Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece

by European Lawyers in Lesvos
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Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece
Help Defend Legal Rights for Refugees in Greece

This week marks the sixth anniversary of ELIL’s foundation on Lesvos. Our project aimed to meet a pressing need: providing free legal support to asylum seekers ahead of their first-instance interview. 

Since then, we have worked hard to meet people’s needs in a changing context. ELIL opened an office in Athens one year ago, where our dedicated team has assisted more than 1000 people, a quarter of them children, providing expert, tailored legal support for more than 360 cases. 

This month, we launched of a new ELIL office in Thessaloniki. In 2021, for the first time since our work started, the number of asylum seekers crossing the land border with Turkey in the north of Greece exceeded that of people arriving by sea. With few legal assistance actors remaining in the region and a growing demand for support, we believe that this constitutes a key step towards safeguarding the legal rights of asylum seekers in the country. Building on the success of our Athens project, our teams will continue to act with speed to assist and inform those who need it the most.

We are also proud to announce the upcoming launch of the The Ukraine Pro Bono Collaborative (UPBC), a Warsaw-based project that will see locally-qualified Polish pro bono lawyers providing legal assistance to people arriving from Ukraine. With thousands of refugees still fleeing the conflict each day, there is an unmet demand for basic legal information as well as specialised support for individuals with more complicated legal situations. 

With thousands of people navigating an increasingly complex asylum process, the work we do remains vitally important. The impact is clear: if an asylum seeker is able to receive assistance and information from our legal teams before their asylum interview, they are more than twice as likely to receive a positive decision.

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 “My lawyer helped me with my case. [When I got my decision] I felt so happy. I couldn't even begin to describe this happiness”

- Mohammed, former unaccompanied child from Syria

2021 brought seismic changes to the legal landscape in Greece for those seeking asylum. They faced a hardening of attitudes at domestic and EU level and experienced an increasingly strict asylum process that emphasises speed and threatens the rule of law and access to justice.

ELIL responded to these challenges by expanding to meet a shifting need. In spring, we opened a new office in Athens where we have already provided legal assistance to hundreds of women, men and children.

Over the course of the year, our teams assisted over 1,600 people. They helped 100 people to be reunited with their families across borders and assisted in almost 70 age assessment cases, supporting children incorrectly registered as adults. 

In 2021, our operations were supported by over 70 volunteers (remote and in-person). Our staff expanded with the addition of an Athens team (three lawyers, three interpreters and legal assistants). Their exceptional commitment has allowed us to adapt to challenging circumstances and provide continued legal assistance across Greece. 

As we continue our work in the new year, our staff and volunteers remain committed to proving free, independent legal assistance. In response to the growing need in the north of Greece, where many legal actors have pulled out, we are in the process of launching a new project in Thessaloniki.

With resources to support those who have crossed Greece's dangerous land and sea borders increasingly limited, ELIL believes that it is important to act with speed to offer vital support where it is needed the most.

ELIL JOINT STATEMENT

In early January, ELIL's Supervisory Board published a statement expressing concern about the lack of access to legal assistance for those seeking asylum at the EU's borders and the limitations of the proposed New Pact on Asylum and Migration. 

They called on the EU and member states to ensure that the principle of the right to asylum is at the heart of all policies, practices and legislative reform in the field of asylum and migration.

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Operational update
Operational update

"Four months after traveling from Greece to Italy to join my brother, I have received residency and started attending school. I am very happy. I want to thank my interpreter, my lawyers and the whole organisation who helped me get here."

- Former applicant

One year after the devastating fire that destroyed Moria camp, asylum seekers in Greece continue to feel the impact of a hardening of attitudes at domestic and EU level, an increasingly strict asylum procedure and a deteriorating situation in their countries of origin.

Over the past two years, more than 70% of those we have assisted have been from Afghanistan. Now, thousands of Afghans already in Greece have seen the situation in their home country deteriorate drastically, with major implications for their asylum process. We also expect that many more will seek to apply for asylum in Greece in the coming months (including potentially thousands whose asylum claim was initially rejected, but have the right to lodge a new application following the events in Afghanistan). However, due to a recent Greek ministerial decision that designates Turkey as a "safe country" for Afghans (as well as four other nationalities), they are at significant risk of being denied a substantive assessment of their claim and deported.

On the Greek islands, Greek and European authorities continue to pursue policies designed to contain and exclude those seeking asylum. On Saturday, 18 September, a closed structure was opened at Zervou on Samos, almost 10 kilometres from Vathy. All 400 residents of Vathi camp have now been transferred to the new facility. ELIL joined 45 other civil society organisations in calling on the EU to abandon policies that contain people and instead facilitate social inclusion and integration.

