Asylum system in Greece.
When can I apply for political asylum?
There is not a deadline for presenting an asylum application. It is known also to the Greek authorities that access to the asylum procedure is not always easy and sometimes you have to wait for days or for months until you manage to have access to the Asylum Office.
Where can I make this application?
You have to personally lodge an asylum application before the competent authority, which is the Asylum Office (in Athens, Lesvos Island, Samos island, Chios island, Rhodes Island, South and North Evros Region, in Thessaloniki, as well as in the detention centres: Amygdaleza, Xanthi and in Corinth).
If you are detained or in a First Reception Center, the detention authorities (police) and also the First Reception authorities will register your wish to seek international protection and refer you to the competent examination authority.
What is the process of applying for political asylum?
At the central offices in Athens, first you have to get an appointment or enter the Asylum Office. Currently people speaking certain languages can only make the application for a registration date online through Skype (Arabic, Farsi/Dari, English, French). The others have to queue at least some weeks to obtain the possibility and enter the building. The addresses can be found in the list of contacts here: http://w2eu.info/en/countries/greece/contacts. Once you manage to have access to an Asylum Office, an employee will register your personal data and ask you some questions about your origin, the journey you undertook, the reasons for leaving your country etc. A white card, which is called “International protection seeker’s card” will be issued, with your personal details, the day of its issuance and the day of its expiration (a few years ago it used to be a pink card). On that card, also the day of your interview before the competent committee is stated. The “white card” according to the Greek law, is valid for 6 months, until the completion of your asylum procedure (if the procedure takes longer it will be renewed). Sometimes it is issued also for shorter periods.
Attention! Be aware that if you don’t present yourself on the day fixed for your interview to the asylum office where you put your claim, the asylum procedure is concluded. You have to have valid reasons for not presenting yourself (example: a paper from a public hospital that you were sick or if the police stopped you in order to check the validity of the document and you couldn’t be on time at the fixed appointment with the authorities). Example: If you apply for asylum on the island of Lesvos, you should renew your card there, you should be interviewed there etc. Only a change of address, which you report to the Asylum Service would change the local responsibilities.
Attention: When you are given the “white card” and you know the day of your interview, you should go to one of the Greek NGOs working with asylum seekers (see below) where you can be properly and timely prepared for your interview.
Attention: For those coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Georgia, or Egypt, the decision should be issued within 45 days, and for the other nationalities within four months, according to a decision published by the Head of the Asylum Office.
Attention: If your asylum claim is rejected in the first instance, you have the right to appeal against the rejection. Make sure you refer promptly to an NGO in order to get help. According to the law, if your asylum claim is examined with the normal procedure, you have 30 days to appeal against the rejection. If it is examined with the accelerated procedure (which means that your asylum is considered unfounded), you have 15 days to appeal against the rejection. If you are in prison or detained in a detention center, you have 10 days to appeal against the rejection. If you are in a First Reception Center, the deadline is 3 days. The appeals procedure for the ones who applied before the Asylum Service is generally only possible in written form. Ask an NGO for support to formulate it!!!
Attention: If your appeal is also rejected (second instance rejection), you can only appeal before the Appeal Administrative Court and also request a suspension of your removal, which is a long and expensive procedure. Most probably you’ll have to hire a private lawyer, as Greek NGOs do not have the money or can only partially cover court expenses.
Attention: The application before the Appeal Administrative Court does not automatically stop the removal decision, issued with the second instance rejection. In order to do so, your lawyer or the NGO has to ask for the suspension of your removal, pending the examination of your case by the court.
Attention: Be aware that in case you change your address or your mobile phone after you have asked for asylum, you have to immediately inform the authorities and give them your new address and/or mobile phone number, so that they can find you.
Attention: Keep copies of all relevant documents (printed and in your email account): For example, any pieces of evidence for your asylum case, the “white paper” (official note) you receive from the Greek authorities upon release or your asylum seekers card, anything you receive from a doctor or hospital etc.
Who is a political refugee?
A political refugee is a person who has left his country because he/she was afraid that his/her life was in danger for the following reasons:
• because of his/her religion or of his/her ethnic group
• because of his/her nationality
• because of his/her social group, his/her gender or sexual orientation identity (homosexual)
• because of his/her political views
Who is a person in need of subsidiary protection?
A person eligible for subsidiary protection is a third-country national or a stateless person who does not qualify as a refugee but for whom substantial grounds exist for believing that, if returned to his / her country of origin, or in the case of a stateless person, to his or her country of former habitual residence, he would face a real risk of suffering serious harm, i.e.
a) the death penalty or execution; or
b) torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the country of origin; or
c) serious and individual threat to a civilian’s life or person by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict
Attention!!! If you have left your country in order to find a job or a better life, you cannot be classified as a refugee and you cannot receive subsidiary protection according to international law.
If I apply for political asylum, is it certain that I will be recognized as a refugee?
