Renewal of Residence Permits in Greece: Caught in Legal Limbo
The Ministry of Migration and Asylum in Greece has been facing complaints over its handling of residence permit renewals for beneficiaries of international and subsidiary protection. The ministry’s website for renewal of residence permits has not been updated since October 6, 2020, leaving many refugees in a state of uncertainty.
A large crowd of beneficiaries of international or subsidiary protection have not been able to renew their residence permits, and are only receiving a 6-month certificate confirming that their renewal is pending. This can cause serious problems in many areas, including employment and insurance. Although they have these certificates, many refugees have complained that they are taken to police stations and held for hours while the police claim to be checking their validity.
The process requires submitting a renewal form and a digital photograph to the Asylum Service via email, with a 100€ fine imposed if the application is not filed at least 30 days before the expiry of the permit. However, the upload of the application on the Asylum Service database may take months due to a backlog of ADET renewal requests, and the service also verifies “public order or security grounds” which may hamper the renewal of the residence permit. This check may last several months in practice.
I met Mansour in late December 2021. He had been waiting for 11 months to receive his resident permit card, which would be valid for one year. This means that when he receives the ID card, he must immediately send a request for extending his residency, because it will expire soon. “I received only one email response confirming my request had been received after a long time.” What dose it mean? He told me: “I have subsidiary protection status and I have to renew my residence permit every year, but I haven’t received the ID card for a long time now. In the end, neither my lawyer nor I was able to do anything about it.”
Mansour told me that lawyers he consulted asked for 200-300 euros to handle his residency application, but failed to follow up with him after a prolonged period. He expressed frustration, stating, “This asylum process is causing mental health issues in even those previously healthy.”
The Ministry of Migration and Asylum stated in an announcement on December 30, 2020, that the restrictions on residence permit renewals were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, two years have passed since then and no changes have been made to these conditions. Lawyers have also reported that the ministry claims to be facing technical difficulties, but this excuse is seen as a lie by many as the same problems do not exist for Ukrainian refugees, and they are not facing such delays.
Margarita Drakou, a lawyer in the asylum sector, disagrees with this view. She believes that the Ministry of Migration and Asylum is understaffed, with only few officers who are already stretched thin with other responsibilities. According to Margarita, the application process is also very slow. “When a refugee submits an application for the extension of residence documents, it can take several months for the application to be registered in the system for review,” she says.
She goes on to say that the process of determining whether the refugee has applied for asylum in another country, as well as checking for any criminal records, takes a lot of time. “I have clients who are facing complications with their cases because they were out of the country when their residency expired,” she says.
Mobile Info Team had reported about long delays with renewing residence permits for people that have received an asylum status in Greece. According to information of the responsible unit, a residence permit renewal request is normally only answered after the residence permit has already expired for months. This means that individuals will normally be without a valid residence permit for 8-12 months, even if they submit the renewal request in time.
Over the past two years, since the pandemic began, there have been more delays and irregularities with the residency process than ever before. Based on the decision of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, immigration services were closed during the first lockdown and remained closed until the summer of 2020. Since then, they have only accepted citizens of third countries by appointment and for specific reasons. There have been two recent developments in this particularly difficult situation for which the only ones who bear no responsibility are the citizens of third countries. These developments will result in the revocation of legal residence for many immigrants.
Critics have accused the ruling party of Greece of using the refugee crisis to distract from the country’s political and social crises. They claim that the government is imposing severe restrictions and attacking the basic rights of refugees and immigrants. The police have also been accused of targeting refugees on the streets, with reports of increased harassment and arrests in recent months.
The renewal process for ADET of beneficiaries of international protection is a structural deficiency of the Greek asylum system, denounced among others by the Ombudsman, the National Commission for Human Rights, the European Commission and the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA). The Greek authorities have not taken into account recommendations made by RSA earlier this year in a public consultation on the Draft Integration Strategy, with a view to streamlining the procedure.
Drakou emphasizes that the worst problem for refugees is the challenges related to social rights. Without residency, they are at risk of losing their job: “I often speak to my clients’ employers and explain the situation to them,” she says.
Refugee Support Aegean reported last October that without a valid residence permit (Άδεια Διαμονής Ενιαίου Τύπου, ADET), refugees have no access to social rights such as housing, employment or social welfare. They are also unable to authorize a lawyer to legally represent them, for want for valid identification documents to certify their signature before public authorities.
In light of these issues, it is clear that the Greek government must take immediate action to address the delays and difficulties faced by refugees in obtaining and renewing residence permits. The rights and well-being of these individuals must be protected, and the government must work to ensure that all refugees have access to a fair and efficient process for residence permit renewals. Failure to do so will only serve to perpetuate the suffering of those who have already fled persecution and conflict in their home countries.