IWB for Refugees: Greece
Summary of the national legislation on refugees
Since 2012, the Syrian Civil War has led more than nine million people to flee their homes in order to find protection in other countries. Greece has been the main destination for many refugees as it constitutes the easiest way to enter Europe. More specifically, the Greek islands received a vast number of people during 2015-2018, as they are located only a few miles from the Turkish shores.
The national legislation on refugees and asylum seekers has been conducted on the base of the international obligations of Greece as a State party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees since 1967 and to the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed in 1954. Accordingly, the Greek state adopts and interprets the term of refugee based on the provisions of the Article 1 of the Geneva Convention.
Presidential Decree 114/2010
«Procedures concerning the recognition of refugees and person entitled to subsidiary protection»
«Establishment of an Asylum Service and a First Reception Service, adaptation of the Greek legislation to the provisions of Directive 1008/115/EC ‘with regard to the common rules and procedures in Member States for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals’ and other provisions». The Law 3907/2011 establishes the Asylum Service as the main institution for the examination of all the International Protection applications. Article 13 stipulates, inter alia, that the Reception Centres should provide accommodation and services adequate enough to respect the dignity, the family union and the medical condition of the applicants while they stay at any of these.
Presidential decree No 113/2013
«Establishment of a single procedure for granting the status of refugee or of subsidiary protection beneficiary to aliens or to stateless individuals in conformity with Council Directive 2005/85/EC “on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status” (L 326/13.12.2005) and other provisions.»
Presidential Decree No 141/2013
«Adaptation of Greek legislation to the provisions of Directive 2011/95 / EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 (L 337) on the recognition and status of aliens or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection for one uniform status for refugees or persons enjoying subsidiary protection and the content of the protection granted (recast)». This Presidential Decree elaborates on the process and the criteria for the assessment of an International Protection application in accordance with the 1951 Geneva Convention. In addition, it defines the residence permit, issued to a recognized refugee, to three years.
After the emerging number of refugees in 2015, the Asylum Service was responsible for the examination of three different categories of application.
Due to the unprecedented number of applicants in Greece and Italy, the European Union conducted two Council Decisions in September 2015.
- COUNCIL DECISION (EU) 2015/1523 «establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and of Greece»
- COUNCIL DECISION (EU) 2015/1601 «establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece»
The provisions of the above decisions can be interpreted as a partial denigration of the Dublin Regulation rules. According to these, a significant number of asylum seekers have granted the right to apply for relocation in a member state of the emergency scheme. Accordingly, the Greek state rejects the application and at the same time the receiving Member State issues a positive 1st instance decision and grants the applicant international protection. Therefore, the asylum seeker is being relocated to the receiving country.
Under the COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 2003/86/EC «on the right to family reunification», the Asylum Service examines, in conjunction with the responsible member state the application for family reunification.
On the 20 March 2016 the EU – Turkey Deal comes in to force and the emergency relocation scheme was officially ceased at the end of September 2017. As a consequence of this agreement, the arriving populations are obliged to stay in Greece in order to apply for international protection or wait for refoulement back to Turkey.
For the new urgent needs of identification of the refugees and migrants, the Greek government amends the Law 3907/2011, regarding the organization and operation of the Asylum Service, with the Law 4375/2016 «On the organization and operation of the Asylum Service, the Appeals Authority, the Reception and Identification Service, the establishment of the General Secretariat for Reception, the transposition into Greek legislation of the provisions of Directive 2013/32/EC “on common procedures for granting and withdrawing the status of international protection (recast) (L 180/29.6.2013), provisions on the employment of beneficiaries of international protection and other provisions». According to the latter, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of the Interior and Administrative Reconstruction are able to establish suitable structures, such as “Reception and identification centres”, for the needs of the procedures of Asylum claim and registration. When it comes to the border areas of Greece, it is indicated, by the paragraph 3 of article 10, that the above ministries have to establish “Mobile Reception and identification Units” in order to cover the needs for the identification services. The Law 4375/2016 also establishes Open Temporary Accommodation Structures as well as stresses that the manager of the structures is responsible for referring the most vulnerable groups and individuals into dignified structures in order to cover their needs. These structures, in contrast to the reception and identification centres, are open with no restriction of liberty.
