The Greek government announced it would suspend asylum applications for one month on Sunday, March 1. It said it was invoking an emergency EU clause to do so; but suspending asylum has no basis in international law says the UNHCR.
"All States have a right to control their borders and manage irregular movements, but at the same time should refrain from the use of excessive or disproportionate force and maintain systems for handling asylum requests in an orderly manner," read the UN refugee agency UNHCR’s press statement on March 2. The statement was responding to the situation at the Turkey-EU border and Greece’s announcement it would be suspending new asylum applications for a month.
Although it was reported that the Greek government's decision to suspend asylum applications for a month was based on an EU emergency clause, UNHCR underlined that "Neither the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees nor EU refugee law provides any legal basis for the suspension of the reception of asylum applications."
Greece stated it was invoking
the emergency clause
that deals with a sudden influx of third-country
nationals into an EU country. It allows for provisional measures but,
according to the UNHCR, only those adopted by the European Council,
after a proposal from the European Commission, in consultation with
the European parliament. That is to say, the clause does not allow for measures adopted
unilaterally by one country.
'Cannot suspend the right to seek asylum'
when following the letter of the clause, "it cannot suspend the
internationally recognized right to seek asylum and the principle of
non-refoulement that are also emphasized in EU law. Persons entering
irregularly on the territory of a State should also not be punished
if they present themselves without delay to the authorities to seek
emphasized that those arriving at the border were often in "precarious conditions," and included "women, children and
families." They said that among the nationalities arriving were
Syrians, Afghans, Iranians, Sudanese and others.
'No justification' to leave people stranded at the border
refugee agency called for international support for both Greece and
Turkey to address the situation and said that neither state should be
left alone to deal with the numbers of people who were now arriving.
international charity Oxfam also released a press statement reacting
to the situation. "There is no justification for the
decision by the EU and the Greek government to leave people stranded
in a no-man's land at their borders without access to food, shelter
and medical care. Instead of supporting Greece’s efforts to keep
people trapped at its external border, the EU should remember its
humanitarian and legal obligations and make sure that these women,
men and children can safely access protection," Oxfam said.'Gravely concerning'
Oxfam's European migration campaign manager Evelien van Ruemburg
called the Greek government announcement to suspend asylum "gravely concerning." She said it was "reminiscent of the
disastrous lack of leadership in 2015/2016 when no government in
Europe wanted to take responsibility for people in need, and the EU
concluded its migration deal with Turkey which was fundamentally
said the EU-Turkey deal had turned people in need of safety into
political bargaining chips. Van Ruemburg concluded that the EU
needed to support Greece and rectify the situation at its external
borders. "It is critical that all states live up to both the
letter and the spirit of the Refugee Convention, and remember that
the EU cannot effectively fulfill its role as a leading humanitarian
actor when it continues to prioritize policies of self-interest over
the rights and dignity of human beings."
director of the EU border agency Frontex, however, Fabrice Leggeri, said in a statement on March 2, that the agency would be supporting Greece in
trying to protect the borders. "Given the quickly developing
situation at the Greek external borders with Turkey, my decision is
to accept to launch the rapid border intervention requested by
Greece. It is part of the Frontex mandate to assist a Member State
confronted with an exceptional situation, requesting urgent support
with officers and equipment from all EU Member States and Schengen
Leggeri said that Frontex had already increased surveillance at the Greek borders and was deploying officers from across the bloc "to provide immediate assistance." Leggeri confirmed the agency's core mission as protecting the European borders. That included, he clarified, helping Greece register and screen migrants. That, Leggeri said, was also "important for returns."