HumanRights360 06 • 12 • 2021

Asylum seekers’ access to financial aid suspended for months, and permanently denied to those not living in Ministry run housing

Asylum seekers’ access to financial aid suspended for months, and permanently denied to those not living in Ministry run housing
06 • 12 • 2021

The access of thousands of asylum seekers to the ESTIA II financial assistance program provided by the Greek State was suspended from October 1, 2021, for at least 3 months. Furthermore, as of July 1, 2021, this financial aid is only available to those asylum seekers living in Ministry run housing.

According to European Union (Article 17, 2013/33) and Greek (Article 55, 4636/2019) legislation, Greece is responsible for ensuring minimum material reception conditions for asylum seekers. In this context, a cash assistance program, part of the Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation (ESTIA) program, was implemented in 2017 through the UN High Commissioner with direct emergency funding from the European Union.

This program provides cash assistance on a monthly basis, paid into a bank account, with periodic identity checks for recipients. The amount of this assistance is determined by family size and whether or not the housing facilities of the beneficiary provide catering. The program aims to meet basic needs and ensure a decent standard of living for asylum seekers within the Greek reception system.

On September 30, 2021, this program was suspended whilst the UN High Commissioner for Refugees transferred management over to the Greek government. Despite public assurances that it would be restored immediately, the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum did not resume the program until the end of 2021, leaving around 34,000 beneficiaries without any financial assistance to cover their basic needs (including healthcare, clothing, baby products etc.), clearly violating Greece’s obligations for ensuring minimum material reception conditions for asylum seekers.

The result was a population of thousands of asylum seekers (up to 25,000) who had been managing to live independently thanks to the financial assistance provided to them, being forced to either put their standard of living at risk or to be suddenly and arbitrarily uprooted and moved to an official reception center somewhere within the Greek Territory.

According to Article 57 of law 4636/2020, the reduction or termination of material reception conditions, which includes financial aid, requires reasoned judgment on a case by case basis by the competent host authority, i.e. not by way of a  horizontal and general decision. Furthermore, the conditions under which it would be permitted are not justified by this situation, (for example, when the applicant leaves the reception center without informing the authorities, or when they do not comply with the reporting requirements.)

Where is the problem with the rule of law?

In a state that respects the rule of law, the continuous compliance with the obligations set out in the EU Reception Conditions Directive, as incorporated into national law, should be an obvious need and priority. This includes the provision of immediate and effective protection to people whose lives have been endangered or whose fundamental rights have been threatened.

The complete suspension of financial assistance to thousands of asylum seekers for a period of 3 months, without any compensatory measures to provide even the most essential items, directly violates European and national legislation for the continuous provision of material reception conditions to applicants for international protection. In addition, according to the requirements of the Constitution (article 25 paragraph 1) all state bodies are obliged to provide the unimpeded and effective exercise of human rights and the principle of the Rule of Law for every person residing in Greece.

Furthermore, the permanent, horizontal and unjustified exclusion of  all asylum seekers residing in non-state run facilities from the provision of financial assistance to asylum seekers residing outside the structures under the responsibility of the State, does not comply with the state’s legal obligations for ensuring minimum material reception conditions for applicants of international protection.

Submit a report if you have detected a violation of the rule of law!
Support govwatch