European Commission (2016). EU-Turkey Agreement: Questions and Answers. [Online] European Commission. Available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-963_en.htm
Greece: Law No. 4375 of 2016 on the organization and operation of the Asylum Service, the Appeals Authority, the Reception and Identification Service, the establishment of the General Secretariat for Reception, the transposition into Greek legislation of the provisions of Directive 2013/32/EC [Greece], 3 April 2016. [Online] Available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/573ad4cb4.html
Greece: Law No. 3907 of 2011 on the establishment of an Asylum Service and a First Reception Service, adaptation of the Greek legislation to the provisions of Directive 1008/115/EC ‘with regard to the common rules and procedures in Member States for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals’ and other provisions. [Online] Available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/4da6ee7e2.html
Presidential decree No 113/2013 [Online] Available at: http://www.yptp.gr/images/stories/2013/asylo/PD%20113_2013_EN%20Final.pdf
Presidential Decree No 141/2013 [Online] Available at: http://asylo.gov.gr/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/PD_141_2013.pdf
COUNCIL DECISION (EU) 2015/1523 [Online] Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=OJ%3AJOL_2015_239_R_0011
COUNCIL DECISION (EU) 2015/1601 [Online] Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A32015D1601
COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 2003/86/EC [Online] Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2003:251:0012:0018:en:PDF
Refugee life in Greece
Number of people with a refugee status (give or take)?
According to the Asylum Service, until June 2018 there were about 24,476 asylum seekers who have been recognized either as refugees or as beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.[i] More specifically, 87.6% of this number referres to refugee status and 12.4% to beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.
Top 5 countries of origin?
The latest statistics of 2018 indicate that more than 11,500 Syrians have been recognized in Greece. Following Syria, refugees from Afghanistan cover 11% of the same statistic, although they come first with about 1,400 beneficiaries of subsidiary protection. Third on the list comes Iraq, with less than 1,000 recognized refugees, followed by Iran with 500 beneficiaries of international protection. Palestinian nationals are represented with 3.6% and constitutes the smallest percentage of the statistic.
Top 3 reasons for which they left their country of origin?
- The most common reason why they left their country of origin is to flee from war
- Political and ethnic affiliation is also considered one of the common reasons why they left their country
- Sexual orientation (Sexual and Gender Based Violence)
The Law 4375/2016 states that the Reception and Identification Service should establish Open Temporary Reception facilities as well as Open Temporary Accommodation Structures.[ii]
According to the legislation, the above facilities should ensure that applicants a) live under decent living conditions, b) maintain their family unity, c) have access to emergency health care and essential treatment of illness or psychosocial support, d) receive, if they belong to vulnerable groups, the appropriate treatment for each case, e) are adequately informed of their rights and obligations; f) have access to guidance and legal advice and assistance on their situation, g) keep contact with civil society groups and organizations active in the area of migration and human rights and providing legal or social assistance, and h) have the right to contact their family and close persons”.[iii]
The Protection Monitoring Tool issued by UNHCR, IOM, the Danish Refugee Council and Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund, estimates about 25 temporary accommodation centres in Greece which host about 16,000 persons waiting for return or who have received a suspension return decision.[iv]
When it comes to the islands, there were established Reception and Identification Centres. Due to the EU-Turkey agreement their policy changed, as the persons reside inside, while waiting for their asylum procedure, are subject to “geographical restriction” rendering them unable to leave the island. According to the Greek Refugee Council, in December 2019 in the so called “hotspots” on the islands, there were hosted about 11,683 asylum seekers while the capacity was 6,438 persons.[v]
Since November 2015, UNHCR has initiated an accommodation scheme, both on the islands and the mainland, providing houses and apartments to relocation applicants. After the end of the relocation procedure, the accommodation scheme was included in the framework of Emergency Support To Integration and Accommodation (E.S.T.I.A.), funded by the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, and at end of 2018 it provided about 4,500 apartments in Greece hosting more than 22,000 applicants of international protection, recognized refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.
It should be underlined that, since the beginning of the so called “refugee crisis”, solidarity initiatives have also established unofficial accommodation structures providing a big number of places. However, the government has been using riot police in order to evict the hosted population and close down the structures.
How much state allowance does a refugee receive a month?
Contrary to other European countries, the national legislation does not have provisions for a monthly cash allowance for refugees and applicants of international protection.
However, recognized refugees who have previously submitted a tax declaration are able to apply for the Social Solidarity Income.[vi] Depending on the household size, this cash assistance can get up to €900 per month. Apart from the tax declaration, the applicants should also have a legal residence permit. Furthermore, the applicant’s monthly income should not exceed €200 for a single person or €400 for a household consisting of four members. According to the law, refugees who reside in squats are excluded from this cash allowance. However, only a small number of refugees are getting this allowance at the moment. The application is a time-consuming process and refugees without further assistance (interpretation, social worker, etc.) are often unable to apply.
Since 2017, UNHCR and other organizations have initiated a cash assistance process for applicants of international protection. Once again, you are not able to apply if you live in a squat. Furthermore, unaccompanied minors who are not under legal guardianship are also ineligible to apply. Moreover, in order to get the allowance, refugees should be unemployed with no stable income, and the day of their arrival should be after 1st of January 2015. Applicants with a restriction of movement notice from the islands cannot apply for cash on the mainland. This allowance can rise up to €550 depending on the household size and the accommodation status. For instance, a single person living in a camp will receive €90, as camps provide food. On the contrary, the same person would receive €150 in monthly assistance if living in an apartment. In order to get this allowance, UNHCR and other organizations provide refugees with cash cards. The card is charged with money at the beginning of every month.
