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Legislation Impacting Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Radicalisation Efforts

Legislation Impacting Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Radicalisation Efforts

Greece happens to be one of those countries that do not recognise the presence of national minorities within the country. Part Two of the Greek Constitution, which covers personal and social rights, guarantees equality only to Greeks. In particular, Article 4 (1) of the Fundamental Law states that all Greeks are equal before the law, and the second part of the same Article sets forth that the Greek men and women have equal rights and duties. Evidently, this part of the constitution does not refer to the citizenship per se, as subsections 3,4,5 and 7 of Article 4 clearly indicate that the stated points apply only to the citizens of Greece. That is, the Greek legislation deliberately treats all citizens of the country as Greeks without the appropriate recognition of the existence of the national minorities, which, in fact, is also characteristic of the French law and a number of others.

The official census does not keep record of different ethnic backgrounds of the population, which in turn is viewed as “a throwback to the times of the Ottoman Empire” by the authorities. Meanwhile, about 10% of the Greek population de facto consists of the national minorities. These groups are Albanians (5%), Macedonians (1.6%), Macedonian Romanians (1.1%), Orthodox Roma (1.8%), Armenians (0.5%), Turkish (0.5%), Serbs (0.3%), Arabs (0.3%), Pomaks (Bulgarian-speaking Slavic Muslims) (0.2%), Jews (0.05%) and a number of other smaller ethnic groups.

At the same time Greece recognises the culture and language rights of the Armenian community only, which has its own, albeit limited, culture and language autonomy.

According to the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923 Greece acknowledges the presence of a religious Muslim minority only in Western Thrace, home to about 110,000 Muslims (according to the official statistics there are 130 000 Muslim people resident in Greece, yet some researchers estimate the population to be at 140 - 150 thousand ), which is about 30% of the population.

As for other member of the minorities: ethnic Turks, Pomaks, Macedonians, Slavs and the Romany, their rights to ethnic identity, as well as culture and language autonomy, are not recognised. Athens officially generalise this population as “Turkised” and “Islamised” Greeks.

The practice among the courts of first instance in Macedonia and Thrace to obstinately refuse to register the associations of citizens the names of which would include “Turk” or “Turkish” was deemed illegal by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2008. Currently, Greece is appealing this decision.

As a result of the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 the Muslim minority of Western Thrace has been able to retain their religion and language. In accordance to the Articles 45 and 41 of the framework, the Greek government guarantees access to public education in the “mother tongue” for the Muslims in Western Thrace in their places of compact settlement. Yet due to the authorities regarding the entire Muslim population of the region as Turkised, the “native” language in the Western Thrace is set to be Turkish and occasionally Arabic. Consequently, despite the individual groups speaking Slavic languages that are within the category of Muslims in the region, teaching in schools does not always correspond to the commitments undertaken by Greece. This policy has led to the strengthening of the Turkish language and culture in the region at the expense of the Slavic culture. Consequently, the large Pomak community in Western Thrace was heavily Turkised. As of the 90's, being influence by the EU and fear of potential strengthening the Turkish influence in the region, Greece gradually began to rectify the situation by encouraging the growth of Pomak self-awareness and stimulating preservation of their language and culture. Other Muslim population that resides in the central regions of the country is not entitled to enjoy even these privileges.

There is no legislation that would protect ethnic minorities in Greece. The country has not acceded to the major international agreements that protect their rights due to refusing to recognise the presence of the minorities.

In addition, as the Greek Orthodox Church is not separate from the state, Muslims who are resident in the country encounter administrative obstacles and legal restrictions regarding their religious practices. This issue concerns the construction of places of religious institutions and the functioning of the religious schools of other religions in particular.

Article 13 (2) of the Constitution states that “all known religions shall be free and their rites of worship shall be performed unhindered and under the protection of the law”. Moreover, the same article of the Constitution prohibits “performing religious rites that offend public order or moral norms” (although the essence of the concept of “moral standards” is not disclosed) and proselytism.

The emphasis on the popularity of a religion can be found already in subsection 3 of the same article of the Constitution, as well as in Article 14 (3a), which concerns the inadmissibility of “ offence against the Christian or any other known religion”. These constitutional provisions are open to abuse, and are in fact directed against the so-called “sects”, and any alternative religion may become part of this category in Greece.

In 2010, Greece adopted the Law 3838 / 10 “Current provisions for Greek citizenship and political participation of repatriated Greeks and lawfully resident immigrants and other adjustments” which points directly at the inability of either active or passive participation in the elections for foreigners of “non-Greek origin” even if they are lawfully in the territory of the country.

Article 347 of the Criminal Code deems underage homosexuality illegal, lifting the “age of consent” up to 17 years (for heterosexual relationships it is set to 15 years), and LGBT-prostitution is also criminalised.

