UNHCR’s Intervention at the hearing for actors to the Standing Committee of Public Administration, Public Order and Justice of the Hellenic Parliament regarding the Draft Law on the Improvement of Migration Legislation
Honorable Mr. President, MPs, Minister and colleagues,
We would like to thank the Committee for inviting UNHCR to participate in the hearing and note that we will submit by the end of the day a Memorandum with detailed comments on specific articles for further study by Members of Parliament.
The UN Refugee Agency wishes first of all to highlight that all suggested amendments do not modify in essence the framework set by Law 4636/2019, on which UNHCR had expressed serious reservations that, for the sake of speediness, procedural safeguards were being dangerously and significantly reduced, while an asylum procedure should not only be fast but also fair.
As a result, asylum seekers may be easily excluded from the process without having their international protection needs adequately assessed. This may expose them to the risk of refoulement. The suggested amendments do not remedy, unfortunately, a combination of provisions, regarding, for example, the definition of a large number of applications as “manifestly unfounded” or “implicitly withdrawn”, the lack of an automatic suspensive effect for these applications at the appeal stage, additional requirements for an appeal to be admissible and the lack of adequate access to free legal aid for all who request it.
UNHCR had submitted at the time a Memorandum before your Committee which we reintroduce for your attention, since it remains valid for many provisions that could have been revised but unfortunately have not been.
In parallel, we would like to note with satisfaction some significant improvements to the final draft law, in comparison to the one tabled for public consultation, which are in the direction of the comments submitted by UNHCR to the Ministry. We take this opportunity to highlight how important it is to make good use of the opportunities provided by the public consultation.
The most important of these improvements are the following: the introduction of the possibility to interrupt the examination of an application that has been implicitly withdrawn, instead of the exclusive option of rejecting the application on the merits; and the withdrawal of the provision on the possibility to omit a personal interview for reasons related to interpretation deficiencies.
In relation to the current Draft Law under examination, UNHCR, in accordance also with its submitted comments, would like to highlight and ask for the revision of the following thematic sets of provisions, in relation also to their compliance or variance with international and EU law.
- The Draft Law further increases the number of application types characterized as “manifestly unfounded”. It is reminded that applications characterized as manifestly unfounded are examined under accelerated procedures, do not have an automatic suspensive effect at the appeal stage and, in general, have reduced procedural guarantees.
- Notification of decisions, especially at the Reception and Identification Centers and Pre-removal Centers: we are concerned that the means of notification do not ensure that all measures are taken for the applicant to have knowledge of the content of decisions that concern him/her; e.g. a decision is considered as notified (the so-called “presumed notification”) after 48 hours from sending an electronic mail or three days after the Manager of the Reception and Identification Center receives the decision by the Asylum Service.
- Detention and restriction of personal freedom: the combination of reduced procedural safeguards with provisions related to the detention of asylum seekers and to the detention of those under forced return procedures, compromises the credibility of the system and is of high concern to UNHCR. The current Draft Law further extends the practice of detention, which is essentially turned into the rule while it should be the exception, both for asylum seekers and those under return. For the latter it should be noted that they may not have had an effective access to the asylum process or may have gone through an asylum process with reduced procedural safeguards.
In line with the provisions of Law 4636/2019 that increased the time limits for detention of asylum seekers and designated the Hellenic Police (instead of the Asylum Service) as the competent authority to decide on the necessity of detention, even when this is related to the examination process of the asylum application, etc., the current Draft Law adds the following: first, the establishment of “closed” and “controlled” centers on the islands, without providing further clarifications in relation to their coexistence with other types of Centers (RICs and Pre-removal), or on who will be detained or stay there, and under which conditions, in the one or the other center; second, at variance, as it seems, with the EU Return Directive, detention for those under return becomes the rule and alternatives to detention become optional, thus creating a set of provisions that can lead to arbitrary detention of asylum seekers and third country nationals.
Thank you for your attention.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Representation in Greece, 6 May 2020