When it comes to employment, the law 4375/2016 states that recognized refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection with a residence permit are able to work under the same provisions as those of the nationals.[vii] Persons with the status mentioned above are able to work immediately since they have the residence permit. In addition, according to article 71 of the 4375/2016, persons holding an “asylum seeker’s card” having already completed their lodging application, are also eligible to access payed employment. A Tax Registration Number is required in order for someone to get a legal job and it presents one of the obstacles that asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection face during the process to find a job. The administrative process is also time-consuming due to the unclear instructions of the state on the requirements needred to issue the number.
However, the only assistance comes from local and international NGOs that provide counseling in a small number of employability centres. Unfortunately, due to lack of language skills, the percentage of recognized refugees who have managed to find legal job, is very small.
Children of applicants of international protection as well as children of recognized refugees or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection have the same rights to access to education as the nationals. Depending on their age, children should be enrolled in primary schools, secondary education or high schools. However, it may take more than a year for a child to attend school lessons, as there is a lack of capacity in public schools due to the large number of the incoming population and lack of assistance. According to research conducted by the Greek Council for Refugees in January 2019, “it is estimated that 11,700 refugee and migrant children are enrolled in formal education”, a number that consist of half the refugee child population in Greece.[viii] Although mainly for adults, language classes are also offered by civil society organizations, local and international NGOs, universities and centres for vocational training.
Asylum seekers and refugees in Greece, when it comes to access to health care services, have the same rights as the nationals. The law 4368/2016 states that recognized refugees, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, stateless persons, applicants of international protection and persons residing in Greece on humanitarian grounds are entitled to retrieve medical and pharmaceutical treatment for free.[ix] To elaborate, both applicants of international and subsidiary protection as well as recognized refugees can book appointments and be examined in every public hospital free of charge. Moreover, persons with electronic prescriptions are entitled also to pharmaceutical treatment for free.
The above vulnerable groups need first to be registered in the national social insurance system and issued a social security number (AMKA). Although the process to issue the number is relatively easy and can be accessed by anyone, the appointments in hospitals and healthcare centres are hindered and it might take more than 2 months for someone to attend a medical visit. Lack of capacity for both medical equipment and specialized staff are some of the challenges that persons have to face in their medical appointments. Another obstacle that the beneficiaries have to face is the lack of interpreters. This gap is mostly covered my local NGOs that provide free interpretation services in various public medical centres. It should be highlighted that local and international NGOs provide basic health services in various areas of Greece covering some of the less urgent needs.
Do refugees experience obstacles with regard to issues like social life, personal well-being, freedom, etc?
One of the biggest challenges that refugees face during their stay in Greece is racism and xenophobia. To illustrate, according to the annual report conducted by the “Racist Violence Recording Network” there were recorded about 117 incidents or racist attacks in 2018. According to the research, 71 of these incidents were attacks on migrants or refugees due to their ethnic origin, religion or colour. Moreover, racist violence has also targeted “third country nationals, human rights defenders due to their association with refugees and migrants”.[x]
The restriction of liberty that has been imposed on those residing on the islands constitutes another great obstacle. Refugees are unable to get involved in social life and to participate in activities that will empower them. Although smaller communities have been created in the camps, people still feel excluded from the broader society of Greece. The integration process has been recognized as a very important and challenging task for those willing to stay in Greece. Due to financial difficulties, the state is unable to build its capacity towards a better integration process.
[i] Hellenic Republic – Ministry of Migration Policy: Profile of Beneficiaries of International Protection. [Online] available at: http://asylo.gov.gr/en/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/BIP.jpg
[ii] Greece: Law No. 4375 of 2016 on the organization and operation of the Asylum Service, the Appeals Authority, the Reception and Identification Service, the establishment of the General Secretariat for Reception, the transposition into Greek legislation of the provisions of Directive 2013/32/EC [Greece], 3 April 2016, A:8 par.2 , A:10 par.4
[iii] Id. Article 14 par. 5
[iv] UNHCR: Protection Monitoring Tool – Open Reception Facilities (sites) in the mainland. Summary Tables. 2018 [Online] available at: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/67420
[v] Greek Refugee Council. Country Report: Greece. March 2019. [Online] available at: https://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/greece/reception-conditions/housing/types-accommodation
[vi] Refugee.info: Financial Assistance in Greece. [Online] available at: https://www.refugee.info/greece/cash-assistance-in-greece--greece/the-cash-program?language=en
[vii] Greece: Law No. 4375 of 2016 on the organization and operation of the Asylum Service, the Appeals Authority, the Reception and Identification Service, the establishment of the General Secretariat for Reception, the transposition into Greek legislation of the provisions of Directive 2013/32/EC [Greece], 3 April 2016, A:69
[viii] Greek Refugee Council. Country Report: Greece. March 2019. [Online] available at: https://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/greece/reception-conditions/employment-and-education/access-education
[ix] Greece: Law. No. 4368 of 2016, 21 February 2016, A:33
[x] Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN). Annual Report 2018. [Online] available at: http://rvrn.org/2019/04/rvrn-annual-report-2018/
The legal process
The Asylum procedure is initiated from the moment the beneficiary appears on the Regional Asylum Office. For the needs of the asylum process, the state has established 12 Regional Asylum Offices in the broad area of Greece as well as 11 subsidiary Asylum Units.
