Since the EU-Turkey deal was implemented, arbitrary detention of asylum seekers on the Greek Hotspot Islands has been on the rise. On Lesvos Island the police detains – among others – people who they consider as “trouble makers” and asylum seekers who gave up their right to apply for a protection status and agreed to so-called “voluntary return” after months of forcibly staying in terrible living conditions behind barbed wire. Until recently, members of six nationalities were furthermore simply detained on basis of their national belonging. In September, this illegal detention practice has been expanded to 28 nationalities. Affected are nationalities with less than 25% acceptance rate who are sweepingly considered as “economic migrants”. Asylum seekers with the respective national belongings are detained in a pre-removal centre within Moria camp without adequate access to basic goods such as clothes or medical and legal support.
Via No Border Kitchen Lesvos – The Greek government has recently introduced a way to abitrarily detain even more people in Moria. They will expand their practice of detaining people with citizenships of countries with low asylum acceptance rates, undermining the already barely existent right to a fair asylum procedure even more than before.
For several months the government has been detaining people of certain nationalities with very low acceptance rates based solely on their citizenship. The most targeted groups were people from Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco and Bangladesh. Although this is illegal regarding EU law as it is clearly discrimination based on a persons nationality and leads to a lot of racial profiling, it has been used by the government to force people to apply for asylum instead of travelling on, to get rid of “troublemakers”, to coerce people to sign for so called “voluntary return” with IOM and to make sure that as many people as possible get negative decisions on their admissability interviews and thus can be deported back to Turkey.
Since these nationality-based raids and checks have started, fear and anxiety have spread through the affected communities. We have friends and comrades who, already scared by the constant police presence and violent raids in the camps, are now also afraid to go to the city and walk in the streets. Many people have been deported in recent months, and the ones remaining live in constant fear and uncertainty, leading to constantly high levels of psychological stress.
Now the government will expand this practice. The first change is that they now plan to detain people from all countries with less than 25% acceptance rates on their asylum applications; at the moment there are 28 nationalities that fit this criteria. We don’t know yet which the 28 nationalities are but know that it will newly include, among others, people from African countries like Cameroon and Ethiopia.
The second change is that people will be detained and processed directly upon arrival. During recent months the police have often targeted people staying on the island for some months without applying for asylum. What is new now is that they want to not only detain and register, but also process people, directly upon arrival. The implementation of this pilot project will have severe consequences. People will
– not have time to understand the admissability and asylum procedure1 in the hotspot on Lesvos and prepare properly for their interviews
– not have proper access to legal help and be even more poorly informed about their rights
Already now the government has detained people far longer than the maximum permitted 25 days without them having received a decision on their interview. It remains to be seen how EASO, already completely overwhelmed, is supposed to provide decisions within a few weeks to new arrivals.
The Legal Centre Lesvos
“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. […] 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.”2
This practice will lead to many people not having access to a fair procedure, and thus lower acceptance rates, which can then be used again to justify their detention in the first place. This is a dangerous and irresponsible loop, using the unjust consequences of an illegal practice to rationalise its use. Furthermore the separation of economic and political migrants dangerously ignores the political reasons for the economic injustice in countries of the south and Europe’s colonial history.
A further concern is that it will lead to more deportation of vulnerable people: those who should actually be admissible for an asylum procedure in Greece and could legally not be deported back to Turkey. However, the vulnerability screenings done as part of registration very often overlook less visible vulnerabilities like severe psychological problems (often directly related to the reasons people fled their contries of origin). This will lead to an increase in unidentified vulnerabilities and therefore deportations of people who would actually be admissable for asylum procedure and maybe also eligible for international protection.
Refugees’ access to a right to asylum and to fair procedures are already basically impossible under the EU-Turkey deal. These new regulations will make it even more difficult for them.
All of this said, it should be stressed again that migrants on Lesvos are and will be increasingly detained under horrible circumstances and for unknown periods of time just because they came to Europe from a certain country of origin. Officially the detention capacity in the pre-removal centre inside of Moria camp is 210 people3 (it was recently expanded), so it can’t hold all new arrivals; a small piece of good news at an otherwise highly worrying time.
Even more shamefully, the government’s plan for an increase in deportations doubles as their excuse for not improving the living conditions in Moria camp. The “solution” of the government for preparing the camps for winter is to deport enough people that the rest can fit into the containers built this spring.
And their “solution” for solving the long waiting times until the asylum decision seems to be to detain new arrivals and fast track detention procedures, to be able to deport people faster and more effectively (albeit illegally and inhumanely).