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Greece: Date Set for Trial of ‘Pylos 9’ ― Government Fined for Data Breaches in Asylum Centres ― NGO Reports Detail Conditions in ‘Hotspots’ Since Signature of EU-Turkey Agreement

  • The trial of the nine men who have been charged with various offences in connection with the Pylos shipwreck tragedy is due to start on 21 May in Kalamata.
  • The Ministry of Migration and Asylum has been fined € 175,000 for non-compliance with data protection rules in a case related to the use of surveillance systems in migrant centres on the Aegean islands.
  • Two new reports by a Dutch NGO have highlighted the conditions in reception centres on the Aegean islands since the signature of the EU’s migration deal with Türkiye in 2016.

The trial of the nine men who were charged with people smuggling and other offences following the Pylos shipwreck tragedy is due to start on 21 May in Kalamata. According to a press release from the Legal Centre Lesvos (LCL), the men, who were passengers on the boat which sank with the loss of over 600 lives in June 2023, are accused of various offences, including “(a) membership in a criminal organisation, (b) transporting as boat drivers, citizens of third countries from abroad to Greece, who do not have the right to enter Greek territory, with danger for human life, causing deaths (c) intentionally causing a shipwreck with danger to for human life and with fatal result and (d) unauthorised entry to Greek territory” and they face “several life sentences in prison if convicted”. The LCL press release also described the men’s arrest, investigation, prosecution and upcoming trial as “rushed” and decried the investigation into the Hellenic Coast Guard’s responsibility for the shipwreck for having “stalled” and “so far led nowhere”. The organisation concluded with a direct appeal to state authorities. “As LCL, we demand that the nine accused of the Pylos shipwreck be immediately released and provided with appropriate psycho-social support as survivors of one of the deadliest shipwrecks in the Mediterranean in recent years,” they wrote, adding: “Charges against them should be dropped and an independent and effective investigation should be carried out into the circumstances of the shipwreck, in order to determine the responsibilities and involvement of the Greek authorities and Frontex in the capsizing of the boat”. Their demands were echoed in a press release from the ‘FreePylos9’ campaign.

The Ministry of Migration and Asylum has been fined € 175,000 for non-compliance with data protection rules in a case related to the use of surveillance systems in migrant centres on the Aegean islands. In a press release, the Hellenic Data Protection Authority (DPA) stated that it had become aware of the use of the surveillance systems on the islands of Chios, Leros, Lesvos, Kos and Samos in December 2021, and had subsequently received requests for information from both the European Parliament’s (EP) Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) and the Greek office of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and a “request to investigate and provide an opinion” from several civil society organisations (CSOs). Following an investigation, the DPA found that the ministry’s co-operation had been “deficient”, that its data protection impact assessments were “materially incomplete and limited in scope” and that there were “serious omissions” in its compliance with specific provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation relating to the use of the surveillance systems. As a result, it imposed the € 175,000 fine, reportedly the highest ever for a Greek public body, and issued a compliance order with a three-month time limit. According to ECRE member organisation HIAS Greece, one of the CSOs that requested the DPA’s intervention in February 2022, the imposition of the fine is only the first step in ongoing efforts to protect the rights of refugees and migrants. “Of course, nothing ends here. A high fine does not in itself mean anything,” they wrote in a statement. “However, the decision gives us the strength to continue our actions in the field of border protection in order to protect the rights of vulnerable social groups who are targeted by highly intrusive technologies,” they added.

Issues related to the incorrect registration of asylum applicants’ nationalities have come to the fore again in recent weeks. ECRE member organisation Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid recently published an article in which it reported that asylum applicants from Eritrea who are registered in Lesvos’ closed controlled access centre (Mavrovouni CCAC) often find that they are often given “Ethiopian” as their “estimated nationality”. Given that Ethiopia is considered “safer” than Eritrea, this administrative decision has clear implications for the applicants’ chances of being granted asylum. The article also states that “there is currently no legislation that allows this decision to be effectively challenged during the registration process” and that the Greek authorities had recently introduced a “nationality assessment that will be integrated into the asylum interview”. Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid criticised the assessment on the basis that it was “constructed from a range of arbitrary questions about a country’s geography, language and culture and fails to take into account the complexity of an individual’s situation”. It added that if caseworkers rejected an applicant’s stated nationality, “they usually did not continue to assess an applicant’s claim under the estimated nationality, or as a stateless individual”, and that some applicants were “made to accept their estimated nationality in order to proceed with their asylum claim”. It concluded that there was still a great level of uncertainty about the estimated nationality process and that, to date, the Greek authorities “had been unable to define the official procedure” and people seeking asylum had not been made aware of it. It also issued a series of recommendations to both the Greek authorities and the European Commission. One week after the publication of the Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid article, the issue was also raised in the EP. During a meeting of the LIBE Committee, Tineke Strik MEP asked the fundamental rights officer from the EU Asylum Agency, François Deleu, if he was aware of “fraudulent practices” by Greek authorities to reject asylum claims on Lesvos. Deleu replied that he was “unaware of these facts” but that he would “check with colleagues in Greece”.

To coincide with the filing of the lawsuit against the Dutch government for its involvement in the EU’s migration deal with Türkiye in 2016, the NGO Boat Refugee Foundation has published two reports on conditions in the so-called “hotspots” on the Aegean islands. One report provides a non-exhaustive overview of publications from various EU and UN bodies, and CSOs about the conditions on Chios, Leros, Lesvos, Kos and Samos during the period 2016-2023. In their introduction, the authors have written that all of the publications share a common denominator in that they “describe how, immediately after the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement came into force (18th of March), the conditions in the hotspots on the Greek islands rapidly deteriorated”. The report also includes personal stories from some of the many people who were forced to stay in the hotspots providing testimonies of the “emotional, psychological, and social impact of the EU-Turkey Statement”. The other report provides what the authors have described as “the first comprehensive and (almost) complete overview of data from the hotspots on the Greek islands between 2016 and 2023”.

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