ELIL is seeking renewed support to expand its teams in Lesvos and Athens to meet the increased need for legal assistance to Afghan refugees in Greece. By recruiting additional Greek lawyers and interpreters, as well as expanding remote legal support from our volunteer lawyers, we will ensure that we are able to respond to the fast-changing context.

Athens Project
Athens Project
Mavrovouni camp, Lesvos
Mavrovouni camp, Lesvos
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Mavrovouni camp, Lesvos
Mavrovouni camp, Lesvos

So far this year, ELIL has provided legal support to almost 800 people in Lesvos and Samos. On 24 May, we held the first consultation in our new office in Athens. Since then, the team has assisted 30 people, including those whom we had already met on the islands as well as new applicants. 

In the past, people on Lesvos and Samos often asked whether we would be able to continue following their cases once they had travelled to the mainland. Our new project allows us to finally offer this continuity, as well as to expand our services to support other people in the capital.

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Last month, Covid restrictions were gradually eased across Greece, although people in the camps on the Aegean islands remain under strict lockdown conditions. The number of asylum seekers on the islands has decreased significantly in the past few months. Just under 7,000 people remain on Lesvos, most of them in the new camp at Mavrovouni. In Samos, numbers have taken an even sharper dip: there are only 1,000 asylum seekers left on the island, and plans are underway to relocate them to a new, closed facility at Zervou. 

The legal context continues to get stricter. Earlier this month, ELIL joined NGOs across Greece in calling for the repeal of a recent Greek Joint Ministerial Decision which designates Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ for people arriving from Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh and Pakistan, as well as Syria. Nationals of these countries will now face an admissibility interview to determine whether they can ‘safely’ be returned to Turkey. If so, they will be returned without having their need for international protection assessed by the Greek authorities. We consider this sets a dangerous precedent and undermines the rule of law, both in Greece and Europe more widely, as it denies asylum seekers the opportunity to present their asylum case.

Practical challenges also remain. Interviews continue to be carried out with only one or two days' notice and often have a remote element, particularly in Lesvos. Moreover, following the non-renewal of a contract between the Greek government and a travel agency, the six-month deadline to travel expired for a number of people who had been approved for family reunification. While other countries agreed to accept delayed arrivals, the German Dublin unit communicated that the people in question would not be permitted to travel and would instead be required to pass through the asylum process in Greece, thereby denying them the opportunity to be reunited with their family members.

ELIL Athens Office
ELIL Athens Office
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We are deeply indebted to the many people who have contributed their time to ELIL and supported us through donations and fundraising over the course of the past year. Their generosity enabled our end of year campaign to meet its target and helped us renew our commitment as we entered 2021.

Despite significant challenges that continue to erode legal access for people seeking asylum, over the course of 2020 ELIL provided legal assistance to almost 1,700 people, working on 679 cases. As well as helping almost 1,000 people to prepare for their asylum interview, we assisted 297 people with family reunification applications and supported in 76 age assessment cases.

During this time, the exceptional commitment of our wider community has allowed us to adapt to challenging circumstances and provide continued legal assistance to the refugees stranded on the Greek islands. Over the course of 2020, we implemented a remote legal consultations system, with experienced volunteer lawyers providing additional support from their respective countries. This allowed us to assist people even when in-person meetings were not possible and has bolstered our capacity despite the travel restrictions across Europe.

Our teams on Lesvos and Samos continue to work tirelessly to provide legal support to those who need it the most. Since the beginning of this year, ELIL has assisted 362 people, including 38 in family reunification and 36 age assessments cases. 

In January, ELIL and other legal organisations on Lesvos issued a press release expressing serious concerns regarding access to state legal aid at the appeal stage. Despite this, notifications on negative asylum decisions are set to continue. Meanwhile, conditions in the new camp remain dire and access to services is limited.

On Samos, we were able to return to our Vathy office in February. We are grateful to Samos Volunteers for allowing us to hold in-person consultations on their premises while the ELIL office underwent repairs following the devastating earthquake that hit the island in October.

Thank You from the ELIL team for making our work possible. 

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Organization Information

European Lawyers in Lesvos

Location: Berlin - Germany
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @ELIL_Greece
European Lawyers in Lesvos
Clara Marshall
Project Leader:
Clara Marshall
Berlin, Germany

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This project is no longer accepting donations.
 

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