Refugee Stories Listen to refugee Odyssey
“We must be together with our families”
“Everything is difficult, my son is growing up, I still do not have papers I cannot work, I do not have money,I do not have a home.”
“Every day I have to go to the hospital, I call 166: which hospital today to go to?”
“Someone spit on me, because I am a foreigner, they think ‘he cannot do anything.”
“Riots took place, the police cut the electricity, it was really cold no heating, nothing.”
“If I had been in the street i would never think to go at school.”
“I want to be a member of this society...”
“For me, the problem is the system and not the citizens.”
Refugee Communities Reality
Subsidiary Protection and Residence Permit on Humanitarian Grounds Creating Instable Life and Uncertain Future
A lot of refugees that arrived in the 2000s were granted international protection as beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, or were granted with a residence permit on humanitarian ground, even though this situation did not bring them stability.
Subsidiary protection is granted to a person who does not qualify as a refugee, but in respect of whom substantial grounds exist for believing that the person concerned, if returned to his or her country of origin, or in the case of a stateless person, to his or her country of former habitual residence, would face a real risk of suffering serious harm. The duration of this protection status is 3 years, and beneficiaries may renew their residence permits regularly.
A residence permit on humanitarian grounds is granted to an applicant who has had his application for asylum rejected, taking into account the impossibility of removal or return of the applicant to his/her country of origin or usual residence due to force majeure (serious health reasons of the applicant or of members of his family, civil war, mass violations of human rights). The applicant who is granted leave to remain on humanitarian grounds is provided with a special residence permit, valid for 2 years. The rights of persons granted leave to remain on humanitarian grounds are the same to those of beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.
Under these two protections, beneficiaries are not allowed by the law to reunite with their families that remained in the country of origin or other countries. The exclusion of these people from family reunification is a strong issue. They have been living in Greece for years without being able to reunite with their relatives. Most of these persons cannot return to their home country for safety reasons and as a consequence haven’t seen their wives, husbands and children for years, in breach of their right to private life and family life.
In addition, there is more instability caused by uncertainty regarding the renewal of their residence permit. In the last years, most beneficiaries have seen their statuses not renewed, and are waiting months, if not years, for their appeal to be examined. Despite many efforts and attempts to reach the authorities, it seems impossible for these persons to be informed on their pending appeal on the renewal of permit residence.
By law, the rights of protection’ beneficiaries continue even after the expiry of the relevant permit, if the holder has applied for its renewal and until a decision for this application is taken. However, the reality of everyday life is very different.
Many persons complain of landlords who are reluctant to rent a home when the persons possess only a paper documenting that they are waiting for their residence permit to be renewed. This paper seems to be not enough of a guarantee; as a consequence, finding a shelter becomes impossible.
The same situation occurs with employers; even if they wish to hire one of these persons, the paper is not enough to prove that the person will be allowed to stay in Greece. Access to work remains rare, if not impossible.
The delays in examination of the application and renewal of status do not allow these persons to live a stable life. They remain uncertain of their right to stay in Greece and of their future at every necessary renewal, while they have built their life here for years.
 PD 141/2013, Article 2(g)
 PD 141/2013, Article 24(2)
 PD 114/2010, Article 28(4)
 PD 114/2010, Article 28(6)
 European Convention of Human Rights, Article 8.
 PD 114/2010, Article 28(6)
Despite the problems that the Refugees are meeting in Greece, it is important to highlight the crucial help they provided in the “refugee crisis” that hit Athens from the summer 2015 until today. Summer 2015, most of the refugees that had just arrived in Athens were homeless, camping in Pedion tou Areos Park and Victoria Square without any water, food, or access to toilets and showers. Refugee communities have been the first to react and support these people by any means they had. Through these actions, the communities denounced the situation and raised the awareness of the Civil Society Organisations in order to organize a common support. During the creation of the open centers, refugee communities have been in direct collaboration with the authorities, in order to press for the opening of reception centers. It is important to underline that in each open center, and elsewhere, refugees are tirelessly offering help, and especially providing translation, information and mediation between volunteers/workers and new comers, hosted in these, facilities.
