2020: A year in review from RLS in Greece
People seeking asylum in Greece were faced with insurmountable obstacles in 2020 and RLS were committed to speaking out and advocating for the rights of refugees in the face of injustice.
While people were instructed to socially distance from each other and maintain good standards of personal hygiene in order to avoid the contraction or spread of Covid-19, tens of thousands of refugees remained stranded in overcrowded, unsanitary camps on Greece’s island ‘hotspots’. RLS called for the urgent evacuation of the camps, as well as urging the Greek government to move people to safety – to reduce congestion in the islands in order to avert a public health crisis.
During the month of March, the New Democracy government entirely suspended the right to claim asylum in Greece. Many refugees who arrived at this time were arrested and now face years in prison, despite the Refugee Convention explicitly prohibiting the punishment of refugees who enter a country in order to seek protection. RLS called on the Greek and European authorities to withdraw the emergency decree suspending the right to asylum, and to respect commitments under international law. RLS also called on the Greek government and relevant EU bodies to take action to ensure children’s rights were upheld.
Once the Greek government’s ban on claiming asylum was over, the Greek Asylum Service closed due to Covid-19 – only to reopen at a reduced capacity for the rest of the year, causing severe delays and prolonged periods of limbo. RLS called on EU member states and authorities to uphold the rights of refugees and displaced people at Europe’s borders amid the Covid-19 crisis.
As the pandemic progressed, RLS continued to call for the protection of the most vulnerable , to restore legality and not to neglect refugees and other vulnerable groups in times of crisis. RLS spoke out against mass evictions and the lack of support and integration provisions for refugees, following Greece’s New Democracy government’s amended asylum law which decrees that, upon receiving a positive asylum decision, UNHCR cash assistance is cut immediately and allocated accommodation must be evacuated within 30 days.
The situation on the Greek islands deteriorated further as 2020 went on and RLS repeatedly called upon EU member states to urgently relocate unaccompanied children, which was possible and even more necessary given Covid-19.
Following the fire that devastated Moria camp on Lesvos in September, RLS called on EU governments to relocate displaced individuals and on the Greek government to transfer people to safety on the mainland.
As winter came to Greece, RLS called on the Greek government to take action to avoid thousands of refugees facing homelessness and destitution due to the ongoing pandemic, a deliberate decrease in the length of support for refugees, and the lack of a comprehensive integration strategy and strategy against homelessness from authorities.
In 2020, the Greek government introduced new legislation to regulate NGOs working with refugees. This new framework was declared incompatible with European standards and RLS called on the Greek authorities to implement recommendations made by the Expert Council on NGO Law. RLS also asked the EU to support Civil Society Organisations, during and after the pandemic.
Throughout 2020, ‘pushbacks’ were widely publicised in Greece – that is the authorities’ practice of physically preventing refugees from entering Greece by land or sea, instead pushing them back to bordering countries/waters. RLS spoke out about Syrian refugees pushed back to Turkey from Cyprus and called on the Greek government to investigate the pushbacks and violence at its borders.
We at RLS hope that 2021 will see some positive developments for refugees in Greece, but whatever happens we will be here to hold authorities accountable and push for change.