Κοινοποίηση του Συνηγόρου του Πολίτη προς την Αστυνομική Διεύθυνση Ροδόπης
Κοινοποίηση του Ελληνικού Συμβουλίου για τους Πρόσφυγες
Deportation of Turkish asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey on 30 July 2009
On 30 July 2009 the Greek police delivered 40 Turkish citizens (most or all of whom were of Kurdish origin) to the Turkish authorities at the Greek-Turkish border crossing of Kipi, in accordance with the Greek-Turkish Readmission Protocol. Included among the deportees were 21 asylum seekers, 4 of whom were unaccompanied minors aged 16 and 17 years.
The Greek police forcibly returned the asylum seekers to Turkey, the country from which they had fled to seek asylum, in a direct violation of the provisions of international law prohibiting the refoulement of asylum seekers. This violation was carried out in spite of interventions by NGOs, which called upon the authorities to allow the asylum seekers to lodge their claims, including a fax from the Greek Council for Refugees dated 28 July 2009, listing the asylum seekers by name and calling upon the relevant ministry and police headquarters to ensure that all asylum claims would be received by the police and examined in accordance with the proper procedures.
The following is a description of the sequence of events leading up to the deportation:
On 27 July 2009, following 8 days of negotiations with the police in the prefecture of Chania on the island of Crete, members of a local organization (the Migrants’ Forum of Crete), a lawyer specializing in Turkish affairs and 2 lawyers who were representatives of the Bar Association of Chania, were granted access to speak to 45 persons of Kurdish origin from Turkey and Syria, who were being detained by the police for illegal entry into Greece. They were accompanied by 2 interpreters who spoke Kurdish and Turkish.
When 21 of the detainees indicated that they wished to seek asylum, the police officers on duty, who were present when the asylum seekers made their asylum claims, refused to register the asylum claims or to facilitate the asylum seekers’ access to the police directorate of Chania, which was the competent authority to receive the applications, so that they could make their asylum applications in person. This refusal was contrary to the provisions of the Greek law transposing the EC Procedures Directive, which state that “The competent authorities to receive and examine an application shall ensure that each adult is able to exercise the right to request asylum on condition that he appears in person before said authorities” and that “The Central authority shall ensure that the authorities likely to be addressed by asylum applicants are informed about … the right of the applicant to ask these authorities to forward the application to the competent authority”.
The lawyers assisted each of the 17 adults in signing a short asylum application, which was written in Greek and counter-signed by an interpreter, in the presence of the police officers on duty. In a further breach of the authorities’ obligation to ensure access to the asylum procedure, the police officers on duty refused to receive the applications (in spite of the aforementioned right of the applicant to ask the authorities – in this case the police officers on duty – to forward the applications to the competent authority, i.e. the police directorate of Chania).
In light of the refusal of the police to receive the asylum claims, the representatives of the Migrants’ Forum of Crete and the lawyers returned to the town of Chania to deliver the applications to the Chania police directorate via a Court Process Server. However, immediately following their departure, the police removed all 45 detainees and transferred them to an unknown destination in mainland Greece.
On 28 July 2009 the asylum applications of the 17 adult asylum seekers were served by Court Process Server upon the Chania police directorate under cover of a note signed by the President of the Bar Association of Chania. The note inter alia explained that the reason for the service by process server was the refusal of the police officer in charge at the place of detention to receive the asylum applications. The note also protested the refusal to receive the asylum claims.
In the afternoon of 28 July, the Legal Unit of the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) was notified of the events outlined above and immediately sent a fax to the Ministry of Interior’s Police Headquarters in Athens for the attention of the Asylum Division and Deportation Division, as well as to the Chania police directorate. In this fax GCR provided full details of the asylum seekers, explaining the circumstances of the improper refusal of the police to receive their asylum claims, calling for the receipt and proper examination of the claims as well as the immediate halting of any steps to remove them from the country pending final determination of the asylum claims. GCR’s fax also noted that the detention of the unaccompanied minors was a violation of International Conventions (including the Convention on the Rights of the Child) as well as Greek law requiring the police to immediately notify the Public Prosecutor for Minors, who should act as a temporary guardian or arrange the appointment thereof. Finally, GCR cited the provisions of Greek law requiring the authorities to ensure that asylum seekers can have contact with representatives of UNHCR (including partners such as GCR), and requested information about their whereabouts. The recipients of the fax failed to respond, notwithstanding a follow-up call to the Asylum Division of Police Headquarters.
