their future, facing the possibility to get arrested. No interpreter was present in this process and no information was provided orally or in writing regarding the process of access to asylum.
- The majority of the asylum seekers waiting informed us that they had already attempted unsuccessfully to submit their application under the same deplorable conditions from 5 to 10 times. Many asylum seekers told us that they had been coming every week for a whole year or even more.
- On 3-3-2012 a group of women asylum seekers reported to us that they had been waiting since Thursday and had been among the 20 first in the line, but they had lost their place after the police operation to disperse the crowd at that night took place. Out of the approximately 40 women who came in the course of these months of monitoring to submit an application, only a very small number succeeded. It is of particular concern the more vulnerable situation of women asylum seekers, who wait in the line under these deplorable conditions, taking into account sanitary considerations, cultural and gender issues, the fact that they have to wait among a crowd of unknown men and the fear and risk of being harassed.
- During our monitoring, we noticed approximately 10 unaccompanied minors (UAM). Some of them were waiting 2 days and nights in a row, among adults, exposed to bad weather conditions. On 18 February three unaccompanied minors of Afghan origin waiting in the queue were identified by the participants in the campaign. The minors were indicated by the participants in the campaign to the officer in charge as UAM entitled to immediate measures of protection and care. As the officer took the children with him, we assumed that he intended to follow the process set by law and to take the necessary measures to ensure their access to the asylum procedure and their protection. However, the participants of the campaign followed-up the case and were informed by the minors that they were dismissed by the police officer, without having their applications registered, without any further guidance and/or measure taken to ensure their protection (i.e. inform the Prosecutor for minors, refer to appropriate accommodation facility for minors etc).
- It has to be noted that on 10-3-2012, when the representative of UNHCR Office in Greece was present, three unaccompanied minors, were picked up by the authorities and were registered as asylum applicants.
- On Saturday morning 31-3-2012 police authorities completed the “selection” procedure of asylum applicants two hours earlier than usual (at around 4 a.m.) confirming once more that there is no rule “regulating” this process (see par. 16 & 17).
- On Saturday morning 24 March 2012 police authorities refused to register any asylum applications whatsoever; around 6:00 am, when the police authorities started the process of singling out the first 20 from the line, asylum seekers who were waiting behind – some of them for more than two days and nights – started complaining and gathering in the front. As a result of this reaction, the line was dispersed and tension prevailed. Police officers left the applicants and returned inside the building of the Aliens Directorate, while asylum seekers gathered outside the gate of the building. After some time, two persons – apparently working as interpreters at the Asylum Department – appeared, stood inside the yard and started addressing the crowd in Arabic and Urdu. They told the asylum seekers that no asylum application would be registered that day following the incident which had taken place. No police officer from the Asylum Department was present at that time. During the incident one Bangladeshi national lost senses due to overcrowding, while an Afghan asylum seeker was allegedly stubbed by another asylum applicant. Injured asylum applicants were transferred to the hospital following the initiative of the present members of the campaign. Police authorities didn’t take any preventive or protective measures to deter these incidents from taking place. The asylum applicants, deprived of any logical and legal way to access the asylum procedure, remain in despair, facing further discrimination based on physical characteristics, gender, age and ethnic origin.
- On Friday 6-4-2012, members of the participating groups were monitoring the process from 23:00 till 7:30 in the morning of Saturday 7-4-2012. At the time we reached the place, a queue of about 200 persons had already been formed. Even at that time, there was high tension between a group of applicants of African origin and a group of applicants of mostly Asian origin. In particular, a group of African men were standing next to the first places of the line, filled mainly by African asylum seekers, and were arguing with other asylum seekers (Syrians, Afghans, Iranians, Bangladeshi, Pakistanis, Sudanese and Somalis). The reason of the tension, as witnessed by and reported to us, was complains by asylum seekers that the first places of the queue had been filled by illegitimate means and, in particular, by the use of force by a group of African men who reserved them for applicants having allegedly made a deal with them. It has to be mentioned that these complaints have been reported by asylum seekers to members of the participating groups during the whole period of our monitoring activity. However, it was the first time that we observed a group of men of African origin who were not waiting in the line to apply for asylum arguing with other applicants, threatening and shouting at them to go back to the end of the queue. It is also worth mentioning that many asylum seekers reported to us that they had been waiting since Thursday and that, apart from being dispersed by the police on several occasions, they were also pushed back by force by a group of African men once the queue was finally formed. At around 6:00 am on Saturday 7-4-2012, and as tension was high between a group of African men standing next to the line and a group of applicants of various origins, police cars appeared in order to start the selection procedure. However, while police officers were counting the first applicants of the queue, the tension, as described above, heightened and turned into clashes with a group of African men attacking applicants mainly of Asian origin, who were complaining about the process. Police officers stopped immediately the process of selection and entered the police cars, while the attacks became extremely violent with African men using wooden and plastic sticks against other asylum applicants, focusing mainly on Bangladeshi applicants. Police officers left the scene and the situation became very brutal and out of control. For at least 15 minutes members of our group, blocked on this “battlefield”, without being able to do anything to protect anybody and at risk of being hurt as well, witnessed extremely violent attacks. After a while, when most of the people had left the place, we managed to approach the gate of the Attica Aliens Directorate, where most of the remaining applicants had gathered. In the meanwhile, we observed that attacks were still taking place in the nearby streets, where the chase apparently was still going on. Outside the building of the Attica Aliens Directorate, many applicants were denouncing that they had been severely beaten, while three of them were obviously seriously injured. Two of them, of Afghan origin, were lying on the ground with their heads smashed and bleeding, while the third, of Bangladeshi origin, collapsed after reaching the front gate. It has to be noted that apart from the guards who were standing inside the gate of the Aliens Directorate no other police officer appeared until the time of our departure (7:30 am). The ambulance came and transferred the injured to the hospital, while until we left nobody from the Aliens Directorate intervened or provided any information to the applicants gathered outside the gate. Thus, many question marks are raised about the role of the police which didn’t take any preventive measures to secure the integrity of the asylum seekers and allowed the climax of the violence, which caused many injured, while witnessing the incident and leaving without doing anything.
