At 10am on Wednesday 25th March an open letter was sent to leaders of the Greek Government, the UN, and the Council of Europe highlighting the risks and human rights violations posed by policy revoking the right to seek asylum from March 1st. It was signed by 250 organisations across Europe including ourselves, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. It called on the Greek government to abolish the legislation, reinstate the right to seek asylum, and relocate asylum seekers in the congested Aegean island camps with a view to curbing the effects of Covid-19. It asked that the EU support the Greek government in doing so, as well as facilitate the relocation of vulnerable asylum seekers within the EU. It also called on the Council of Europe to take measures to ensure that the EU and its constituent states comply with International Conventions and Regulations.
On March 1st the Greek Government instated the Emergency Legislative Decree, putting a stop to new asylum applications in light of the outbreak of Covid-19. The 450 refugees who have arrived since the legislation was passed have been detained for the purposes of return. The letter highlights that such actions go against national, EU, and International law. Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, from which these laws are derived, reads ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’. Legally revoking this right and the principle of non refoulement, the letter argues, ‘constitute what is perhaps an unprecedented development in post-war Europe.’
It stresses that the conditions under which new asylum seekers are being held are ‘indeterminable’. Given the sudden implementation of the new law, the formal and informal facilities in which they are being detained have not been subjected to adequate human rights checks.
Along with all other signatories, we are very concerned with these developments and anticipate the government’s assurance that it will act to secure the individual rights of every asylum seeker. However, we also acknowledge that Greece cannot cope alone. We therefore call on the governments of Europe, including the UK, to help in the relocation of those most vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic.