Migrants are evacuated from Moria camp on the island of Lesbos to mainland Greece on October 1, 2019 | Photo: picture- alliance/AP
Migrants are evacuated from Moria camp on the island of Lesbos to mainland Greece on October 1, 2019 | Photo: picture- alliance/AP

In Greece, a list of 12 'safe countries' intended to facilitate the processing of asylum applications is causing concern among NGOs. According to refugee rights activists, the document eliminates country-specific nuances and endangers some asylum seekers, especially gay and transgender people.

As part of the tightening of its asylum laws, the Greek government has drawn up a list of 12 countries of migrant origin that are considered safe. The selected countries are Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, India, Morocco, Senegal, Tonga, Tunisia and Ukraine. In 2019, Greece once again became the first gateway to Europe for migrants and refugees, and the list reflects Athens' desire to change that situation, which has become particularly problematic in the Aegean islands.

Several associations and NGOs defending migrants have denounced the list as "arbitrary" and having potentially harmful consequences for people from the countries in question, particularly homosexual and transgender people.

InfoMigrants: In concrete terms, what will this list of 12 "safe countries" change in the asylum process in Greece?

Lefteris Papagiannakis, Head of Advocacy, Policy and Research at Solidarity Now (Athens): We have to wait until we have some hindsight on this issue to know more, but what is certain is that people who come from these countries now have less chance of obtaining asylum if their case is not very, very severe. And again: the persecution suffered in one of these 12 countries needs to be easy to prove. For example, an asylum seeker who is a visible opposition figure in the media is more likely to be considered than an individual who has fled his country because he is regarded badly in his village due to of his sexual orientation.

Moreover, one can envision with a fairly high probability that a migrant who says he is homosexual will be treated with more mistrust from now on. [However, in seven of the 12 countries on this list - Algeria, Gambia, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Tonga, and Tunisia - homosexuals and transgender people are subject to prosecution.]

IM: In your opinion, are the 12 countries on this list safe?

LP: A country that has laws against homosexuality cannot be a safe country. Personally, I don't really understand this list. The notion of safety is a very fluid factor. From now on, in the eyes of the Greek public, Algerians or Moroccans cannot be refugees. People say to themselves: "These countries are safe". However, with each country, you have to take the time to go into detail, to understand the nuances and local realities. We have to be attentive.

In Morocco, people are persecuted for criticizing the king. In Algeria, until a few years ago, the GIA (Armed Islamic Group) was rampant and Greeks do not necessarily know that. The same applies to Senegal, Ghana, all the other countries. But we don't take the time to take a close look at these realities. All the government wants is to solve the problem of the 100,000 migrants on its territory as soon as possible [Athens expects another 100,000 migrants to enter the country from Turkey in 2020].

IM: Isn't this list likely to lead to the rejection of asylum applications and automatic expulsions from Greece?

LP: Normally no, because it's supposed to be on a case-by-case basis. However, this approach is similar to profiling, and automatic expulsions are a risk. In practice, other countries that have established lists have seen that, for nationals of safe countries, it is almost automatic that their claim is rejected, even if they are persecuted.

This list is simply a tool for governments that want to expedite the process. The aim is also to reduce the work of the overburdened asylum services in Greece. The danger, however, is that people will be treated in groups, in a general way and not individually, and so less attention will be paid to certain cases and they will not benefit from the supervision to which they are entitled. The risk is quite simply the violation of human rights.


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