In the days following the “disappearance” of the 21 asylum seekers efforts were made to locate them amidst unconfirmed rumours that they were being held in detention centres in northern Greece, including locations in Thessaloniki, Iasmos and Venna (the latter two being within 1-2 hrs drive from the Turkish border). On 31 July the police released 2 of the asylum seekers (a Syrian Kurdish pregnant woman and her husband) and transferred a third asylum seeker (also said to be a Syrian national) to Athens. No information was available regarding the remaining asylum seekers, all of whom were Turkish Kurds. By this time there were rumours that 22 of the detainees who had not sought asylum had been returned to Turkey and were back in their homes.
On 4 August 2009 the Rodopi police directorate (which has jurisdiction over the detention centres of Venna and Iasmos, referred to above) responded to a letter from the Migrants’ Forum of Crete and indicated that 40 Turkish citizens who had been brought to Venna from Chania on 28 July were transferred to Kipi border crossing on 30 July 2009 and were handed over to the Turkish authorities. According to the Rodopi police directorate, they had been informed by the Chania police directorate that none of the detainees had applied to them for asylum.
The events described above highlight the stance of the authorities both towards persons seeking asylum in Greece as well as the organizations and local volunteers who provide counseling and assistance to asylum seekers. It is very disturbing to note that these asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors, were denied the right of access to the asylum procedure and refouled even after the involvement and intervention of NGOs and legal counselors and notwithstanding the express declaration of their wish to apply for asylum. It should be borne in mind that the majority of persons arrested and detained at the borders for illegal entry do not have access to legal counseling or interpreters and are, therefore, rarely if ever given the opportunity to express their intention to seek asylum. This is one of the key reasons why fewer than 5% of all asylum claims are received at the borders.
Another worrying practice of the Greek authorities, which is illustrated by the above incident, is the transfer of detainees to unspecified detention facilities in northern Greece. This further limits the possibility of receiving counseling regarding the asylum procedure, since local organizations and volunteer groups acting in entry points on islands such as Chios, Mytilini, Samos and Leros (often funded by EU programmes intended to address the shortcomings of the Greek system for the reception of asylum seekers, most notably the lack of interpreters and the absence of a legal aid system) do not have time to speak with the detainees before they are transferred to undisclosed locations. In the past 2 months there have been regular transfers of detainees from Symi, Agathonissi, Leros, Chios, Samos and Mytilini. Detainees transferred in such a manner are even more exposed to abuses, both in terms of denial of access to the asylum procedure as well as their detention in conditions that, according to the European Court of Human Rights, amount to degrading treatment in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Aside from the direct violation of international laws on asylum illustrated by this case, the recent dramatic increase of transfers to northern Greece raises concerns regarding the fate of detainees following such transfers. Viewed against the background of the recent crackdowns by the Greek authorities on illegal immigration, the lack of transparency in relation to the transfers, which take would-be asylum seekers out of the reach of humanitarian organizations while bringing them closer to the land border with Turkey, has fuelled rumours and concerns regarding irregular pushbacks of detainees across the border.
Legal Assistance Unit
Greek Council for Refugees
18 August 2009
 Chamber judgment in S.D. v. Greece (application no. 53541/07), notified on 11.06.2009
 Council Directive 2005/85/EC on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status
 The authority responsible overall for the detention and deportation of persons arrested for illegal entry into Greece, as well as the authority which determines whether detainees are to be transferred from one police directorate to another for detention or deportation.