Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
Several NGOs reported prolonged detention of detainees awaiting an asylum determination, most beyond the six months established under government policy and, in a few cases, beyond the maximum of 18 months permitted by law. Unlike in previous years, the ombudsman reported that the examination of applications of Syrian nationals seeking international protection was taking place within a reasonable timeframe.
In April three detainees at Mennoyia Detention Center for undocumented migrants climbed on the roof of the building to protest the length of their detention.
In a March 31 report based on a December 2015 visit to the country’s only reception center for asylum seekers in Kofinou, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights deplored a 2014 law restricting the right of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection to family reunification. The commissioner welcomed the termination of the practice of detaining Syrian asylum seekers and the reduction of the capacity of Mennoyia detention center by half but noted with concern the widespread lengthy detention of failed asylum seekers and other migrants.
The government provides a special temporary “humanitarian” residency status for citizens or residents of Syria who enter the country legally or illegally. All persons seeking such status were required to provide a Syrian passport or other identification. The Ministry of Interior stated that such status was for Syrians who did not wish to apply for international protection. From January to August, authorities granted refugee status to 21 Syrians and subsidiary protection status to an additional 725. Overall, from January to October, the government granted refugee status to 187 persons.
The government funded a Greek language program for refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors, and other migrant groups. It funded five municipalities to implement integration programs for the same groups and established a reception center for unaccompanied minors. It also funded a national television station to produce a cooking show featuring traditional dishes from migrants’ countries of origin.
Refoulement: The ombudsman and NGOs reported that asylum seekers with denied applications for asylum were deported before final adjudication of their cases. The ombudsman examined complaints from asylum seekers who were arrested for deportation while the court case challenging the rejection of their asylum applications was still pending and, in some cases, her office intervened and prevented deportations. The ombudsman warned authorities in writing that deportation in those cases could amount to an infringement of the principle of nonrefoulement.
In May 2015 the UN Committee against Torture reportedly raised concerns about reports that asylum seekers were deported to their countries of origin despite facing a serious risk of torture or religious persecution. According to the report, the committee also criticized that authorities did not protect asylum seekers from refoulement during the judicial review process and that there was no effective judicial remedy to challenge deportation decisions and halt deportations pending the outcome of appeals.
The NGO KISA visited the Mennoyia Detention Center several times during the year and reconfirmed the ombudsman’s findings that detention facilities for rejected asylum seekers did not respect their fundamental rights. KISA agreed that conditions at the center had improved after the change of management, but the change did not entirely end the inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees.
Employment: Authorities allowed asylum seekers whose cases were awaiting adjudication to work after residing six months in the country but limited them to the areas permitted by law. The law restricts asylum seekers’ employment to work in fisheries, the production of animal feed, waste management, gas stations and car washes, freight handling in the wholesale trade, building and outdoor cleaning, distribution of advertising and informational materials, and food delivery. Two NGOs claimed, however, that the Labor Department continued to refuse to approve and renew labor contracts for asylum seekers outside the farming and agriculture sector. Recognized refugees and persons with subsidiary protection have the same rights as citizens with regard to employment.
Various NGOs confirmed that residency permits contingent upon employment were virtually unobtainable, given the weak economy and the limited types of work authorized by the Labor Department. There were also reports of racism by Labor Department officers who met with valid residency applicants seeking a contract of employment. From January to September, the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance approved 10 labor contracts for asylum seekers, of which six were in agriculture and four in gas stations.
NGOs complained about the remoteness of the government’s reception center for asylum seekers at Kofinou, the lack of language or job training, and the shortage of job opportunities other than as day laborers at nearby farms.
Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers who refused an available job could be denied state benefits. To obtain welfare benefits, asylum seekers also needed a valid address, which was not possible for those who were homeless. NGOs and asylum seekers reported delays and inconsistencies in the delivery of benefits to eligible asylum seekers.
In July the ombudsman issued a report highlighting the problem of retroactive welfare benefits owed to asylum seekers. The ombudsman also reported that the system of providing welfare support to asylum seekers via coupons was problematic in that the special needs of vulnerable groups among asylum seekers were not taken into account or accommodated appropriately. The coupons could be redeemed only in specific shops that may lack some supplies and were usually more expensive than other grocery stores.
In contrast with 2015, there were no reports from NGOs that authorities discriminated against asylum seekers in the provision of state medical care.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities granted subsidiary protection to 946 persons in the first eight months the year.