07 June 2021
A letter from six northern EU member states, obtained by Statewatch, calls on the European Commission to take steps to make it possible to resume removals of asylum-seekers and refugees to Greece and put a halt to "secondary movements".
The letter (pdf), sent on 1 June, complains of "a rapid increase" in the number of people "travelling with their Greek travel documents for refugees and using the pretext of travelling for family or tourism purposes to enter the above-mentioned states," and then lodging an application for asylum.
It is addressed to Ylva Johansson (European Commissioner for Home Affairs), Margaritis Schinas (European Commission Vice-President and Commissioner for 'Promoting our European Way of Life') and copied to Notis Mitarachi, Greek Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy. It is signed by interior, justice and migration ministers from Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
The letter refers to longstanding court judgments preventing the return of asylum-seekers and refugees to Greece, due to what the ministers euphemistically refer to as "substandard circumstances" in the country.
However, it is entirely concerned with preventing people from escaping those "substandard circumstances" by trying to ensure that they can be improved to the most minimal level possible, or encouraging Greece to provide "individual assurances" (rather than systematic improvements) so that returns to Greece can resume.
The ministers refer to "an illegal infrastructure" that has been "established and used specifically to enable these secondary movements."
"We must work together to combat this," they say, and make three proposals for doing so.
"...we ask the European Commission to examine compliance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and other relevant European legal standards regarding the (asylum) procedural guarantees and the accommodation and living conditions of asylum applicants and persons granted international protection in Greece. In case of noncompliance, we ask the Commission to redress this situation together with the responsible Greek authorities within a reasonable timespan and provide all necessary support. This includes offering Greece rapid, effective and substantial financial support for the integration of persons who have been granted international protection. It is of utmost importarnce to us all, that the situation in Greece improves."
It should be noted that the EU has been providing Greece with "rapid, effective and substantial financial support" for years, and refugees are still living - and dying - in utter squalor whilst waiting years for asylum applications to be processed.
Secondly, coercive measures:
"...we would ask for a decisive step to be taken to put an immediate end to the flagrant abuse of refugee travel documents. Persons who have been granted international protection should have freedom to travel throughout the Schengen area for 90 days if they meet the necessary criteria, including having the means of subsistence to provide for their stay. However, if this freedom to travel is abused in order to apply for asylum in other Member States, we must respond resolutely to prevent those who do not meet the requirements to stay in another Member State."
Thirdly, individual assurances:
"...we would ask the European Commission to work towards Greece issuing individual assurances that returnees will be provided with the procedural guarantees and minimum level of physical subsistence in accordance with Article 4 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This is the only way to ensure that national courts will reliably agree to returns. The Greek government has not yet agreed to issue such assurances."
See: the letter (pdf)
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