- If the applicant has already expressed his/her intention to apply for international protection to the Asylum Service or Police, he/she needs to fill in the additional data required in order to conclude the Registration.
- In case the Person of Concern (POC) has not already expressed his/her will for international protection, the POC is referred firstly for a Skype appointment in order to register the international protection application.
The next step is to get through the Eurodac tool by providing fingerprints. Then the Regional Asylum Office sets a Lodging date and issues a Registration Card for the applicant. That constitutes a full registration. The Registration Card has printed on it the Refugee Status Determination interview date and it is valid for up to one year. If the POC wishes so, the determining authority shall provide him/her with sufficient time to prepare as well as to find a legal or other counselor for assistance. This time should not be more than seven days. Furthermore, women applicants are being interviewed by a female case handler and if they wish so they can also request a female interpreter. However, all the applicants have the right to express their preference regarding the gender of the case handler and interpreter, and depending on the availability the office should provide the requested gender. If not possible, it should be reflected on the report and it is being examined accordingly.
After the full registration the Regional Asylum Office examines if the applicant fall under Dublin III Regulation. If so, the Asylum Office informs the applicant to bring additional documentation. At the same time the Asylum Service Dublin Unit is being informed as responsible for the further required actions. The Dublin Unit examines the applicant’s file and decides whether to send a Dublin Request to another Member State. If the request outcome is positive, the POC is transferred to the Member State responsible for his/her application. If the outcome is negative the POC waits for his interview in Greece. If the applicant is an unaccompanied minor with a family member (parent, brother/sister, uncle/aunt, grandfather/grandmother) legally residing in a Dublin III country, this state is responsible for the application. If the minor has no family members then Greece will examine his/her application.
If the applicant does not show up on the scheduled examination date the procedure is being discontinued and the applicant should submit a new application for continuation of his/her examination. After the examination the POC waits for the decision. The Regional Asylum Office should notify the applicant and issue the 1st instance decision.
If the decision is positive, the applicant is granted the International Protection Status. The Asylum Office issues a new card that marks the new legal status and a 3 years residence permit issuance is initiated.
If the decision is negative, the Office notifies the applicant and the asylum seeker’s card is removed. The POC has a timeframe of 30 days in order to submit an appeal against the 1st instance rejection. When the POC submits the appeal, he/she is issued with a new asylum seeker’s card that sets the date of the 2nd instance examination by a three member Appeal Committee. In case of being rejected again, the POC can appeal to the administrative court within 60 days. This appeal does not have automatic suspensive effect on the potential return procedure.
During the whole process the Office, responsible for the examination of an application, is responsible for providing interpreters in order to inform the applicants, in a language which they understand, about their rights and obligations. All the applicants have the right to access legal and procedural information from a state lawyer free of charge. According to the Law 4375/2016, the assessment of the applications for international protection is completed within six months. However, in case of vulnerability and other exceptions the responsible institute can initiate an accelerated procedure that might be closer to three months. Moreover, the competent authorities are obliged to provide confidentiality during the procedure. After the POCs are being granted refugee status or Subsidiary protection, they can apply for travel documents. According to the Joint Ministerial Decision 10566/2014, these documents are valid for 5 years and are renewable. In order to obtain the travel documents the applicant should pay a fee of 85 euros. In some cases the issuance of a travel document can take more than 8 months.
Before the interview, the Asylum Service needs to check if there is an application for reunification with family members already residing in a third country. The institution cooperates with the responsible authorities of the third country in order to issue a decision. If positive, the Consular authorities are informed and they issue a permit of entrance. The Asylum Service has to inform the POC regarding the outcome and the process regarding the POC’s transfer is initiated. The application for family reunification is not mandatory.
When it comes to unaccompanied minors, the State and specifically the closest public prosecutor is responsible for appointing a guardian. The guardian represents the minor and he/she ensures that his/her rights are safeguarded throughout the procedure. If the guardian is a lawyer, the minor does not have access to further legal representation. Concerning the personal interview, the maturity and psychological consequences of their traumatic experiences are taking into account.
The examination of the appeal on the second instance decision is held without the presence of the applicant. In some exceptions it might take place an oral hearing by to the Appeals Committee. The examination of the appeal is defined to 20 days after its submission or 10 days in case of accelerated procedure. For oral hearings, the third country national should be informed at least 5 days before and in a language which he/she understands.