A significant number of Sudanese nationals have been able to gain recognition as refugees in Greece. However, the difficulties facing these people as they look to continue their lives do not stop after they pass through the long and complex process of becoming recognized refugees. How to live normal lives when one does not know, or have access to information concerning ones legal rights to do so?
The refugee status’ beneficiaries are entitled to numerous rights that aim to help integrate them, and allow them to continue a life within the country that is protecting them. However, being entitled to rights has very little meaning when their beneficiaries are not aware of these rights. The Sudanese community regrets that the Greek State does not provide clear and accessible information on the rights that the refugees’ status confers. Even when the State provides information concerning the rights and possibilities of persons recognized as refugees, the information does not reach the refugees themselves.
This lack of information is a serious problem for persons recognized as refugees, and results directly in two negative consequences. First, without knowledge of their rights, refugees cannot resort to the procedure allowing them to exercise those rights. Secondly, even when they do wish to exercise their rights, lack of information to procedures prevents them from contacting the relevant services necessary to start these procedures.
We have been informed that some Sudanese refugees are willing to continue their studies, which were interrupted when they were forced to flee Sudan. While refugees are allowed to study in the Public Universities of Greece if they have a graduation certificate and a certificate denoting their knowledge of the Greek language, lack of information pressed member of the Sudanese community not to do so.
Likewise, lack of access to information increases the risk of exploitation that refugees are exposed to. Without the knowledge that they have the right to work under the same conditions as Greek citizens, refugees often enter into precarious employment contracts. This entails being paid black money without access to insurance benifits, under contracts that frequently do not respect the labor laws concerning the hours limits or the minimum wage. Consequently, refugees find themselves in exploitive situations despite their rights to work under the same condition as Greek citizens.
Access to employment and education are only two examples of the rights’ of refugees. The status entitles its beneficiaries to receive social allowance under special criteria, to access to the health system as well as to participate in family reunification programs and citizenship. These rights and procedure should be clearly detailed to every refugee card holder in order to facilitate access to these services and to ensure real self-empowerment of refugees. Access to information offers them sustainable opportunities to build new and stable lives, and supports their integration into Greek society.
Despite the lack of information, Sudanese refugees are actively trying to understand and pursue their rights and possibilities. The Sudanese community plays a strong role in providing information and answering the questions they can, unfortunately a professionals with in-depth knowledge of the law are needed to properly inform on the rights and the procedures. While the Sudanese community is filling the gap of the state responsibility, the official information concerning the rights for people that received this status should be undertaken by the authorities.
Informing on rights is the first step to empower refugees; this information will help them to optimize the use of their rights in order to gain independence and, as a consequence further integrate into the Greek society. Without information, refugees are left to fend for themselves. Unsupported by the state they are often left to live in precarious condition without any foreseeable solution. Left wondering what does international protection mean if it does not offer the possibility of living a peaceful and normal life?
Hellenic Republic Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious affairs. GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE ADMISSION TO HIGHER EDUCATION IN GREECE OF THE FOLLOWING CATEGORIES: GRADUATES OF FOREIGN ORIGIN OF NON-E.U. LYCEUM, 2015.
Article 27, PD 141/2013 Adaptation of Greek legislation to the provisions of Directive 2011/95 / EU on the requirements for the qualification and status of foreigners or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection.
People recognized as refugees are not allowed to travel back to their respective countries, because of threats to their lives in these countries. However, not being able to return in their country for their own safety does not mean that these people cannot travel elsewhere. Refugees are entitled to obtain travel document from the country that is protecting them. Being protected by Greece, refugees can submit a request for travel documents to the Greek authorities.