No, it is not. During the asylum procedure, the committee has to examine your personal situation and the individual reasons why you left your country of origin, as well as the general situation in your own country. Be careful about what you say, try to be as clear and precise as you can. Be prepared to say everything that is important, as you might not get asked everything. It is always good to prepare for the asylum interview. A few hints might help to get a better result:
a) Everyone understands that, when you arrive in a country, you need to find a job in order to survive. For asylum this does not count as a sufficient reason. So during your asylum examination, the priority is to explain why your life was in danger at home and why you had to escape.
b) Don’t use a “case” in the interview, which is far away from your own reality. Mostly these supposedly “strong cases” are told to the Asylum Service employees who will conduct your interview dozen times a day. If you get accused of lying, it is very complicated to correct the stance of the authorities towards a positive outcome for you in the aftermath!
c) It is always good to first talk with someone experienced in legal advice before going to the interview. This person should go through your real case with you – most of you have had bad experiences in your life back home and on your escape route to Europe that can at least lead to a humanitarian protection status!
d) Concerning family members back home: for young and healthy men and also for unaccompanied minors who will turn 18 soon, family members in areas that are considered to be safer than others (for example Kabul or other “safer” regions of Afghanistan) and who you are regularly in contact with, can be seen as people who could have enough money to support you after a possible return. Persons who do not have any connections, to the home country and who therefore would lack any support structures, are more difficult to be returned.
e) It is very important, from the very beginning, to document health problems by taking certificates from doctors. This concerns especially all kinds of psychological problems that can be a result of bad memories from your home countries or also from your journey to get out of there. Many of you know the symptoms: sleeplessness, bad dreams, headache-attacks, problems to concentrate etc. This is called “traumatisation” or “posttraumatic stress disorder” and it can help you in your asylum procedure, if you get medical/psychological certificates about this form of suffering/medical condition.
What are my rights if I apply for political asylum in Greece?
Unfortunately, the “white card” does not practically correspond to any right. It means that while you are in the asylum procedure, you cannot be deported until the completion of the administrative procedure and until you get a negative answer.
You have the right to have access to medical care and treatment at Greek public hospitals.
Due to the financial crisis, the Prefecture does not easily issue a work permit. In case you have found a job, make sure you get help from an NGO for the issuance of a work permit. Keep in mind that working without a proper work permit is illegal, according to the Greek law.
In case you are a torture victim or you have suffered from other forms of violence, you have to tell this to the authorities or the NGO, so that you are timely referred to Babel, Medicines sans Frontieres and the Greek Refugee Council, which are specialized NGOs that can confirm that you are a torture victim by issuing a certificate which is important for your asylum claim.
Is there a safe way to legally leave Greece as a recognized refugee and go to another European country?
As an asylum seeker, awaiting your interview or the decision, you cannot travel because you do not have a travel document.
If you are recognized as a political refugee , you can apply for a TDV, a travel document, and travel in all countries except your country of origin. If you have been issued subsidiary protection, you can apply for a TDV in case you cannot get a passport at your own embassy (you need to explain the reasons for that, e.g. if your country of origin does not have an embassy in Greece). You can travel in all countries including your country of origin.
In both cases, you can stay abroad for a maximum period of up to three months.
Attention : Currently, some European countries ask for a visa, even for those who are recognized as political refugees in another country. Also countries outside of Europe might ask for a visa.
Attention: In some very exceptional cases, when you have a very serious health problem, which cannot be treated in Greece, you can apply for a travel document, even while you are still in the asylum procedure. Keep in mind though that this is extremely difficult and you need to bring evidence documenting the sickness.
Attention : Keep in mind that if you try to leave from Greece with a forged or false passport and you are arrested, you might be brought to the Court, sentenced and detained.
If you have close family members in another European country, you can apply for family reunification under the Dublin Regulation. This application is also made before the Asylum Service.
Attention : Keep in mind that before applying for asylum in Greece you need to know if your parents/underage brothers/sisters are in another European country and mention this to the competent authorities. If you ask for asylum, you have only three months to state that you want to apply for family reunification!
If I left my country to find a job, can I obtain a “green card” when I am released?
It is very difficult to obtain a residence permit as a migrant. For further information, please go to the “Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Migrants and Refugees” or ask at “Diktyo” (see below).
What happens if there are mistakes about my age, name or nationality on my deportation order?
Make sure that you declare them correctly (spelling mistakes or others) during the registration of your asylum claim before the “Asylum Office”.
The “white paper” (removal note) is not a proper identity document, so if you apply for asylum, you can carefully examine it and clearly state to the person registering your correct data.
What if I have already fingerprints in a European country when I arrive in Greece?
If you have already given fingerprints in another EU country before arriving in Greece and if your fingerprints are found, then Greece will make a request to this other EU-country to see if they take you back or not. You should think before if you want to be sent to that country or not. IF not, and IF Greek authorities inform you that they will request you to go back, you should ask advice of a lawyer to help you stay (see: Bulgaria case below). If you want to be sent back because you have your old “first” fingerprints in – for example – the UK or some other better country, you can inform the authorities yourself about your fingerprints there and provide them with evidence. Yet it depends on the way you left the country (deported, why deported? voluntary return…) and on other factors if they will take you back or not. Ask a lawyer about your individual case to be sure.
In general, if you have left Greece / or another European country (by deportation or voluntarily) and if your fingerprints are found, you will most probably have to explain additionally to your old reason of escape from your home, new reasons of persecution that occurred after your return. You are allowed to make a new claim for asylum if there are new grounds for it, as your old claim closes after a certain period of time, when you do not appear to be in the country.
Some last general advice:
- Always be sure to whom you talk, check for whom he/she works, and keep names documented. If you consult a lawyer, always ask for a business card (or hand written contact details).
- Try to be well-informed and updated by seeking advice from organisations and activists who are there to help you. Cross-check information.
- Don’t trust people only because they come from the same country like you. Everybody is in a difficult situation and not all people turn out to be nice and trustworthy.
- Never give up!