Joint Ministerial Decision 10566/2014, Gov. Gazette B/3223/02.12.2014, available at: http://bit.ly/2lmEMwy.
EPORT ON THE FIRST RECEPTION CENTRE FOR ASYLUM SEEKERS IN MORIA, LESVOS
Description of what happens if they do not receive the refugee status
Asylum Seekers who have their application rejected as inadmissible should leave the host country. The Asylum Office has to refer the third country nationals to the responsible authority in order to inform them and begin removal procedures. From the moment the decision for return is issued, the third country national should leave the country within 60 days.
Very important for the following analysis is the notion of the safe third country. According to the provisions of Law 4375/2016, a country where the life and liberty of an applicant are not threated should be considered safe. In addition, the applicants should be eligible to apply for international protection in this country. After the agreement between the European Union and Turkey, the latter has been recognized as a safe third country. Accordingly, Turkey is a safe country for applicants of international protection, which means that if an application is inadmissible in Greece, the state will deport the migrant back to Turkey.
Based on the above national and international treaties and legislations, migrants cannot travel to or apply for international protection elsewhere in the EU as they have already received a negative decision from another Member State, in that case from the Greek state.
When it comes to Syrians, their country of origin is not considered as a safe third country. That leads to their deportation to Turkey. In this instance, Syrians are not able to return to their country. However, the nationality is not the only reason why some migrants are returned to Turkey. Every case should be examined thoroughly in order for the authorities to issue the deportation order. Considering the above, there are cases of other nationalities, although not that many, that have also been deported to Turkey due to safety reasons in their country of origin. When it comes to most other nationalities, apart from some minor exceptions, they have to return to their country of origin.
Undocumented migrants are obliged to leave Greece and return to their country of origin as they have no residence permit or any other legal permit that allows them to stay. However, in many cases, people are not able to return to their countries due to lack of proper legal documentation and travel documents. According to the national legislation, the expenses of the return process should be covered exclusively by the third country national, but in many instances those obliged to return do not have the sufficient amount of money in order to cover these expenses. In this situation, and according to international and national obligations, the Greek state is responsible to fund the return operation as well as to cover the living expenses of the third country national while waiting for the return. During this period, the competent authorities should provide “basic and decent temporary accommodation in public facilities or welfare services and that in general all their primary needs are covered”.
There are two different categories of return:
If the third country national refuses his/her deportation, the authorities should escort, in conjunction with the authorities of the country of origin, the migrant to the airport and in some cases to the country of origin.
On the contrary, those who would like and are capable can follow the procedures of return without police escort.
One of the options that the third country nationals have is the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Program implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). This procedure could be interpreted as a more dignified process to return. IOM cooperates with both countries of origin and current host countries in order to provide the most efficient plan of return and reintegration of the third country nationals for their return back to their country or to Turkey. Those who will choose the voluntary return scheme will be able to liaise with the country of origin through IOM. The organization will provide them with financial support and escort them to the airport in Greece for departure and it will also provide assistance to the final destination country through its regional office. In addition, the IOM is responsible for issuing their tickets and travel documents.
 Greece: Law No. 4375 of 2016 on the organization and operation of the Asylum Service, the Appeals Authority, the Reception and Identification Service, the establishment of the General Secretariat for Reception, the transposition into Greek legislation of the provisions of Directive 2013/32/EC [Greece], 3 April 2016, A:56
 Greece: Law No. 3907 of 2011 on Establishment of an Asylum Service and a First Reception Service, adaptation of the Greek legislation to the provisions of Directive 1008/115/EC ‘with regard to the common rules and procedures in Member States for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals’ and other provisions, 26 January 2011, A:37
Analysis of how the media depicts the refugees in Greece
As articulated in the previous parts of this research, since 2015, a big refugee flow has moved into broad areas of Greece. Consequentially, the majority of this vulnerable group of people is being marginalized. Most of the times this marginalization is validated and reinforced by the media’s powerful discourse on the matter. It should be underlined that negative or even neutral representations of refugees in the media have a great impact on a wide range of persons, as they promote prejudices and obvious or hidden racism.
Although positive representation is not missing from the national discourse, the total impact should be mainly measured according to the articles provided by the most popular media. For instance, the below analysis is based on the five most popular news sites and magazines according to the Alexa.com tool .[i]
Is there national media attention for refugees and refugee issues?
Definitely, a lot of both online and printed media dedicate an important number of articles on the refugee crisis. However, the content of the news is often influenced by the political relationships of the owners as well as political control in many instances.
Most of the articles provided by the national media cover the situation on the islands and specifically in the hotspots. These articles highlight the difficult living conditions in the hot spots and the tensions that take place between the residents. Although this can be identified as a criticism to the state’s migration policy, at the same time it constructs the cultural image of the refugee as unable to coexist with other nationalities and, by extension, with the Greek community. In addition, the focus also changes regarding the time period the article is written. For instance, from 2015 until March 2016, most of the articles were focusing on the numbers. The media were analyzing the increase of the receiving population as well as the number of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, and the population in the hotspots and on the mainland.
