The Skype Bottleneck
The Asylum application system conducted through Skype creates injustice and arbitrary choices on who will get through. The system allows authorities to drop responsibility onto NGO’s and their staff, and force us participation in the unfairness of this system. In the contrary, we, as people working for refugee organisations, refuse to be traitors and offenders towards the refugees by picking who will get their shot today.
The capacity of the Greek Asylum system is inadequate. You know that, we know that. The bottleneck created by the appointment-making process, which is seemingly operated by one employee of the office, is inhumane and inefficient. We all know from experience that even the greatest promises of the EU and the government have not brought any major changes, let alone changes benefiting the refugees.
In this statement, we are not only addressing what it does to refugees, but how this system involves us, the organisations who wish to stand by the side of refugees and are being made to participate in this governmental mistreatment. By taking part in a system based on mercy, we further and further drift from the reason why we once founded organisations: To enforce and advocate refugees’ rights. Rights for asylum, and rights for justice. Everyday, at our offices, large numbers of refugees wait in line to use our Skype. They don’t need a computer or Internet, that’s less of a problem, at least in Athens. The problem is that the Asylum office has started to only pick up calls from organisations such as the Greek Forum of Refugees, Generation 2, or the Afghan Community. So people come to our offices, hoping to have a slightly better chance of getting through. And they come – as they have to, for the application – with their families and loved ones. A few days ago, there was a young mother with her 15 day-old baby and a family with five children, who came all the way from Elliniko.
But the Skype system works extremely slow, and people who spend hours queuing in our offices, hallways and staircases have to go back to their temporary homes, without even having had a chance to get a date to apply for asylum. But what is the reason for all this? Why not increase the staff who reply on Skype? Why this bottleneck? We need to remember that in May 2015, Skype applications were introduced and perceived by many as an enhancement. Before this, people had to go to the Asylum office in Katechaki, risking to be stopped by the police as illegal immigrants. Because there was not enough staff at the office, choices had to be made between refugees. The Skype idea was introduced to avoid long queues in front of the Asylum office, and moreover to avoid abitrary choices by employees about who would get in. Although, in the previous system, employees were told to give priority to so-called „members of vulnerable groups,“ there numbers were still to high and asylum office employees were forced to pick. Skype was proposed to solve this problem, or at least to make it less unjust and dependant on individuals power to choose.
However, without more staff and a considerable amount of applications filed each day, the system of arbitrariness remains the same, with the only change that there are no visibly long queues in front of Katechaki. The Skype service has “opening hours” working for a few hours per language and day, divided by the kind of service (relocation, asylum, fast-track, etc…). It is extremely limited. So the authorities have moved their problem away, making NGOs a part of the mission. Throughout Greece, refugees are calling every day, not getting through. A young Syrian who is stuck in Idomeni even started a petition against it. But there still are queues – now at our offices –, and still people get the power (and the burden) to pick who will have their chance today. Just these queues are now at the organisations who actually don’t want to participate in the system but instead oppose, watch, denounce it and want to change it for the better. Now, each day, we are forced to decide: Will we let the young mother in front, sending home the two young men who’ve been waiting in our office every day? Or should we let them sit at the computer, and send home the young woman with her baby? Should we create a number system, allowing smugglers to gain power and sell them to people? Or should we shut our doors to refugees, feeling totally wrong, again, like traitors?
We have heard that now, the Greek state plans to do central applications in the camps. We hope for that to relax the situation and to allow more people to get registered. Still, we know from experience how slow these processes work, and however, Skype calls are supposed to remain an option anyway.\r\n\r\nWhile crowds of people waiting in and around the office makes other office work a challenge, there are unfortunately other difficulties: office neighbors and shop owners who show they are not delighted by refugees. Not only we get comments and looks, some of them concerned about noise, some of them simply racist.
The Afghan community was threatened to be kicked out of their office if they did not stop receiving refugees – which resolved in groups of people waiting in front of the building each day. Of course, we don’t see refugees as the problem, but a system of limited access to asylum. And we see the problem that these people are at the mercy of our staff and volunteers – and we don’t want that! We don’t want to reproduce injustice and competition for limited resources, which are created simply by not hiring more staff at the Asylum office. Now that the Asylum office has outsourced their “queue issue” to NGOs, we say: It is enough. It is enough for the refugees, it is enough for us, and it is enough for a system that has shown to fail for its beneficiaries. The old demons of access to Petrou Ralli and Katechaki shall not be rejected on us nor on refugees.