Greek Forum of Refugees – the conditions are far from being human

ProMosaik’s Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi conducted their next interview — about refugees and asylum seekers in
Greece —
Ismini Karydopoulou and Alice Fevre of the
Greek Forum of Refugees in Athens. As stated on its website, the aim of the association is to
create a Panhellenic network of individuals, legal professionals and
communities, working to support asylum seekers, political refugees and
stateless persons, as well as
 who may meet the criteria set by the Convention of Geneva and the
protocols attached to it, or the Greek framework for the protection.

What are the main difficulties that asylum seekers have to face?
This is a press release published by the GFR on the reasons why European state members should
not return Asylum seekers to Greece (It explained the asylum seekers
2011 vs. 2016:  different situation, nothing better for refugees in Greece
On the 8th of
December 2016 the European Commission recommended to transfer asylum seekers,
that will entered Greece after 15th of March 2017, back to Greece. According to
the European Commission,
significant progress were achieved by Greece. The Greek Forum of Refugees is wondering: what are the achieved
changes for refugees in Greece?We, refugees in Greece settled here for years,
can testify that the actual situation is not better than 2011, when the Dublin
transfers from other Member States
 to Greece have
been suspended due to systemic deficiencies in the Greek asylum system
2011: detention without legal ground was the rule for
refugees and asylum seekers. 2016: After the Eu-Turkey deal, people are staying
at the hotspots in the islands, with no possibility to leave the island apart
from specific authorization. In theory, these are not detention centers but we
wonder where is the freedom of movement?
In addition, the conditions are far from being human².
2011: no measures were taken by the state to accommodate
refugees, leading them to live in the street being constantly harassed by the
police or victim of racist attack. 2016: the European Commission congratulates
the increase of the overall reception capacity. What are the conditions of
these accomodations? Asylum seekers are being hosted in appalling and
overcrowded reception facilities all over Greece. People are staying under
tents, while a few live in containers or inappropriate buildings. The
conditions are far from ideal while people are exposed to weather conditions,
diseases, incidents of attacks. Vulnerable people (pregnant women, newborns,
people with chronic health and psychological issues, disabled, elderly people,
unaccompanied minors, victims of torture) are also living under these conditions.
Furthermore it is wide known that many refugees live in the streets, the
urban area
and the shelters capacities are not increased. Due to
the lack of State and European support, abandoned refugees are exposed to
exploitation, we are also witnessing sexual exploitation of minors and young
adults in the center of Athens with no protection. Are this accommodations
acceptable regarding the standards set by the EU law?
2016: Education is an issue in Greece as very few
refugee children can access schools. Even if there is legal provision on access
to education, Greek schools do not have the means to respond to the challenge
of the increasing number of pupils especially after the austerity measures
 that Greece is facing.
2011: the asylum procedure was undertaken by the
police services (Aliens Directorate), asylum seekers waited for years for a
decision and many are still waiting
2016: 3 years after the new Asylum Service was
³, its capacities were increased, however practically, refugees do not
see much of a difference. The access to asylum happens only by Skype, refugees
are waiting for months to get a call answer to register. Within this time
lapse, refugees without their applicant card are being arrested and detained.
Once they get this card, they have to wait for their asylum interview after 8
months (average). The appeal authorities and committees were established in
April 2016, though many appeals are pending for a year and the applicants are
still waiting for the examination of their request. In total the asylum
procedure is now taking approximately a year, without taking into account the
appeal procedure. Is that better than before? Is it enough to say that the the
asylum system in Greece is effective?
Under the limit of a press release it is impossible to
further analyse. Many reports by experts are exposing and warning against the
situation. They are public and accessible.
We kindly ask EU members if they wish to have on their
conscience the return of asylum seeker in this context?
¹Following judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the
Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

² See more in the study: The implementation of the hotspots in
Italy and Greece
³ See more in  the report : Asylum policies and
practices impairing the access to international protection in Greece
What are the main
obstacles to their social inclusion?

The main obstacles for refugees in Greece are the lack
of opportunities to either learn the language or to find employment for them.
Furthermore their social inclusion is very difficult because of the country’s
economic crisis and the lack of relevant information. On our website there is a
short film entitled “Integration
focussing on this issue.
The campaign highlights the experience and position of
refugees themselves on integration in the Greek society. The short film
features the voices of refugees and community leaders discussing integration in
Greek society and participation in a democratic system. The state, along with
citizens through dialogue with the refugees themselves, may create a harmonious
coexistence, where everyone can find his place. We
d like to thank everyone who gave their time to be part of this film,
and especially all refugees who generously shared their time and stories with
us for #RefugeesVoice campaign. This campaign is supported by a grant from
Foundation Open Society institute in cooperation with Open Society Initiative
for Europe of the Open Society Foundations.
prejudices of the local community have a strong role? How do you address this
It is a constant
struggle. During the last years, Greece faced serious racism issues expressed
mainly by the Golden Dawn. Because of internal political evolution (the trial
of the Golden Dawn) the most serious racist crimes decreased. When refugees
were crossing Greece and borders were open, Greek society was more open and in
solidarity with the refugees. Actually, with many refugees staying in Greece,
reactions have been diverse. For example, in some schools refugee children are
addressed to, parents react in a negative way and in some others, they even
prepare a welcoming

During the last 2
years solidarity and support have been strong. In general, at the GFR we always
try to explain the reasons, why and how people are forced to flee from their
you develop, throughout time, a successful program, an initiative that was
really effective in enabling their empowerment and social inclusion?
We are actually
running such a program, more focused on inclusion. In any way our main mission
is to
 empower refugee communities for their inclusion. For the GFR refugee communities
are experts, in the sense that they know better than anyone else the main
issues and problems. We are trying to provide support and promotion of their
you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how?
We are open to
cooperation with all stakeholders willing to support refugees. Obviously it is
 evolving situation and the ways of cooperation are different. At the same time, we have the
necessary distance in order to be able to criticis