For many refugees, the travel documents have an extreme importance as they are the only papers that allow them to travel outside of Greece. Many refugee families are separated during the journey from their respective countries, and frequently members are not able to arrive in the same country. As a consequence these families are dispersed all around the world, particularly in different European countries. Travel documents are thus the only way for them to travel and visit their relatives settled in others countries.
Beyond this practical reason, a refugee explained that for several people, possessing travel documents has a great symbolic value. Coming from very oppressive countries, some persons never had the right to possess passports from their countries of origin, for them, it is the first time they will get documents that allow them the opportunity to travel. This can be underlined by the fact that someone might never travel, but is entitled to the right to do so, in the frame of a democratic country. The travel document is an important tool given to people to enjoy their right to freedom of movement, independent of their desire to travel or not. Documents shall be granted to people that are entitle to it according the law.
However, it has been explained to us that this ultimate dream for refugees is not easily accessible to many. After receiving their positive decision on international protection by the asylum services, refugees trying to get travel document shall proceed to contact the Greek police authority to issue these papers. For many refugees we met in the Sudanese community in particular, face huge delays in receiving these documents, often waiting for month without any information as to when their documents will be handed to them. During this period, refugees are stranded in Greece.
Despite the fact that the law entitles refugees to possess travel document, in reality it is not so easy and some of the refugees in the Sudanese community are compelled to postpone their traveling dream, handing it over in the hands of the Greek administration.
Directive 2011/95/EU, article 25 “Member States shall issue to beneficiaries of refugee status travel documents, in the form set out in the Schedule to the Geneva Convention, for the purpose of travel outside their territory unless compelling reasons of national security or public order otherwise require.”
 Presidential Decree 141/2013, article 25.
Numerous Afghan nationals are present in Greece since the 2000s. Since then, these refugees are meeting strong difficulties and fighting to get international protection. This situation prevents them to be fully integrated and have a peaceful and normal life.
At their arrival, these refugees applied for asylum under the backlog asylum procedure undertaken by the police authorities, known as Allodapon. Following a first interview, all the persons whose applications have been rejected by the competent authorities, have been waiting between 7 and 13 years to be contacted for a second interview (appeal), while the legislation provides that the Appeal Boards shall rule within 6 months after the appeal was lodged. Yet today, a non-negligible number of persons are still waiting to have their second interview. Persons who had their appeal interviews are now waiting for months, or even years, to receive a decision from the authorities.
In addition to the interminable standby, an unbearable ignorance on their pending request exists. Despite several attempts and efforts to contact the competent authorities to be informed on the progress of their application, none are getting answers and it seems clear that communication with them is almost impossible. This lack of information leads those people to a complete uncertainty regarding their legal documentation situation, without hope of knowing whether they will be granted international protection, and when this situation will end.
All these years of endless waiting lead to unstable situations, preventing these persons to access services, or exerting their rights in their everyday lives.
Stuck for years in these procedures in a deficient system, asylum seekers do not enjoy fully the social rights they are entitled to and are, as a consequence, facing dramatic problems.
According to the old procedure, asylum seekers were issued a card (commonly called “red card”) which allowed the persons that received a work permit to work. However, just the persons that got a work permit before 2012 can work; since 2012 the authorities are rarely issuing work permits to pink card holders. As a consequence, these persons cannot support themselves financially, facing precarious situations. Due to the dire economic situation, few allowances dedicated for asylum seekers are delivered. Even more, the low allowances do not allow for a dignified standard of living. These persons are obliged to find their own way to sustain themselves or are compelled to ask money from their families remaining in Afghanistan. This situation, denying them to be independent, may create great distress and psychological issue to the more fragile individuals.
These “pink cards” holders are also suffering from the distance with their family. In this situation, family members that stayed in Afghanistan or others neighboring countries cannot be reunited by way of family reunification legislation. As a consequence, numerous persons that escaped war and bombing in Afghanistan, are now in Greece waiting for years for an answer to their asylum application, without the chance to be reunited with their wives, husbands, or children that are still at risk in other countries.
