Greece > Overview

last update: August 2016

Greece is one of the major countries where people are entering the European Union through the Turkish-Greek borders (at land and sea). The EU has put a lot of pressure on the Greek government to close these external borders and invested into its closure by sending Frontex – officers of a specialized EU-border agency – and by funding “border security”. Despite increasing difficulties to cross the border, until today Greece remains one of the main transit countries for migrants trying to enter the EU.

The Greek government is permanently and very strongly under EU-pressure. In the past year, when so many people arrived, Greece was strongly criticised by different EU member states and countries of the Balkan region, for “not securing the external EU-borders as it should”. Thus, any developments in Greece toned to be understood in light of European migration policies.

Greece repeatedly got threatened to be forced to leave the Schengen Area[1] if they failed to comply to EU plans, for example, with

1) the construction of the so called “Hot Spots” – First Reception Detention Centers - on the Greek Islands. In February 2016, Greece opened five so-called Hot Spots on Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros, which are closed camps for the first identification and registration of newcomers;

2) a close co-operation with Turkish authorities, the European Border Control Agency Frontex and NATO in order to close and control the Turkey-Greece borders;

3) implementing as many forced returns as possible. As a consequence, since the deal between Turkey and the EU got sealed on March 20, 2016 and until June 8, not more than 449 persons have been forcibly returned (readmitted) to Turkey.

In the same time, the borders to FYROM/Macedonia officially closed on March 8, 2016 and since then already more than 57,000 refugees have arrived in Greece, who got stuck there because they could not enter the open corridor any more to get to their countries of destination. 8,500 of them were caught after the implementation of the EU-Turkey-deal up on the Aegean Islands inside and outside of the Hot Spots. For the remaining 49,000 and more, the government has ever-since set up “over night” more than 45 provisory mass refugee camps all over mainland Greece, most of which are tent camps, difficult to reach from cities/urban centres and often ruled by the army. Lacking any welcoming infrastructure and any system to protect and integrate the thousands of refugees, Greece is far from securing even basic needs such as proper housing, medical aid, information and food, until now.

Generally, the Greek government announced that there were three options for refugees in Greece: 1. Applying for asylum, 2. Voluntary Return and 3. Deportation. Since most refugees stuck in Greece suffered both from the shock of the sudden closure of the borders of the Balkans and the dire conditions in the Greek camps, hundreds of people have signed voluntary returns and went back to war and conflict without being really aware of their different options. NGOs specialised in mental and physical health described how deteriorating and dangerous the living conditions in the mass camps are for refugees. What has been rarely said is that applying for asylum includes also the options of family reunification and relocation to other EU countries. Even if these procedures are very slow and might be for many people only a “plan B” for the case they cannot manage to cross the borders in other ways, we will explain more details about these options in the following chapters.

In June 2016, the Greek government’s Asylum Office with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) started a so-called “pre-registration exercise” to register all refugees on the mainland. The aim is to provide all pre-registered persons with a one-year paper (a form of a legalisation for those with outdated papers) and securing thereby also their access to the public health care system (but not to create access to work/employment!).

Attention!!! This is NOT the registration of asylum claims, family reunification or relocation!!! It will start later – at an unknown date. Pre-registered refugees – always according to the government - should finally receive a text message on the mobile phone (the number they gave during the procedure) with the date of their registration. Attention! Parallel, access via Skype and through lawyers for vulnerable cases continues, BUT officially only for the ones who did not pre-register. Nevertheless, if you want to apply or family reunification and you have a very serious and life-threatening health condition, or if you or your relatives abroad are going to turn 18 years within the next 12 months, you need immediate registration and you should not participate in pre-registration but urgently seek help at an NGO, i.e. the Ecumenical Refugee Program, Iridanou 20, Athens, Telephone Number: 210-72.95.926. Seek help specifically also in case you pre-registered but time is running out for you.

In Greece, and also along the way, you will encounter many activists and volunteers, tourists, professionals or simply natives, who will try to help and who show solidarity through action. Many self-organised solidarity groups try to arrange provisory accommodation, food, clothes, information provision, medical aid, and/or they transport people with their private cars. Be aware that many of these people are helping on a daily basis by investing their time and energy. They might also risk conflicts with the authorities in order to support you. Try to be patient with them and supportive and respectful with each other, but be clear in what you need and express it. Please don’t use any drugs or alcohol in order to avoid pointless aggressions and fights, especially in any place of self-organised housing and solidarity. Sexist and racist behaviours are not welcomed, as well as any form of exploitation of others, for example by persons involved in selling overpriced ferry- or bus-tickets.

When the EU-Turkey-deal came into existence on the 20h of March 2016, a division into two big groups of refugees was created in Greece: a) those who arrived before the 20th of March and after the closure of the border and are since then stuck on the Greek mainland and b) those who arrived after the 20th of March and are blocked on the Greek islands. Both groups are facing different kinds of problems. In the following chapters we will try to give information for both groups – please check carefully what information applies to your particular situation.

[1] The Schengen Area consists of 26 European countries, of which not all are in the EU. The area had largely abolished passport and any other type of border control at their mutual borders, while sharing a common visa-policy. But as a result of the ongoing migration crisis and with the excuse of security issues following the terrorist attacks in Paris, a number of countries have temporarily reintroduced controls on some or all of their borders with other Schengen states. As of 22 March 2016, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden have imposed controls on some or all of their borders with other Schengen states.

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