Update from Athens
© Sarah Booker (RLS Executive Committee Member)
RLS Clinic Update
From 8th May 2018 the RLS clinic in Athens has been operating from the Athens Solidarity Centre (ASC) building at Larissa Station in central Athens. This is the beginning of a four-month pilot between the asylum legal team of Solidarity Now and RLS. This is an exciting partnership that will enable the Greek SN lawyers and the RLS UK lawyers to explore practically how we can work together on cases, sharing expertise and enabling beneficiaries to benefit from the strengths of both teams. For the duration of the four-month partnership it is likely that Efi, the RLS project coordinator in Athens, and Ella, the case coordinator, will work with just one volunteer lawyer per week. All of the approximately 60 ongoing RLS clients whose cases were opened during the one year of the RLS clinic within Khora have been informed of the move. We will be maintaining close links with Khora and the legal support team there. As RLS enters the second year of operating, it is an achievement and great opportunity to be working closely in partnership with Greek lawyers within a Greek organisation.
Refugees in Athens
Arrivals in Athens continue, with significant unregistered new arrivals from the North having entered Greece overland, rather than being irregular island departures or authorised transfers to the mainland. All reports are that any mass transfers of the increasing numbers of refugees restricted to the islands are politically unacceptable. The pressing issues in Athens remain delays in access to asylum registration procedures and accommodation. The accommodation provided by squats for those who cannot access NGO or state provision remains necessary and there is talk of new squats in the process of opening up to increase capacity.
Arrivals each day on the islands are picking up as the weather improves. Numbers are available on the Aegean Boat Report Facebook page. In recent weeks Lesvos has been receiving often 200-300 daily. Moria, the main camp on Lesvos, is well over capacity with tents now extending out into the surrounding fields. Procedurally, there are two concerning developments of note explained to us by the European Lawyers in Lesvos coordinator.
© Sarah Booker (RLS Executive Committee Member)
First, the interestingly named low profile project started in August 2017. It impacts on the 26 nationalities with less than a 25% recognition rate and Syrians who due to the admissibility threshold are treated as falling into a low recognition category. Those within this group risk detention from the point of arrival on Lesvos for the duration of the processing of their claim. The conditions of detention for the currently 140-odd affected are very poor with limited access to telephones, lawyers, medical care and reports of police violence. There are also reports of minors and old people within the detention facility.
The second concerning procedural change is the way in which vulnerability is determined, this being important in relation to the admissibility assessment (EU / Turkey agreement). At the initial medical assessment from 5 December 2017 the vulnerability of the applicant is categorised as being (A) medium (B) high and (C) not vulnerable. While previously an A or B categorisation would assist an applicant in relation to the admissibility assessment, from 29 January 2018 those categorised as falling within A, so with medium vulnerability, are treated as non-vulnerable, thereby substantially reducing overnight the numbers of applicants to be treated as vulnerable.
RLS Case Outcomes
What was described as a crisis is now the new normal. In Moria many have been there over a year. Businesses within the camp are now solid looking. In Athens new arrivals can expect interview dates in 2019 and in the case of some nationalities as far ahead as 2021. In this context it is essential that RLS continues to work towards the most effective long term expression of our solidarity with refugees and colleagues in Greece.
The stand-out success of this week has been the grant of asylum to a Lebanese woman who came to RLS after a very poor asylum interview in which she failed to articulate the risks she and her daughter faced if returned to Lebanon. Intensive work was done by a number of volunteer lawyers to prepare a statement, targeted country materials and post-interview representations. Over 10 attendances on the client took place. This week she and her children were granted refugee status. This is exactly the kind of case where RLS can really have an impact on outcome and which demonstrates the essential value of legal representation at the initial stage of the asylum claim.