Athens 6th June, 2017
On 25 May 2015 the Regional Asylum Office (RAO) announced that, mainly due to staff shortage and until further notice, the RAO of Attica will be capable to register and process applications only via Skype. These choice soon proved to create serious limits to the access to the asylum procedure despite many objections, critics on several deficiencies and recommendations from civil society organisations. Unfortunately we are still witnessing, after two years, lateness and difficulties to apply for asylum through skype.
According to most of the organisations offering skype services, people often do not receive an answer, which compels them to wait for months until they can finally submit their asylum application without any guarantee to see the call answered at first due to its irregularity. As most of these organisations are overloaded with demands, they developed a system that generally consists of appointment distribution through long waiting lists.
The situation gets even harder if not impossible for persons residing in camps outside of Athens, since they cannot rely on skype services provided by organisations, which are only active in urban area. They left with no other choice than to call with their cellphones from their own skype account although most of the time all they get is an infinite phone ringtone with no picking up.
As described below, and previously hardly denounced, the skype system remains “unfair” firstly based on the ground that not everyone has the same access to organisations providing skype calls and secondly based on the ground that the possibility of an answer is a lottery. Thus, some people calling on their own skype account and get an answer at the first tries whereas some others have to wait for months.
When it comes to the languages, the criteria seems to be abstract. The skype schedule and time slots differs according to the language and we deplore irregularities and serious lack of answer from the authorities for Urdu and Bangla language.
For languages that are not scheduled in the Skype program, persons have to appear to the asylum office on a defined day according to another specific weekly program. Chinese speakers have reported that only one person enters per week, not to say not a single one. This difficulty has also been pointed out as experienced by those who come from the Philippines, Somalia and those speaking Amharic and Tigrinya.
Through skype or by going to the RAO, we witness hundreds of people each month in need to apply for asylum that are constrained to wait to register. Moreover, it is worth to keep in mind that the legal framework¹ for the asylum procedure delay is clearly defined: an asylum application has to be examined “the soonest possible” within 6 months, that can be extended for a maximum period of 9 months and in case of exceptional circumstances, a further extension of 3 months is previewed. Thus, 12 months is the maximum time limit for asylum procedure in Greece, according to the law.
It is worth mentioning that this period of time concerns individuals that entered the procedure. Thus, this maximum time limit doesn’t take into account the long waiting time most refugees have to face when they arrive and try, unsuccessfully, to reach the asylum authorities – sometimes for months.
In case an asylum seeker loses her/his application card before the first interview she/he has to restart the asylum procedure from the beginning. This means that asylum seekers have to pass again through the whole tedious procedure, but also implies additional work for the already overloaded asylum service since they have to initiate the pre-registration procedure from the beginning. Furthermore in case an asylum service employee (caseworker, interpreter etc.) is missing on the scheduled date, the interview will be postponed for several months.
The skype preregistration is the first step to access the lengthy procedure for international protection. The lengthiness is raising crucial issues, which have to best stressed. The asylum applicant card, that individuals receive after the registration, allows access to work, access to accommodation in reception centers, as well as being guaranteed to circulate freely. All the prerequisite needed to start a new life.
Unfortunately so far, many difficulties are still contributing to make the access to asylum ineffective. Accordingly, we urge the end of the skype program and call for a direct access for the asylum seeker to register by having a direct access to the RAO.
¹Article 51 par. 2 & 3, Law 4375/2016 On the organization and operation of the Asylum Service, the Appeals Authority, the Reception and Identification Service, the establishment of the General Secretariat for Reception
Relavant video made by asylum seekers that passed through the skype system to pre-register for asylum : “Skype or Smugglers – How to apply for asylum in Greece ?“