The State Council of Greece, the highest administrative court in Greece, rendered a judgment on 22 September 2017 on the case of two Syrian nationals whose applications for asylum were previously rejected. The court accepted the position of the lower authorities that Turkey was a safe third country and confirmed the accelerated procedure as a lawful one.

The verdict confirmed the legality of the accelerated procedure on Greek islands and the application of accelerated procedures before the adoption of a relevant government decree, the involvement of the EASO team in the procedure as well as the burden of proof placed on the asylum seeker with a view to getting exemption from such a procedure due to vulnerability or family reunification. The court also supported the lack of hearing in the appeals proceedings and accepted the implementation of the safe third country concept as regards Turkey.

The Court explained that the intention of the legislator, given the relevant circumstances, was the application of an accelerated border procedure without requiring prior approval of a ministerial decision or decision by the EU Council to determine the existence of a „massive influx“. Regarding the participation of so-called EASO Experts in the Implementation of the Asylum Procedure the Court found that this was permitted by an amended EU Directive on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection which provides that, in cases of a large number of asylum applications, officials from other Member States may be involved in certain actions in the procedure. The court also found that the fact that the opinion of the EASO expert as well as the transcript of the hearing was written in English and not in Greek did not affect the exercise of the applicant’s rights.

The Court found that the right to an effective remedy was not violated by the fact that asylum seekers in the appeal proceedings were not allowed to be heard by the Appeals Committee. As a basis for such a decision it was stated that Art. 14 of the EU Directive, the hearing is envisaged as mandatory only in the first instance and not in the appeal proceedings. The Court also refers to Art. 47 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The Court found that the Declaration of the EU and Turkey was “legally binding and valid, however the legal consequence of its implementation… is not the rejection of applications for international protection filed, as alleged by the applicant, but the return of applicants, whose applications for international protection have been rejected by the Greek authorities following an individual assessment and in application of European asylum rules and domestic law, to Turkey…”.

The Court examined as evidence the letter of the Permanent Representative of Turkey to the EU in which he stressed that the rights of Syrian refugees in Turkey are guaranteed, a letter from the Permanent Representative of Turkey explaining the status of non-Syrian citizens, a letter from the Director General for Migration and Internal Affairs of the European Commission stating that the concept of a safe third safe country can be applied in respect of Turkey, as well as a subsequent letter that Turkey’s assurances remain in force even after the failed coup. As evidence, two UNHCR letters to Greek authorities on the situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey, were also considered. The court found that the letters of the Turkish ambassador were diplomatic guarantees of exceptional probative value. The Court dismissed the applicant’s claim that he the content of the letters was illegally not disclosed to him and that he was not provided the opportunity to rebut them.

The recently published analysis of the Free University of Amsterdam examines the violations of the human rights of persons returned from Greece to Turkey. This document, through the analysis of 1,013 cases of non-Syrian citizens returned to third countries or countries of origin in the readmission procedures, finds that these persons are kept in a confined space without the possibility of communicating with lawyers and family, and very often with the denial of contact with representatives of the UNHCR. The investigation found that the application for asylum in such detention centers was virtually impossible, and that out of the total number for only 56 it was possible to seek asylum in Turkey. In the analysis of 178 cases of returning Syrian citizens between April 2016 and June 2017, it was found that they were first transferred to the Düziçi reception center where they waited to be registered under a special regime of temporary protection that applies exclusively to Syrian citizens. According to the research, this reception center is actually a detention facility without any basis in Turkish legislation. Finally, the analysis suggests that in Turkey, most Syrian refugees live in cities where their access to the labor market is limited in practice, although the law provides for the possibility of obtaining a work permit after six months.

A deeper analysis of the judgment of the State Council of Greece has been published by the AIDA network.