Open Letter | The impact on unaccompanied minors

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Open Letter | The impact on unaccompanied minors

An open letter to the MPs of the Greek Parliament

The Greek Forum of Refugees along with 19 civil society organizations sent an open letter regarding the new legislation, before the voting process, during last week. The letter was addressed to MPs of the Greek Parliament.

The content of that letter refers to the impact that certain provisions will have on unaccompanied children, while, at the same time, suggestions for improvement are being made. The bill was passed by a majority. In the roll call vote and a total of 214 deputies, 158 voted for and 56 against.

Read the letter in detail:

The impact on unaccompanied minors of the proposed “Improvement of Immigration Legislation, amendment of provisions 4636/2019 (A ‘169), 4375/2016 (A’ 51), 4251/2014 (A ’80) and others”

Dear Members of Parliament,

The undersigned organisations which are active in the field of the protection of children in migration would like to express our concern with respect to some of the proposed provisions, of the aforementioned proposal of the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum, which removes safeguards of the rights of unaccompanied children who arrive in our country. Equally, some of the proposed amendments conflict with provisions of international law, such as the International Convention on the Rights of the Child and UNHCR and EASO guidelines with respect to the examination of asylum applications of unaccompanied minors. As a result, there is an increased risk that such children will be deprived of the appropriate treatment provided for by national, Union and international law, and that they will come of age before their claim is processed, and consequently will lose their right to family reunion in other EU countries or their opportunity to move to countries in which they have expressed a desire to be accepted.

We would like to express our approval of some of the changes which have been made following on the public consultation, such as the clarification of the responsibilities of the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors within the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum on the one hand, and the EKKA within the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs on the other. We would also like to put to you some specific issues which still particularly worry us with respect to the draft legislation in its current form, along with corresponding suggestions as to how to improve the proposed new provisions.

Article 2 (as Article 15, addressed below) removes priority for the examination of applications for international protection when the applicant belongs to the category of vulnerable persons. Without the prioritisation of applications of unaccompanied minors, there is a risk that they will become of age before their request is examined, with the result that they are deprived of the more favorable treatment provided for by the Common European Asylum System,  including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We recommend maintaining the provision of Law 4636/2019 which is removed under the proposed changes, i.e. priority for the examination of applications for international protection when the applicant belongs to the category of vulnerable persons.

Article 5, paragraph 1, proposes that the entire registration of asylum applications be conducted by the Regional Services for Reception and Identification. The registration process is very important and must be conducted by expert authorities which are competent to examine applications for international protection, i.e. the Asylum Service. This would ensure the correct recording of the applicants’ details, as well as the reasons for which they seek asylum. Moreover, the Asylum Service is the only body which is competent to conduct the aforementioned registrations, as well as the processing of family reunion applications. Delegating the complete registration of asylum applications to the Regional Services for Reception and Identification does not guarantee the necessary safeguards, considering the proposals do not provide for special training for the the staff and may lead to cases in which the required documents are not released, jeopardising the right to apply for family reunification, which is crucial for unaccompanied children.

We recommend omitting Article 5, paragraph 1, as long as the specialized training of staff at the Regional Services for Reception and Identification is not guaranteed.

Article 15, in view of the planned amendment of paragraph 10 of article 83 of law 4636/2019, removes the exclusion of unaccompanied children from the expedited procedure for the examination of asylum claims. The explicit and absolute exclusion of unaccompanied children from the expedited procedure should be reinstated. Reduced procedural guarantees, such as stricter deadlines and the removal of the right to reside in Greece during the examination of an appeal, conflict with the principle of the best interests of children.

We recommend amending paragraph 10 of Article 83 of law 4636/2019, as follows: “applications for international protection of unaccompanied minors will under no circumstances be examined by way of the expedited procedure”.

Article 15 also removes priority for the examination of applications for international protection when the applicant belongs to the category of vulnerable persons (as in Article 2, above), there is a risk that they will come of age before their request is examined, with the result that they are deprived of the appropriate protection and treatment.

We recommend maintaining the provision of Law 4636/2019 which is removed under the proposed changes, i.e. priority for the examination of applications for international protection when the applicant belongs to the category of vulnerable persons.

Article 27 prohibits the referral of cases by the Appeals Authority to the Asylum Services constitutes an unjustified reduction of the scope of jurisdiction from the asylum procedure.

We recommend the removal of the provision, and suggest providing for referrals to the first instance, especially of given cases where there are evident errors or a lack of procedural guarantees in the examination of asylum applications.

Article 60 paragraph (e) removes the power of the Independent Appeals Commissions to refer cases to the competent authorities of the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum for the issuance of a residence permit for humanitarian reasons. With regards to unaccompanied children whose application has been rejected in an appeal, legal provision must be made for them to lawfully remain in the country until they are of age. It is Greece’s duty to take account of the legal principle of best interests (of the child), which can hardly be considered to allow for them to remain in Greece illegally after a full and final rejection of their application for international protection. At the same time, we must have due regard for children who come of age and participate in the process of social integration over an extended period, have lived in the country for a long amount of time and have developed social ties to the community.

We recommend removing paragraph (e) from Article 60.

Sirs/madams, Members of Parliament, we understand the need to improve procedures in order to accelerate the process of awarding international protection, which is the aim of the new proposed legislation. At the same time, however, it is important that established guarantees are not removed so as to ensure the safeguarding of the rights of unaccompanied children in our country, as it is precisely these rights which immigration law is meant to protect. Unaccompanied children should first and foremost be treated as children.

We are at your disposition for more information,

Yours sincerely,

The undersigned organisations:

  • ARSIS
  • Medecins du Monde
  • Danish Refugee Council
  • Defence for Children International Greece
  • Network for Children’s Rights
  • Greek Forum of Refugees
  • Greek Council for Refugees
  • ELIX
  • Equal Rights Beyond Borders
  • Faros
  • Help Refugees/ Choose Love
  • HIAS Greece
  • HumanRights360
  • International Rescue Committee (IRC)
  • Legal Centre Lesvos
  • METAdrasis
  • Refugee Legal Support
  • Praksis
  • Solidarity Now
  • Terre des hommes Hellas

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