Last but not least, during the examination of an application, asylum seekers must hand over their travel documents (ID card, passport) to the examination authority, if they possessed them at this time. They receive an asylum seeker card that stands for identity document. Deprived of travel documents, and being stuck in the asylum procedure for years, these persons are condemned to stay in Greece, without any way of travelling abroad.
These indecent delays to get a decision for asylum are causing desperation and huge frustration. Since 2013, new asylum services have been set up in the places where newcomers are applying for asylum. Within a year, a decision is released and the persons then know how to plan their future. However, in the creation of this new system, previous asylum seekers (pink card holders) are not allowed to access the services before receiving a final decision. Once again, their only way out of the situation is to receive an answer from the Allodapon authorities.
Despite all the difficulties, these persons are indubitably part of this society, talking perfectly Greek, having Greek friends, and fighting to get a status allowing them to support themselves and be fully integrated in this society to which they now belong.
Many Nigerian Nationals, who have arrived in Greece, some over ten years ago, are still struggling to gain recognition as refugees. These people have been waiting, year after year, in a limbo that has significant impacts on the security and stability of everyday life.
While new arrivals received refugee status with relative ease, those who applied before June 2013 remain under the old asylum system operated by the police, known as Allodapon. The majority of those who applied under this system have never been called in for a second interview for their application. The Secretary of the Nigerian community informed us, that while people are stuck in the dysfunctional system, they are often afraid to pursue legal support due to past experiences where lawyers took advantage of their vulnerable positions: asking absorbent fees and denying clients receipts that would allow them to prove these exploitative practices.
Due to loss of hope of its members, the Nigerian Community undertook the responsibility offering information and support about the legal processes and personally accompanying each applicants in need to the relevant authorities, however the system is complex and professional legal knowledge is critical. Despite its great work supporting the members facing this failing system, the Nigerian community is currently and regrettably struggling to find an office space and the finances to maintain it. Therefore, without a centralizing office, providing real and stable support for the Nigerian community members has been really difficult.
These people who are waiting for recognition as refugees are actually in a legal limbo which underlies many of the struggles they face in everyday life: landlords refuse to rent apartments to red card holders because there are temporary, despite having been in Greece for many years. Likewise, employers use it as an excuse not to hire and often those affected do not have access to adequate information on their rights to work. Because of this, many people are forced to accept under the table jobs, which, without legal contracts leave them vulnerable to workplace exploitation, excessive numbers of hours and pay bellow the recognized minimum wage.
A significant concern of the community is the lack of support and resources for vulnerable populations, specifically single mothers and their children. Despite the fact that many members have faced racism, such as being told we do not rent to “black people” or Africans by potential landlord, overall it seems to be easier since summer 2015, and housing has been easier to find. Many mothers and their children are sharing flats in order to reduce the expenses. However, many are still struggling to support themselves and adequate assistance is not provided, once again the Nigerian Community is actively looking to bring solutions to these persons however, a stable and regular assistance and the resources to provide this is needed.
In a more general view, the Nigerian Community welcomes the political changes that occurred in 2015 in a term of “freedom”. Since then, there have been fewer racist attacks; they have been able to walk freely without the fear of police harassment, which was a regular practice in the past. Refugees are able to move in Athens without living in fear even so, they remain careful.
 Article 34 of the Presidential Decree No. 113 of the 14 June 2013.
Most of the refugees present in Greece from end 2015 applied for international protection through the new services of asylum, at Katechaki office, Athens (Regional Asylum office of Attica).
Many however, have been waiting for more than 6 months since their first interview without receiving any further information of when they will receive a decision on their application. During the procedure they are provided with an asylum seeker card that theoretically entitles them to basic rights.
Firstly, as soon as they receive this card, asylum seekers are entitled to be accommodated by the competent authorities, in case they do not have sufficient mean to maintain an adequate standard of living. After an examination by the competent authorities, the persons assessed without sufficient means is registered at the National Center of Social Solidarity (EKKA), the institution in charge of assigning the applicants to accommodation facilities.
