Is one year for asylum procedure examination the ‘soonest as possible’?
When a refugee arrives in Greece the first worry he/she has before meeting any vital need is to apply for asylum and to be recognized as a refugee to gain assurance that he/she would not be returned to the country where his/her life is at risk and stability to start to build a new life.
The legal framework is as clearly defined: an asylum application should be examined as “the soonest possible” within 6 months. This time limit can be extended for a period not exceeding 9 months, with a further extension of 3 months under exceptional circumstances – which means one year at the maximum.
However, legal provisions do not always reflect reality. The story of Ali is worth to be told in order to understand how procedures strongly affect asylum seekers’ life.
After a perilous and long journey to reach Europe, for which paying a huge amount of money to an unreliable smuggler is the only choice left, heventually arrives in Greece on the 12 of March 2017. Having reaching Athens, he starts to call the asylum authorities via Skype to apply for the relocation program. But he is not receiving any answer. On 2th of May the Skype finally responds and registers him as an asylum seeker under the relocation program. The next day, Ali officially gets the status. It should be time for relief. For him, everything now would only be a matter of time.
The next step within the asylum procedure is the 15th of June 2016 in the place of his first personal interview. After that, patience being the key word, he has to wait for an answer – to know if his application for relocation will be accepted or not.
On the 7th of August Ali receives the expected answer: he has been accepted by the French authorities to continue his asylum application in France. He feels a great relief for the first time, having hope that France will be his new hosting country that will protect him.
According to the EU Council decision on relocation, “Member States may decide to appoint liaison officers in Greece and Italy” for the implementation of all aspects of the relocation procedure. The last step before being relocating to France is an appointment with the French authorities in Athens, arranged on the 21th of August. Ali goes to the appointment, answers the questions and is informed that he will be contacted promptly.
One month and some days later, on the 26th of September, Ali is convoked at the Greek Asylum Service – Relocation Unit – that informs him that France finally refused his application. No explanation on the sudden refusal is given to him. He only receives a new asylum seeker card to be recognized as a refugee in Greece and the date of the next asylum interview: 2th of April 2017. As it may be difficult to realise for someone who does not experience it, applying for asylum is a long and uncertain process that creates all kinds of feelings, ranging from hope – at the beginning – to frustration – when a negative answer is issued with no apparent reason – and mixed with other emotions: fear for the future, anger, resignation and despair.
Some days after, Ali finds back his determination: he will work, start to integrate into the Greek society and hence time will pass faster until his next interview. 6 months and 5 days later, Ali is confident, the day of the interview arrived, symbolising the end of all the procedures that were exacerbating the overcoming of his memories and constantly reminding him of his refugee condition.
12.00 is the hour, he waits until being called. At 2.00 an employee of the asylum service accompanied by an arabic translator informs him that the interview is cancelled as there is no available interpreter. Ali does not lose his temper and explains that he talks fluently English, therefore it would be no problem for him to be interviewed in English. The employee explained him that having an interpreter is his right and for his own good he should be interviewed in Arabic. The negotiation ends here, the interview is postponed. After 5 minutes, the employee brings his new asylum seeker card with the new date for the interview – next stop within the asylum procedure: 3th of August 2017. So far, no one knows how things will be developing in the future.
This testimony perfectly illustrates the limbo asylum seekers have to face – regardless of their willingness to comply – at every stage of the asylum procedure, which prevents them to stand on their feet and start integrating into the host society and to build a new life where conflicts and persecutions have no role to play.
Unfortunately not all legal provisions are respected and asylum seekers are very often confronted to all kinds of difficulties. The impacts are concrete and serious on the life of the concerned person. Today, many of them are suffering psychological and mental health problems – not only because of the dire situation they are facing in Europe – but for certain is that the asylum procedure adds more major difficulties for people that have already experienced a lot of sufferings in their life.
It is very worrisome to see that asylum procedure exceeds from far the timeframe it should guarantee for the individuals seeking refuge and some applications reach more than a year. We should remember that all asylum seekers,once the interview passed, have to wait again until receiving the decision regarding the granting or the refusal of their claim. Without knowing what to expect from a future that seems unknown and cannot even foresee their immediate prospects.
Because we don’t want the story of Ali to be multiplied, because asylum seekers deserve fair treatment and respect for the legal dispositions related to them, we should not fall into the old process where seeking asylum lasted many years.
We, the Greek Forum of Refugees, we call the State and asylum authorities to comply with the law 3975/2016 by respecting the legal delays provided for the asylum procedures.