NEWS

Red tape and overly zealous law enforcement make 50,000 wait

Many of the 50,000 foreigners who have applied for political asylum in Greece over the past 20 years are still suffering the inconsistencies of Greek bureaucracy. One week the official will renew applications, the next week he won’t and the following week he’ll get rid of asylum seekers by giving them an onward pass to the Kokkinopilo center. But the asylum seekers – many of whose applications have been pending for years – won’t go to Kokkinopilo. They work in Athens, where they have also fashioned a life for themselves. The police then abuse their power by cutting off the application process and making the applicants illegal. According to the law, the state may stipulate a place of residence only in exceptional circumstances, when public order and security are at risk. Kokkinopilo is a sly way of disrupting the asylum process. Change of address One simple method of summarily rejecting applications is by overzealous use of Article 2 of Law 61/1999, which stipulates that the asylum seeker must remain at the address declared to the police. «Dozens of applications are rejected every month with the excuse that the police have not been notified of a change of address,» said lawyer Zacharias Kesses. «Asylum seekers are amazed when the police check their papers and send them for deportation. Sometimes they hear about it too late to meet the deadline for an appeal against the decision.» The Greek authorities also abuse this clause in cases of foreigners returning to Greece under the Dublin II ruling. According to Dublin II, which went into effect last year, applications for political asylum in the EU are examined in the first EU country they enter. «Greece always cuts off the asylum process of those returning under Dublin II,» said Spyros Kouloheris, legal services coordinator for the Greek Council for Refugees. «Until recently, nearly all of them went through Greece and most of them went on to other countries,» Kouloheris said.«When they return under Dublin II, the Greek authorities break off the procedure of examining the asylum application on the grounds that the applicant has gone abroad without notifying the authorities. The outcome is that countries like Norway no longer return asylum seekers because they are certain they will be deported from Greece, which is dangerous. This is a blatant violation of the 1951 Convention of the Status of Refugees.» Having no fixed address deprives asylum seekers of state legal aid. «Articles 1 and 3 of the much-vaunted Law 3226/04 on the provision of legal aid to people with low incomes excludes from the list of those entitled all those who do not have permanent or usual residence in the EU,» said Alexandros Papasteriopoulos, president of the Panhellenic Union of New and Practicing Lawyers. «In other words, it excludes asylum seekers, even though the issue had been raised urgently by the two committees that drafted the law.» Papasteriopoulos warned that «for this reason Greece is at risk of being sentenced in Strasbourg for violating Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.» Bureaucratic ploy A decision to issue a deportation order must be issued within three days, according to Article 21 of Law 3013/2004. «In no case is this rule respected, and foreigners are illegally detained for many weeks when no deportation order has been issued,» Kesses said. And so they miss the appeal deadline. Asylum seekers do not usually have passports or other travel documents. The police use the excuse that they do not know if the applicants are who they claim to be and refuse to certify their signatures as genuine. This makes it impossible to give power of attorney to a lawyer to appeal against a deportation order,» he added. After much pressure, the police officer usually signs the power of attorney, but may refuse to authorize it with the police stamp. So a lawyer might get power of attorney with a police stamp in Peristeri but not in Kamini, for instance. Then, since the document is still pending without the police stamp, it might be accepted by Attica prefecture’s Athens department but not by its Piraeus department. It all depends on the level of training and good will of the police officer and the prefecture clerk. The red tape creates a murky and sometimes impenetrable cycle. Lawyers promise to get asylum for 300-6,000 euros. A simple application, which the lawyer charges a hefty fee to complete, is given to the Public Order Ministry by a court official. The asylum seeker thinks that the stamped application is a guarantee. He or she does not know that an application for political asylum is only accepted when made in person, and that it is automatically rejected if submitted by a court official. Quasi-criminals «Anyone who wants to see the face of public administration need only go to the aliens’ bureaus of Athens, Maroussi and Piraeus,» Kesses said. «Foreigners are treated as quasi-criminals, humanitarian organizations as undesirable bodies and lawyers as well-paid middlemen. The level of illegality is such that even decisions made by administrative courts to quash detention orders are enforced by police officers only after several days. All of this is done on the pretext that the departments are understaffed.» So Kouloheris asks this inevitable question: «When the administration treats Greeks the way it does, why should it behave any differently to foreigners? The wretchedness, lack of organization and distrust of the Greek administration seem worse to foreigners.» There are few police officers who are trained to deal with foreigners. The huge number of outstanding applications (50,000) shows the police cannot keep up with interviews of asylum applicants. It also raises the suspicion that the police don’t want to bother learning these duties at all. ‘What do you expect when a prefecture which has a large influx of foreigners has only one person to handle asylum applications – someone who also has other tasks to do?» Kouloheris said. «These things can’t be handled in a slipshod manner. They are sensitive issues. «Nonetheless, there have been cases where the behavior of the police has been touching,» he said. «They often dip into their own pockets to pay for food and cigarettes for inmates. I remember how some police officers paid for a female asylum seeker and her baby to fly from Evros to Athens.» But usually the innocent pay along with the guilty, since most applicants don’t meet the requirements for refugee status. At the same time, every year the Council of State receives dozens of requests to reject decisions made by the Public Order Ministry for asylum seekers and protesting unjustified non-renewal of residence permits on humanitarian grounds. Exploitation What is the real benefit from the summary procedures rejection of asylum applications? Some claim that it discourages foreigners from coming to Greece. Yet those foreigners who cannot be deported are exploited and deprived of their rights here. The number of asylum seekers in Greece could continue to grow as countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia continue their downward spiral and others such as Pakistan and Bangladesh will not take back those who have fled.