Regarding the political affiliation of each media outlet, there is a different interpretation and dissemination of the information. While a leftist magazine will adhere to the humanitarian perspective of a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea, a conservative one will focus on the lack of sea borders control capacity. As a result, the same news creates two different but equally powerful narratives. The first one presents the refugee body as a victim by criticizing the incapability or the reluctance of the state to rescue these bodies. The latter, interprets the information by a different point of view. It presents the image of the refugee as someone who overcame the border control and entered illegally in the country.
After March 2016, the attention was focused on the EU-TURKEY agreement. The discourse was not focused anymore on refugees but on techniques created to control the flows. By this way media transfers the national public opinion, from the challenges that the refugee faces as a victim, to the refugee community as a major problem which EU searches alternative methods and approaches to solve. Although it does not underestimate the difficulties that a refugee has to overcome in Greece, by focusing on the European agreement, the media presents a negative image of the refugee as a source of major problems. On the one hand, these articles neglect on purpose the use of language relating to the biological characteristic of the refugee body. It actually contrasts the refugee community with the European “principles” that, in order to be protected, the EU searches for methods to avoid the threat. This creates a double impact. First, it produces the negative image of the refugee as a threat to Western values and reinforces a national feeling of insecurity. Secondly, the refugee community feels powerless and unsafe, watching the transfer of the public discourse towards a public interest that coincides mostly with a national rather than humanitarian social policy.
How are refugees presented by the media?
An article from April of 2016, on the online magazine iefimerida.gr, uses the title “Chaos in the camps-Refugees stabbed at Kilkis”.[ii] Moreover, the article begins with “Still out of control, the refugee situation in the country. A 17-year-old girl died in Elliniko camp while stabbing between refugees took place at Kilkis”. This example presents the above-mentioned transit of the media discourse. As it can be seen, the information regarding the reasons of violent acts is being disconnected from the living conditions in the camps and it takes the form of a general criminal act.
In June 2016, a different online magazine writes “The Greek Athlete Media Association gathers clothes for refugees”.[iii] Although this article identifies the need for solidarity initiatives towards a humanitarian assistance, it avoids admitting the most important challenges that refugees face in their everyday life. Observing this article in conjunction with the previous one, it becomes clear that there is an endeavor to present an image of the refugee as a victim without however forgetting that they are still a treat.
One of the most popular printed and online magazines is Proto Thema. As most of the newspapers, the discourse provided in most of the magazine’s articles presents the provincial areas as the most “hurt” by the incoming population. There is the prevailing image of the young male refugee who alone or with his family will try anything to survive. One of its headlines states that “The refugees will not take the jobs of Europeans”.[iv] Most of the local population juxtapose the state support they get themselves with the assistance provided by the state and NGOs to refugees. This article, although it does not focus on the refugee, reinforces the feeling of injustice as the article works inversely. To elaborate, the article uses the injustice discourse by creating the feeling of “although they benefit more than the local community at least they are not going to steal our jobs”. It seems like the article does not try to reduce the above feeling but actually maintains it by validating the above injustice through this contrast.
Is being a country of refuge presented in a negative, neutral or positive way?
When it comes to the Greek media, they convey the issue in a neutral way. However, the presented narratives as well as the framing of the refugee community guide the Greek public opinion towards a negative interpretation of Greece as a receiving country.
For example, an article of iefimerida.gr compares Greece with the rest European countries as regards the receiving population .[v] Using statistics of the United Nations, it underlines the significant number of the arriving flows and ranks the country to the first place. The article can construct a positive image of the country but only on an international level. On the contrary, the national public opinion interprets the article in a negative way. While the article was conducted in May 2019, it strengthens the fear that the refugee “problem” still takes place in the country and gives space to more radical racist ideologies to replace the general feelings of solidarity that appeared and developed in the beginning of 2015.
