Legal assistance reuniting refugee familiesChanging legislation and a lack of counselling in the Greek asylum system is distressing refugees and asylum seekers and makes legal aid an essential part of the Danish Refugee Council’s (DRC) work in Greece.
The mass influx of refugees arriving in Greece, since 2015, has put a strain on the national asylum process and the advocacy for vulnerable cases. Persons of Concern currently residing in Greece are in urgent need of legal support. DRC Greece are implementing humanitarian activities including the provision of legal aid and protection services to the populations in the so-called “hotspots” on the islands and those residing in mainland sites, with European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) funding.
“I was completely devastated when I first arrived in the camp” said Ghaida, a Syrian asylum seeker, residing in Volos site, in Central Greece. Asylum seekers living in sites often express their distress about the constant changes of the national legislation and practice, as well as the lack of assistance by the public authorities. For instance, following the EU-Turkey statement, in March 2016, there are two different asylum procedures, one that is applied in the mainland and an accelerated procedure that is applied at the borders.
Like Ghaida, most persons of concern have fled their country, seeking security and safety in Greece. However, free legal aid for asylum seekers is provided by the Greek State only at second instance of the asylum procedure. The DRC Protection team, including legal aid officers, is working daily in sites, identifying vulnerable individuals among the beneficiary population, providing protection and legal assistance or referring cases to other actors, such as Greek NGO, Aitima. After being provided legal aid, Ghaida is now due to be reunited with her husband, Mohamad in Denmark.
“DRC helped me a lot. I want to thank all the staff and especially the lawyer; her words made me realize I was stronger that I believed,” underlines Ghaida. Through a team of field protection and legal aid officers with relevant language and legal skills, refugees are informed about their rights, the asylum process and the family reunification requirements. Ghaida was married to Mohamad, a professional musician and they led a normal life in Aleppo, with their two children. When the conflict reached their neighbourhood, they saw their home bombed and their lives were put in grave danger. They fled from Syria and the family had to split; Mohamad left for Denmark, during the summer of 2014, whereas Ghaida and their children arrived in Greece, after five failed attempts to pass the Turkish border. Due to the complexity of the legal procedures for family reunification, the family has been living separately for more than 3 years.
“When I think about tomorrow, I can finally see my children under one roof with their parents. I want them to have a bright and safe future. I want us to be happy again,” states Ghaida, who is excited to be reuniting with her husband in Denmark. The acceptance decision required extensive legal work by the DRC’s legal team in Larissa, who collaborated with the DRC team in Denmark and resubmitted her request, presenting the legal arguments, after her application for family reunification was rejected, in June 2016. The acceptance decision was issued on the 18th of August 2017 and the news was welcomed with gratitude and relief.
After years of separation, constant agony for the future and the exposure to distressing experiences, the family now dreams of a brighter and safer future, when they will finally live together, in peace.