Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece

by European Lawyers in Lesvos
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Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
Help Provide Legal Support to Refugees in Greece
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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Lesvos New Camp
Lesvos New Camp

Although arrivals have dropped since the start of the year, tens of thousands of asylum seekers remain stranded on the Greek islands.

In September, a series of devastating fires destroyed Moria camp on Lesvos (including ELIL’s field offices), displacing its over 12,000 residents. They have since been moved into a new camp near Kara Tepe, where poor living conditions have been compounded by flooding following the first autumn rains. There have also been relatively regular transfers of people from Lesvos to the mainland in recent weeks.

For legal organisations on Lesvos, access to the new camp remains a grave concern. There are currently no spaces available for legal consultations/protection activities that comply with confidentiality requirements and Covid-19 precautionary measures. NGOs have published a joint statement calling for a suspension of asylum procedures on the island until applicants are able to exercise their rights under a fair and effective asylum procedure.

Vathy camp in Samos has remained under lockdown since the first Covid-19 cases were detected on 15 September. On 12 October, the lockdown was extended with limited concessions. The asylum procedure and all asylum interviews are also suspended. As no asylum seekers are allowed to leave Vathy camp, we have been unable to provide any in-person consultations for over a month. On 30 October, a strong earthquake shook the island, damaging many buildings including ELIL’s offices and killing two school children.

Over the past six months, ELIL has provided legal assistance to over 600 people, working on 350 cases. We helped over 200 people be reunited with family members elsewhere in Europe, enabling them to travel on from the Aegean islands, and supported in 33 age assessment cases.

Along with in-person assistance, our volunteer lawyers from across Europe have also begun to provide consultations remotely from home, ensuring that we are able to support as many people as possible despite lockdown restrictions and challenges to legal access.

In October, the Greece Pro Bono Collaborative, a joint effort between ELIL and six law firms, was selected as the recipient of three separate awards in recognition o its work to provide legal assistance in Greece. ELIL was also honoured to receive the 2020 UIA/LexisNexis Rule of Law Award. 

This year has so far brought many challenges that have eroded legal access for asylum seekers in Greece, from the fire in Moria to the Covid-19 outbreaks on both Samos and Lesvos and the increasingly strict asylum framework in Greece. In this context, guaranteeing meaningful access to legal support is more important than ever. We take this opportunity to thank you again for your support. 

Moria Fire, Photo by: Yousif Al Shewaili
Moria Fire, Photo by: Yousif Al Shewaili
ELIL legal assistance
ELIL legal assistance

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"I am very much looking forward to launching the Samos project. Over the past two months on Lesvos, I have had the opportunity to work closely with the team, building trust and learning from their excellent work. It has been fascinating to observe how much ELIL has developed since I was first in Greece, growing and expanding to meet the need for legal assistance. I hope to work with many friends old and new on Samos soon."

Anna Graff - Samos Project Manager

There are over 7,000 asylum seekers on Samos, most of whom have fled Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq in search of safety from war and persecution. Almost all of them live in Vathy camp, which has an official capacity of just 700. There is no state-provided legal aid available before the critical interview that determines whether or not they will be granted asylum. The only way an asylum seeker can receive legal assistance is therefore through one of the very few NGOs on the island.

The need for legal assistance on Samos is greater than ever, as currently there are only 5 lawyers working to support this vulnerable population, and the camp itself is more than 10 times over capacity. In particular, there is an urgent need to provide legal assistance to the estimated 400 unaccompanied/separated minors on the island, many seeking reunification with family. In addition, many unaccompanied minors are incorrectly registered as adults. Based on our experience in Lesvos, we estimate that we will be able to provide legal assistance to approximately 3,000 asylum seekers per year on Samos, through one-on-one legal consultations and/or group legal information sessions.

Over the past months we have been working hard to build a team (project officer, Greek lawyer, interpreters and communications officer) and ensure the sustainability of the expansion. The launch was delayed by lockdown measures imposed to limit the spread of Covid-19. However, with the project officer and Greek lawyer now in place on the island, consultations are set to start in the coming weeks. 

We take this opportunity to thank you for helping us uphold the rule of law and protect the human rights of thousands of vulnerable people on Samos. 

We would also like to remind you that July 15 is GlobalGiving Bonus Day: donations made to ELIL on this day will be matched up to 50%. If you are planning to renew your support, we would ask you to consider this date to do so. 

Samos Port
Samos Port
ELIL at work
ELIL at work
Aegean landing
Aegean landing
Vathy camp
Vathy camp

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Organization Information

European Lawyers in Lesvos

Location: Berlin - Germany
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @ELIL_Greece
Project Leader:
Clara Marshall
Berlin, Germany
$25,896 raised of $60,491 goal
 
234 donations
$34,595 to go
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