Further funding in Lesvos
In 2018 members voted to provide a grant of £15,000 to Oxfam in Greece to support Oxfam’s continuing legal aid programme for asylum seekers on the Greek islands. This followed on from LAP’s earlier grant in 2017 of €10,000 which funded 1 GCR lawyer for 5 months and managed legal fees for new and ongoing cases. At that time Moria camp in Lesvos was accommodating about 8,500 people with a capacity of 2,840. Read more about this grant
The situation in Lesvos continued to deteriorate and by November 2019 Moria camp was accommodating nearly double that in 2017: 16,500 people and more than 5 times the capacity. The number is set to rise. During 2019, Greece saw more irregular arrivals than Spain, Malta, Italy and Greece combined. And yet the registration, medical and asylum services remain woefully insufficient. Very few have access to legal advice despite EU law requiring such access for all asylum seekers. The consequences could not be more serious – literally a matter of life or death. Those refused asylum are returned to the potentially life-threatening circumstances from which they originally fled.
The EU-Turkey deal has also exacerbated the problem with those landing on the Greek islands being detained there in over-crowded and inhumane conditions until their applications are determined.
Impact of LAP grant
LAP’s grant was part of Oxfam’s wider legal aid programme which has continued to operate through local partners the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and the European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL). The grant (1) funded one GCR lawyer for 6 months and managed the legal fees of new and ongoing cases for that period, and (2) enabled the development and printing of a legal information pamphlet produced by Oxfam, GCR and ELIL.
The total impact of the LAP grant was the support of 1667 beneficiaries, of which 517 beneficiaries were reached through the GCR lawyer (126 through individual case management and 391 through group legal information sessions) and 1150 through the dissemination of the legal information pamphlet. The GCR lawyers opened 86 new cases (in total 126 beneficiaries) or an average of 21 new clients per month. Of the 126 people, 45 were children, 51 men and 30 women.
The impact of the grant has been optimised through both the group legal information sessions and the legal information pamphlet. The pamphlet, in particular, has been very successful in reaching a large number of asylum seekers of many nationalities, who were likely otherwise to struggle in understanding the rapidly changing systems and also the services available to help them.
GCR lawyer giving a group legal information session to Somalian asylum seekers on the Olive Grove.
The pamphlet resulted from a consultative process with the Legal Aid Working Group in Lesvos and the content has been approved by the Greek Asylum Se4rvice and Appeals Authority. Crucially, it includes a contact list for legal advisers and was produced in 10 different languages which covers the languages of 95% of asylum communities on Lesvos. Through the many NGOs working in Lesvos, some 10,500 copies were distributed during the grant period.
Legal information pamphlet
Asylum cases can remain open anywhere from a few weeks to several years but of those resolved during the course of this grant period, 74% were successful (55 cases). The GCR lawyer, in addition to providing individual legal advice, is also able to provide other forms of support, for example referrals for medical care.
This second LAP grant forms part of a wider legal aid intervention programme provided by Oxfam through its local partners. Since its inception in May 2017 to October 2019, Oxfam has reached 8,888 beneficiaries directly and a further 10,500 through the legal information pamphlet. Legal aid continues to be the single most important intervention for people arriving on the Greek islands, and yet remains largely unavailable for most. The impact of legal aid provision extends beyond the actual advice, also having the effect of reducing stress, empowering people to act on their rights and enabling them to support each other through the process.
Unfortunately, the Greek government continues to seek ways to restrict asylum seekers on the islands – both preventing them from landing, detaining those who do land under the EU-Turkey deal and, more recently, accelerating returns to Turkey by reduction of safeguards and rights for people during the asylum process.
Thank you to LAP members who donated to the Justice Fund and approved this support for refugees in Lesvos.
Photo credits: Marion Bouchelet