What “Return to Dublin” Means for Greece

EU member states want to start sending refugees back to Greece – a reason for the government not to improve the country’s asylum system.

Image: Nicole Katsioulis of © FES-Griechenland

The EU Dublin Regulation stipulates that the EU member state an asylum seeker first enters is responsible for processing the asylum claim. This system, however, puts disproportionate strain on those member states situated at the EU's external borders. For this reason, the Regulation has been intermittently suspended in recent years. Now, the EU Commission wants to return to Dublin, meaning that asylum seekers who were registered in Greece but continued on to Germany, for example, would be deported back to Greece. Nicole Katsioulis, our FES expert in Athenshttp://www.fes-athens.org/, explains what this would mean for Greece.

In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that asylum seekers could not be deported to Greece, where the human rights of people seeking protection were repeatedly violated. However, the EU Commission now suggests these deportations be resumed. For example, refugees who entered Germany after March 15, 2017 will be sent back to Greece unless they are in need of special protection.


Deportation with Obstacles

However, these deportations are coupled with high bureaucratic hurdles. While Hungary announced the forced return of over 4,000 asylum seekers to Greece, only three of them have actually had to leave so far. This is because before each deportation, Greek authorities have to assure the deporting member state that the affected person will receive adequate housing in accordance with EU standards.

The second obstacle is that these deportations are being reinstated while at the same time, Greece’s burden is supposed to be lightened within the framework of the EU Relocation Programme. In 2015, it was agreed that 66,400 asylum seekers would be relocated from Greece to other countries within two years. So far, only a little over 11,000 refugees have been resettled. Thus, EU member states are being urged to meet their quota for the Relocation Programme before resuming deportations to Greece. This is a small concession by the EU Commission towards Greece’s government, which expects the EU to take stronger action against those states refusing to take in asylum seekers in accordance with the Relocation Programme. Greece is also advocating for a system of financial compensations or sanctions within the context of Dublin IV.


The Threat of Deportations Stands in the Way of Greek Asylum System Reform

Meanwhile, the Greek government strongly opposes the reinstatement of the Dublin Regulation. Giannis Mouzalas, the country’s Minister of Migration, stated that while Greece respects the Regulation, it is not equipped to “take back” asylum seekers from northern EU member states due to insufficient resources.

The Greek Asylum Service, which has only existed since 2013, is in fact overstretchedand promised EU assistance is slow to arrive. Asylum applications in Greece generally take a long time to be processed. Some asylum seekers have had to wait four months just to be registered, and the wait for an asylum claim hearing usually takes several months to a year. In addition, NGOs have criticized the asylum process for still not being transparent enough, as well as for being biased and legally flawed. Refugees are not fully informed of their rights, and the order in which the applications are processed seems arbitrary.

For the most part, living conditions for asylum seekers remain catastrophic. Hotspots on the islands are particularly overcrowded, as more people arrive than leave. In some mainland camps, sexual exploitation is rife, and on the island Chios, refugees were physically attacked by locals. Many refugee children are still not in school, and because of the high unemployment rates integration into the labor force is simply not an option.

At the same time, Greece has no incentive to make its asylum system more effective, precisely because the EU linked the reinstatement of forced returns to the so-called “good” condition of a local asylum system. The fear is that if refugee treatment in Greece gets better, other EU countries will resume deportationsand Greece wants to avoid having to take in more asylum seekers at all costs.