- Considering the above, there is no doubt that the irrational practice of the authorities of restricting the access to the asylum procedure only to a small number of applicants and only once a week, in a process that takes place before dawn, leaves room for the appearance of arbitrariness and exploitation. This practice undoubtedly leads to situations of high tension and violence that have already cost the physical integrity of many applicants who have been severely injured during this process and it is a matter of time to result again in the loss of human lives.
- Based on our presence and monitoring at Aliens Directorate for two months and our interviews with the asylum seekers who were waiting to apply, we concluded the following :
- Access to the asylum procedure is almost impossible in Attica. By no means can qualify as “access to the asylum procedure” the practice of exposing a human being to the ordeal of waiting at the side of a street for 2 to 3 days and nights in a row, under deplorable conditions, so that he/she may have a small chance of having his/her claim registered.
- The way the police authorities treat asylum seekers and, in particular, the practice of preventing them even from the physical approach and access to the entrance of the building of the Aliens Directorate, the conditions under which they have to wait for days, exposed to any weather conditions and without access to toilet, water and food, the arbitrary manner in which asylum claims are then singled out and registered, the lack of any guidance and information by the authorities, in combination with the way the asylum seekers excluded from the selection are being chased by the police in order to go away, constitute a violation of their human dignity and highlights once again the treatment that the competent authorities have in store for "foreigners".
- The competent authorities take no measures to ease the physical and mental exhaustion of the asylum seekers, who are subjected to inhuman and degrading torment in order to apply. Instead they follow specific practices, such as dispersing the queue of asylum seekers, intimidating them and chasing them way, in order to discourage them from returning and trying to submit their asylum application.
- This irrational practice established by the authorities, i.e. restricting the access to the asylum procedure only to a small number of applicants and only once a week, in a process that takes place before dawn, leaves room for the appearance of arbitrariness, violence and exploitation, towards which the police remain indifferent contrary to their role and in breach of their obligations. This practice undoubtedly leads to situations of high tension and violence that have already cost the physical integrity of many applicants who have been severely injured during this process and it is a matter of time to result again in the loss of human lives, as the police abstain from taking any preventive measures to secure the asylum seekers’ integrity.
- Under the above-mentioned conditions, vulnerable groups (women, minors etc.) are exposed to extra risks and are finally subjected to additional hardship, taking into consideration their particular situation and needs. In particular, with respect to the UAM it should be stressed that the authorities refrain from their obligations, which are clearly set by law, and take no measures whatsoever to identify the minors among the asylum seekers waiting in the queue and to ensure their protection and their access to the asylum procedure, “leaving them alone to survive”.
- Barring access to the asylum procedure results in putting at risk the life and freedom of those seeking international protection, deprives them of their rights and devalues their dignity. They may be arrested, detained, deported or ‘refouled’ at any moment and they are excluded from exercising their rights. In the end, they remain hidden, hunted and held hostage to this wider "discouragement" policy.
26. The procedure under which asylum applications are being registered and examined at first instance still remains within the mandate of the police authorities, contrary to the new legal framework establishing a new Asylum Service. According to the new law, asylum ceases to fall within the sphere of competence of the police. However, the new Asylum Service is still on the paper although it should have been functioning since January 2012. The competence of the police over asylum actually constitutes one of the systemic factors of the failure to establish a fair and efficient asylum procedure in Greece.
Athens, July 2012
Campaign for the access to asylum in Greece
DOWNLOAD THE REPORT HERE
 See the list of groups and organizations that participate and support the protest campaign for the access to the asylum procedure in Greece at http://asylum-campaign.blogspot.com/
 “Joint press release about the protest on 17 and 18/02/2012 on access to the asylum procedure in Greece” (24/02/2012) and “Joint press release about the one month at Petrou Ralli” (15/03/2012), at http://asylum-campaign.blogspot.com
 Available at the website created for the purposes of the campaign: http://asylum-campaign.blogspot.com
 Amnesty International Livewire, No Access – No Hope, Article from Amnesty International's autopsy on 28/01/2012, at http://livewire.amnesty.org/2012/02/09/no-access-no-hope/
 Their data available on file by the Ecumenical Refugee Program.
 See relevant photos at http://asylum-campaign.blogspot.com/2012/03/24032012.html and videos at http://asylum-campaign.blogspot.com/2012/03/24032012_24.html
 Human Rights Watch, Left to Survive: Systematic Failure to Protect Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Greece, December 2008, at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2008/12/22/left-survive.