[ii] iefimerida (2016). Χάος στους καταυλισμούς -Μαχαιρώθηκαν πρόσφυγες στο Κιλκίς. Iefimerida.gr [Online] available at: https://www.iefimerida.gr/news/263041/haos-stoys-kataylismoys-mahairothikan-prosfyges-sto-kilkis [Accessed 7/6/2019]
[iii] Zougla (2016). Ο ΠΣΑΤ συγκεντρώνει ρουχισμό για τους πρόσφυγες. Zougla.gr [Online] available at: https://www.zougla.gr/media/article/o-psat-sigentroni-rouxismo-gia-tous-prosfiges-1340277 [Accessed 7/6/2019]
[iv] Proto Thema (2016). ΔΝΤ: Δεν θα πάρουν τις δουλειές των Eυρωπαίων οι πρόσφυγες. Protothema.gr [Online] available at: https://www.protothema.gr/world/article/567764/dd-den-tha-paroun-tis-douleies-ton-dopion-oi-prosfuges/ [Accessed 7/6/2019]
[v] iefimerida (2019). ΟΗΕ: Στην Ελλάδα έφτασαν οι περισσότεροι μετανάστες που μπήκαν στην Ευρώπη από τις αρχές του 2019. Iefimerida.gr [Online] available at: https://www.iefimerida.gr/ellada/oie-stin-ellada-oi-perissoteroi-metanastes-fetos [Accessed 7/6/2019]
Follow-up on the refugee crisis
The subjective perspective
During the first half of 2019, more than 5 refugees died while trying to reach the Greek shores.[i] The number is incredibly low compared with the number of deaths in the Aegean Sea in 2015.[ii] In addition, in June 2019 a man was found dead in the camp of Moria on the island of Lesvos.[iii] Furthermore, according to a research conducted by OXFAM International a lot of refugee camps lack proper health provisions resulting to inadequate support for the vulnerable people inside.[iv] Having in mind the above deaths as well as a numerous violation of international and national laws, this small writing consists of an analysis of the refugee as a body rendered naked from every right. For the analysis to take place, the facts are going to be examined in conjunction with the theories of Georgio Agamben and Judith Butler.
The Greek legislation underlines more than once the importance of providing humane and dignified conditions of detention.[v] The above have also been highlighted by the UNHCR in their handbook with guidelines regarding the detention of asylum seekers.[vi] The handbook dedicates five pages to the guidelines on the conditions of detention. However, it not only seems like nothing really has changed but the situation has actually worsened. The Greek Council for Refugees in its 2018 report “Borderlines of Despair: First-line reception of asylum seekers at the Greek borders”, stresses that the regular violations taking place in the camps have led to disgraceful living conditions.[vii] The moment they enter the centre, refugees are stripped off their right to liberty. This “state of exception” that the detainees are hemmed in by their presence in the centre, transforms them from socio-political subjects to strictly biological beings. The role of the sovereign – in this case the administrative mechanisms of the centre – is very important for this transformation to be implemented. As Agamben suggests, the sovereign strips the detainees from their socio-political form and renders them “homo sacer[s]”, vulnerable to any type of violence.[viii] The biological truth that emerges in the state that the refugees are reduced to, can be identified from both the interviews and the Greek legislation. The law 4375/2016 indicates that in order for a refugee to be able to apply for international protection, he/she should first get through the reception and identification processes.[ix] That means that in order to be identified as asylum seekers, they have to prove their identity by, as a lawyer in Moria stated, getting through the process of fingerprinting. But even if they do pass the “test”, they have also to identify themselves by a process of “biometric identification”.[x] It is the most visible manifestation of the condition of “bare life”, while without the biological evidence decision makers are unwilling to believe that these people are eligible for the “award” of the title of asylum seeker. It seems that the need for biological truth in the registration process has led the bodies of those detained in the centres to have become the necessary supplement of their claims, which has proved detrimental to their recognition as asylum seekers. Their claim as socio-political subjects fearing persecution is completely ignored and the only way for their application to be approved is by biological terms.
Another issue that should be highlighted is the construction of the identity of the refugee. By associating asylum seekers with detention, the government has been able to construct the identity of the refugees as criminals or even as a plague, giving space for extremist groups to act with impunity. The above can result in the feeling of statelessness in which the refugees are recognized as subjects with no identity, floating between their citizenship and that of Greece. As suggested by Agamben, this is the “zone of indistinction” where the subjects are transferred to and where political identity has no value.[xi] This is the exact space where the sovereign can exercise his power in order to render the subjects naked from every right.
OXFAM International also stresses the lack of medical care capacity.[xii] The article focuses on the most vulnerable groups of refugees and it characterizes the Persons of Concern as “abandoned” and unable to feel safe. Medical care is also highlighted by both the UNHCR and the Greek legislation as one of the most important provisions to the detained asylum seekers. According to the guidelines provided by the UNHCR, the applicants for international protection have the right to “appropriate medical treatment”.[xiii] When it comes to the Greek law 4375/2016, in the paragraph 7 of the article 11 on the “staffing” of the centres, it notes the need for “60 Medical Doctors …, 85 Nurses … and 60 Psychologists”.[xiv]
The notion of the power of sovereignty has been further highlighted from other literatures as well. Specifically following Butler’s thought which suggests that the suspension of the law is the “extension of state’s sovereignty”. Sovereign can be identified as two different figures.[xv] The first one would be the state’s right to exercise its power through its reluctance to provide the adequate services that would allow dignified living conditions in the detention centres. This could be realized as an indirect form of sovereignty. On the other hand, inside the centre the power is in the hands of the authorities who act directly on the lives of detainees. Using the words of Butler, “the law can be suspended or deployed tactically and partially to suit the requirements of [the] state that seeks more and more to allocate sovereign power to its executive and administrative powers”.[xvi] So, the law is being used in order for the state to control the refugee population that passes through the territorial waters of Greece. Although the power of the state is invisible inside the centres, it can still be identified in the bureaucratic and administrative mechanisms that act inside. In the examination of the Greek legislation, it can be seen that the “status of restriction of liberty” which the detainees are placed into, is for a limited period of time.
