Between “the laws and real life”. Keynotes from the Roundtable Discussion organized by the RESPOND Research Group of Aegean University

By Aggelos Ilias, Nadina Leivaditi, Eva Papatzani, and Electra Petracou | University of the Aegean

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The first Roundtable discussion, organized by the RESPOND Research Group of the Aegean University, took place in November 2018, constituting a significant part of the ongoing research. Fifteen representatives of eight stakeholders of Lesvos (NGOs and International Agencies) participated in the Roundtable. The discussion evolved around the four major thematic fields, through which RESPOND approaches migration governance, namely:  Border Management and Security, Refugee Protection Regimes, Reception Policies and Integration Policies. The Roundtable agenda was structured through the following themes: 1) Key developments and main changes or reforms since 2015, 2) The current situation in the national and the local level, 3) Challenges in formulation and implementation of policies, 4) Key patterns of cooperation and coordination among the actors and 5) Policies’ recommendations and suggestions for improvement. A significant number of crucial issues unfolded during the discussion, adding critical insights regarding the identification and asylum procedures, implementation of policies, reception conditions and other issues. 

The debate around the main changes since 2015 revealed the decisive role of the legal framework and a series of other key developments. More specifically, the “closure of the Balkan route”, the EU-Turkey Statement, the Greek Laws 4375/2016 and 4540/2018, as well as the correlations of the above were highlighted as the determinants of the current conjuncture. The geographical restriction in the Greek islands, as a result of both the EU-Turkey Statement and the Law 4375/2016, has contributed to the significant increase in submission of asylum applications in Greece. Additionally, another significant development in the legal framework is the recent Law 4540/2018 which upgrades the role of EASO (European Asylum Support Office), expanding it from assessing vulnerability, conducting interviews and drafting opinions in borders’ procedure to similar competences in the regular procedure. 

Another issue, which gained significant attention during the discussion, is a practice referred to as the “Low-profile Scheme”. The implementation of the above started in 2017 as a “pilot project” without being legally defined in legislation. Newcomers belonging to particular nationalities, whose country of origin has low recognition rates EU wide, are immediately placed in administrative detention, upon completion of RIS procedures and remain there for a 3 months period. The “Low-profile Scheme” project was also characterized by part of the Roundtable participants as a discriminatory “containment policy” that functions as a new norm for Greece and a pilot project for the entire European Union. 

Additionally, a major transformation of the refugee policy in Greece is that since Greece is no longer considered to be in a state of emergency, various international agencies and NGOs have started a gradual withdrawal from 2017 onwards.  Thus, the Greek state will be the only one receiving EU funding to set up reception services for newcomers. According to the Roundtable participants, this transformation has already created a wide range of difficulties and delays, widening the already existing gap between policies’ formulation and implementation, between “the laws and real life” as it was mentioned. Beyond the aforementioned gap, a series of cases were reported regarding the different implementations of the same law provisions. Not uniform practices were observed not only in different geographic areas of Greece but also within the same area. People that have already been recognized as ‘vulnerable’ still remain in Moria site for months, despite the lifting of the geographical restriction on their cases due to significant delays in the identification of empty spaces in mainland’s sites. At the same time, a lack of coherence was highlighted regarding the profile of vulnerable cases eligible to be transferred to accommodation scheme (such as apartments, hotels etc.) or open accommodation facilities in the mainland. Furthermore, there is a serious lack of healthcare provision in Moria Hot Spot. Following a security incident, HCDCP (Hellenic Center for Disease Control & Prevention), the responsible medical state actor for both medical services and vulnerability assessment paused its activities since 24/10/2018 due to shortage of staffing and interpretation provision and inadequate space. As a result along with the absence of healthcare provisions, vulnerability as well as age assessment can not be carried out creating backlog with significant impact on asylum procedures. 

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Suffocating living conditions of asylum seekers in Moria Hot Spot were also regretted. Due to overcrowded conditions, an informal camp has been gradually created in the surrounding olive grove fields known as the “Jungle”. Specifically, according to official numbers, the site has capacity for about 3,100 but is currently home to some 7,000. People are exposed to extremely harsh living conditions, residing under bad weather in flimsy tents with insufficient hygiene facilities which raises serious protection concerns. “People have to die again in order to take them out of the frozen tents” a participant noted, referring to the deaths during the winter of 2017.

During the Roundtable discussion, a wider debate also came up concerning the relationship between the national and the European policies, highlighting their interconnectedness and interdependence. In terms of recommendations, most of the participants noted that addressing the above mentioned issues is a matter of political will and that strategic transformations and timely solutions are required in multiple levels. The dynamic character of the situation and the constant changes constitute a crucial challenge.


 

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