EU court issues ruling against Greece for ‘inhuman treatment’ of refugees

Amygdaleza centre for immigrants in Greece.jpg

The European Court of Justice issued today (14 November) a ruling slamming Greece for mistreating asylum seekers.

The Court ruled that a refugee from Iran who had arrived in Germany from Greece should not be returned to the Greek authorities because he would "face a real risk of being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment".

The ruling says that Greece has systemic deficiencies in its asylum procedures that may infringe fundamental human rights.

It also says that faced with this situation, Germany could refer the asylum request to another EU member state, but if the procedure takes an unreasonable amount of time, it must examine the application itself.

The case concerns an Iranian national, identified as 'Mr Puid', who arrived in Germany irregularly by transiting through Greece. His application for asylum lodged in Germany was declared inadmissible on the grounds that Greece was the member state competent to examine the application, as defined by the EU’s Dublin II regulation

Puid was therefore transferred to Greece. However, he lodged an appeal for annulment of the decision rejecting his application, which was upheld by the Administrative Court in Frankfurt, Germany.

The Frankfurt court considered that Germany was required to examine the application, in light of the conditions in Greece in relation to the reception of asylum seekers and processing of asylum applications. Puid was subsequently recognised as a refugee by the German authorities.

In that context, the Higher Administrative Court in Hesse, before which an appeal against the Frankfurt decision has been brought, asked the ECJ for clarification as to which state must examine an application for asylum.

The German court is seeking to ascertain whether the Dublin II regulation confers on an asylum seeker the right to require a member state to examine their application if that state cannot transfer him, because of a risk of infringement of his fundamental rights, to the member country initially identified as competent.

Michele Cercone, spokesperson for Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, told EURACTIV that this was not the first court decision going against a basic tenet of the EU's asylum policy, namely that the country where an asylum application is first lodged is responsible for dealing with the case.

Cercone added that many EU countries were not sending asylum seekers back to Greece, where they first arrived on EU territory, due to concerns about their fundamental rights.

The spokesman said that the Commission was "very worried" that an EU country, Greece, was seen as posing a risk of "inhuman or degrading treatment" for asylum seekers.

Greece is still undergoing an infringement procedure for its asylum system, launched by the Commission in 2010.

Cercone explained that the infringement procedure focused mainly on the living conditions of asylum seekers, adding that in Greece “there has never been a real asylum system” and that the EU was trying to help build one “almost from scratch”.

The EU has funded the construction of 'open centres' for refugees. TV footage recurrently shows however that many asylum seekers in Greece are confined to 'closed centres', similar to prisons.

Cercone said that closed centres were only acceptable in the EU in exceptional cases, where, for example, the life of an asylum seeker is threatened because he or she is a victim of human trafficking.

Malmström had previously expressed concern that Greece was putting asylum seekers in closed centres “in an indiscriminate way” and told Athens that this was “not in line with European regulations”.

The home affairs spokesman said that migrants should not be referred to as "illegal immigrants", even if they crossed the border illegally, "because no human being is illegal". The Commission refers to such cases as "irregular immigrants".

The Greek-Turkish border spans 130 kilometres and is "protected" from illegal immigration except for an area of around 20 kilometres near Orestiada and the Turkish city of Edirne, at the place where the river Evros (in Greek, Meriç in Turkish, Maritsa in Bulgarian) crosses the border. In 2011-2012, thousands of immigrants were estimated to have entered the EU through this area every week.

Greek authorities recently built a fence across the space, funded by EU money. The EU Commission had disapproved of the plan, considering that walls and fences were "temporary measures" on which EU taxpayer money should not be spent.

In 2007, the Greek authorities decided to introduce 'closed centres' for housing illegal immigrants in 10 mainland regions.

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