As it was delineated, the Greek refugee and asylum policy has led to a number of violations in the human rights of the refugees arriving in the country. The power holder is transformed into the fully controlled space of the detention centre, or reception and identification centre as the government prefers to call it. As demonstrated in this work, the power inside the centres can be realized as the figure of Agamben’s sovereign that reduces the subjects of confinement to “bare life”. Both the national and international law is being suspended making the administrator of the centre powerful to act over the life of refugees and asylum seekers inside. This power of the sovereign prevents not only the fundamental right to liberty but also human rights inextricably linked to the preservation of the life of the detainees. However, this analysis cannot be considered as completed, as it avoids some very important aspects of the refugee crisis. In short, both the European Union and Greece should reconsider their asylum policy and procedures in order to avoid further dehumanization of the arriving population as well as to empower them best so that they can build their lives again and integrate in the hosting country.
[i] ETHNOS (2019). Τραγωδία στο Αιγαίο: Ναυάγιο με 3 νεκρούς πρόσφυγες και ένα βρέφος. Ethnos.gr [Online] available at: https://www.ethnos.gr/kosmos/28888_tragodia-sto-aigaio-nayagio-me-3-nekroys-prosfyges-kai-ena-brefos [Accessed 8/6/2019]; in.gr (2019). Ναυάγιο στη Σάμο: Τρεις νεκροί πρόσφυγες ανάμεσά τους και δύο παιδιά. In.gr [Online] available at: https://www.in.gr/2019/03/07/greece/samos-nekroi-treis-prosfyges-enas-andras-kai-dyo-paidia/ [Accessed 8/6/2019]
[ii] Eva Cosse (2015). Dispatches: As Flows in Aegean Sea Increase, So Do Deaths. Human Rights Watch. Hrw.org [Online] available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/09/28/dispatches-flows-aegean-sea-increase-so-do-deaths [Accessed 8/6/2019]
[iii] Tasos Kokkinidis (2019). Migrant Found Dead at Lesvos Refugee Camp. Greekreporter.com [Online] available at: https://greece.greekreporter.com/2019/01/08/migrant-found-dead-at-lesvos-refugee-camp/ [Accessed 8/6/2019]
[iv] Helena Smith (2018). Oxfam condemns EU over 'inhumane' Lesbos refugee camp. Theguardian.com [Online] available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/09/oxfam-criticises-eu-inhumane-lesbos-refugee-camp-moria [Accessed 8/6/2019]
[v] Greece: Law No. 4375 of 2016 on the organization and operation of the Asylum Service, the Appeals Authority, the Reception and Identification Service, the establishment of the General Secretariat for Reception, the transposition into Greek legislation of the provisions of Directive 2013/32/EC [Greece], 3 April 2016, A:14.
[vi] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2012). Guidelines on the Applicable Criteria and Standards relating to the Detention of Asylum-Seekers and Alternatives to Detention. 92 [Online] Available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/503489533b8.html [Accessed 8/6/2019]
[vii] Greek Council for Refugees (2018). Borderlines of Despair: First-line reception of asylum seekers at the Greek borders. Gcr.gr [Online] available at: https://www.gcr.gr/media/k2/attachments/SCIZReportZfinalZPDF.pdf [Accessed 8/6/2019]
[viii] Agamben, G. (1995). Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Translated from the Italian by D. Heller – Roazen. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
[ix] Greece: Law No. 4375 of 2016 on the organization and operation of the Asylum Service, the Appeals Authority, the Reception and Identification Service, the establishment of the General Secretariat for Reception, the transposition into Greek legislation of the provisions of Directive 2013/32/EC [Greece], 3 April 2016, A:36.
[xi] Agamben, G. (1995). Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Translated from the Italian by D. Heller – Roazen. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
[xii] OXFAM International (2019). Vulnerable and abandoned: How the Greek reception system is failing to protect the most vulnerable people seeking asylum. Oxfam.org [Online] available at: https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2019-01-09/pregnant-women-children-and-survivors-torture-abandoned-greek [Accessed 8/6/2019]
[xiii] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2012). Guidelines on the Applicable Criteria and Standards relating to the Detention of Asylum-Seekers and Alternatives to Detention. 92 [Online] Available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/503489533b8.html [Accessed 8/6/2019]
[xiv] Greece: Law No. 4375 of 2016 on the organization and operation of the Asylum Service, the Appeals Authority, the Reception and Identification Service, the establishment of the General Secretariat for Reception, the transposition into Greek legislation of the provisions of Directive 2013/32/EC [Greece], 3 April 2016, A:11.
[xv] Butler, J. (2004). Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso.
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