The accommodations for asylum seekers are exclusively run by Non-Governmental Organizations, two types exist: apartments and open reception centers. In 2015, only 1400 places were available in Greece. The waiting time to get accommodation is incredibly long as the actual need exceed the capacity of the open reception centers that are working. Because receiving accommodation became almost impossible for asylum seekers, many are left to stay in the streets or in unacceptable and impoverished conditions.
The only option for these people to escape their precarious situation, with limited access to accommodation or other social services, is indeed to work and to sustain their own needs. The asylum seekers card offers the possibility to their holders to apply for a permit to be able to work in Greecewithin the duration of the application, the permit expires 30 days after the card expires. However, in order to receive a work permit, the Manpower Employment Organization (OAED) must verify the specific area or profession sought after; only if no interest of work is expressed by Greek citizens, EU citizens or recognized refugee, will the asylum seeker receive permission to work temporarily. This means that if an interest is expressed by the mentioned categories, the work permit will not be delivered to asylum seekers as they hold the lowest priority.
This legal priority combined with the actual economic situation of the country make it almost impossible for asylum seekers to receive work permits. This has harmful and serious consequences for the asylum seekers who are often economically forced to resort to illegal employment, were they are often exposed to exploitation (For further information, consult the publication No choice to make choice), or left without any possibility to support their own needs.
 12(1) Presidential Decree 220/2007
 Article 12(3) Presidential Decree 220/2007
 UNHCR information on November 2015
 Article 10(1) Presidential Decree 220/2007
 Article 4(1)(c) Presidential Decree 189/1998
Refugees’ priority is to work in order to provide for their needs and have decent living conditions. The economic crisis in Greece has imposed a deep austerity, making it very difficult for Greek citizens to access the labor market; this situation has deeply impacted the lives of the most vulnerable and excluded people in the Greek society. Thus, many refugees are living in precarious situation.
During a meeting with a representative of Umbrella, an organization supporting refugees and asylum seekers regardless of their nationalities, the discussion focused on the access to the labor market for recognized refugees. Although holding a refugee card that allows to people to work under the same framework as Greek Nationals, the economic context and exclusionary practices push refugees from the labor market mainly because of their origin. Many refugees are rarely contacted back by the employers for interviews when sending CV, or replying to job offers.
In this situation refugees are often obliged to accept any kind of job regardless its condition, without having the opportunity to make their own choices. Aware of this situation, many employers are taking advantage of the vulnerability and precarious situation of refugees to offer them undeclared work. Despite holding qualifications and university degrees, refugees are compelled to accept these undeclared jobs in order to gain money and survive.
Some African refugee women work as domestic workers without legal contract. The absence and ineffectiveness of controls by the Workplace Inspection encourage people not to declare their employees.
This practice prevents the employees from accessing the social security system, as well as benefiting from of the minimum remuneration applicable, and of the working-time regulation they are entitled to. The undeclared employment might push people into exploitation, working an excessive amount of hours/ days within the week for a salary far below the minimum authorized. The violation of the legal framework leaves the employers free to manipulate and altogether change the tasks and responsibilities of their employees from their original oral agreements, because no document can testify for it.
Facing this exploitation, refugees are aware of the difficulty of proving their situation or pursuing legal action against their employers. Firstly, most of them have lost confidence in the Civil Society Organizations and would prefer not to denounce the situation. Moreover depending on their salary and their dependence on the money to survive, many refugees will endure these situation rather than risk losing their jobs.
Despite being recognized and protected as refugees by the Greek authorities, the absence of integration plan by the state results in a very small percentage of refugees employed legally in Greece. Refugees are driven to support themselves and their families by accepting the few jobs offered to them, often taking place outside of a legal framework, exposing them to non regular work conditions which they maintaining in silent vulnerable situations.
 PD 141/2013, Article 27 in accordance with provision of the PD 189/1998 (A 140)