On 26 January 2023, Commissioner Johansson sent two letters to the Greek government launching infringement proceedings against Greece for non-compliance with EU refugee rights legislation.
On 26 January 2023, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ilva Johansson sent two letters to the Greek government claiming that Greece is in breach of EU legislation on social protection and detention measures for refugees.
According to press reports, one of the two letters asks the government to apply the same social policy to refugees as it does to Greeks, abolishing discrimination under national law against those enjoying international protection status in Greece. The Commission, in fact, expresses concern that Greece may be in breach of Article 29 paragraph 1 of Directive 2011/95/EU, which provides for refugees to have access to a minimum level of social benefits from all EU Member States.
Article 29 of Directive 2011/95/EU provides that:
Member States shall ensure that beneficiaries of international protection receive, in the Member State that has granted such protection, the necessary social assistance as provided to nationals of that Member State.
The letter details that these concerns are raised in the context of the exchanges of views that have taken place between the European Commission and Greece. The Commission is of the opinion that the explanations given by the Greek authorities in the context of these exchanges of views are not satisfactory. It has therefore decided to initiate an infringement procedure by means of a letter of formal notice.
Commissioner Johansson’s second letter concerns the detention of asylum seekers in reception and accommodation centres. According to current Greek legislation, the directors of these centres can decide to confine asylum seekers to the facility for five days, with the possibility of extending this to 25 days.
The Commission has the following concerns about this measure: “Detention should always be used as a measure of last resort, as has also been repeatedly confirmed by the EU Court of Justice. […] In this respect, Articles 8 and 9 of the Directive, in conjunction with recitals 15 and 20 of the Directive, significantly limit the power of Member States to detain a person. […] The Commission considers that the provisions of Article 40 of Law 4939/2022 do not comply with the requirements of Articles 8 and 9 of the Directive.
The letter adds that according to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the Geneva Convention, the detention of applicants should be applied in accordance with the basic principle that a person should not be detained merely because he or she seeks international protection. The detention of applicants should be possible only in clearly defined, exceptional circumstances provided for in law and should be governed by the principle of necessity and proportionality as regards both the manner and the purpose of such detention.
Finally, the Commission notes that Law No. 4939/2022 (Government Gazette A’ 111/10.6.2022) also transposes the European directive inadequately in relation to the detention of unaccompanied minors and vulnerable groups.
AS an EU Member State, Greece must comply with Union law as well as with the Geneva Convention on the protection of refugees.
However, Commissioner Johansson’s two letters to the Greek government launching infringement proceedings against Greece raise serious questions about the extent of Greece’s compliance with both Directive 2022/95/EU on the rights of refugees and the Geneva Convention.
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