According to the law №.3719 / 2009 only heterosexual people may enter civil partnership, thus this act discriminates against LGBT. On November 7, 2013 the ECHR adopted a resolution condemning Greece for prohibiting same-sex couples from entering civil partnership.

Articles 198 and 201 of the Criminal are dedicated to punishment for blasphemy, because many human rights activists believe that they seriously limit freedom of speech.

The law requires one to pay a fee of 100 Euros when filing a complaint against the police, which is unaffordable sum for certain groups of people.

On February 8, an amendment to the electoral law has been approved. According to the amendment, immigrants who have a residence permit, as well as Greeks permanently living abroad, lost their active and passive suffrage in local and regional elections.

In March 2020, the Greek Parliament adopted amendments to immigration law that make significant changes to asylum procedures, the rights and obligations of asylum seekers, reception and detention, and economic, social and cultural rights. Some of the amendments are presented below:

  • Vulnerable groups amendments. The law no longer includes persons with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the category of "vulnerable" asylum seekers. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a common condition among many who are recovering from traumatic experiences or experiencing difficult migration routes. Thus, a significant group of asylum seekers has been excluded from the most protective standards provided for them in European law. Similar concerns apply to proposals to require survivors of torture to have their status confirmed by public medical institutions, excluding private certification by NGOs or other bodies. This requirement has no basis in European law and could create significant obstacles for asylum seekers in this category, especially considering that in continental Greece there have been no public health structures to certify torture victims as required since 2018, and the relevant functions are mainly performed by NGOs.
  • Expedited border procedures and "safe third countries" lists. The amendments shortened the time frame for asylum applications and appeals. Rules on accelerated and border procedures, including for vulnerable cases, as well as the lists of "safe third countries" will be developed for this purpose. The use of safe third country rules is not guaranteed and has been widely contested by the immigrant rights community because it is based on the often inaccurate assumption that a country is safe enough for an asylum seeker to seek protection there, largely ignoring personal factors or objective changes in the conditions of the country itself. Overall, these changes risk exposing asylum seekers to serious violations of their rights, both in terms of their effective access to asylum procedures and their protection from return to dangerous conditions.
  • Procedural Rights in First Instance and Appellate Proceedings. The law is being amended to affect various stages of the proceedings. Among other things, it allows access to information about the reasons for a negative decision in first instance, as well as the possibility to address, only at the request of the applicant, the violation of international standards of effective remedies. In addition, the obligation to cooperate with the authorities during the procedure is increased, and failure to comply is unjustifiably seen as grounds to consider the request manifestly unfounded, which is of particular concern and jeopardizes applicants' right to a fair procedure for their asylum applications. These changes also risk putting applicants at risk of repatriation because the automatic stay of appeals is eliminated when applications are denied as manifestly frivolous or not considered on the merits. Although applicants may file a separate stay application, this provision does not explicitly address the standards of European case law when a decision places a person at serious risk of torture or other ill-treatment.
  • Access to health care, the labor market, and education. The amendments create serious obstacles to the full enjoyment of the economic, social and cultural rights of asylum seekers in Greece. The law proposes to limit the material conditions of reception, i.e. economic assistance, for asylum-seeking children who are not enrolled in public schools, as well as for adult members of their families, in violation of the spirit and purpose of children's right to education, as provided for in Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and their independent right to an adequate standard of living. Access to work for registered asylum seekers is no longer granted immediately, but only after 6 months, which undermines the already difficult economic situation of refugees in Greece. The amendments reduce the grace period for recognized refugees from six months to 30 days for the transition from organized residence and basic support to independent living. Refugees will have to move from asylum-seeker assistance to general welfare once they are recognized as refugees by the Greek asylum authorities.

The goal of providing more resources and facilities for asylum seekers is well understood, and the Greek reception system is facing a shortage of places. Recognized refugees need to free up much-needed housing for asylum seekers waiting their turn in overcrowded reception centers in the Greek Aegean islands. There are more than 31,000 women, men and children living in the five island reception centers for fewer than 6,000 people. There are about 6,500 places in the reception centers, but almost 32,000 people live there . It should be taken into account that only one in five asylum seekers has legal assistance.

Forcing people to leave their homes without social protection, as well as measures to ensure their self-reliance, can plunge many into poverty and homelessness. Most refugee victims have no regular income, many are families with children, single parents, victims of violence, and others with special needs. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the measures to reduce its spread create additional problems by limiting people's ability to move and find work or housing.

Refugees are eligible for several national programs that provide minimum guaranteed income, housing support, and other benefits to the most vulnerable. In practice, however, they face obstacles in accessing support. Among those who must leave their homes now are 4,000 refugees living in the UNHCR-run "ESTIA" accommodation scheme, funded by the European Commission. Eligibility for the program is determined by the Greek government. UNHCR manages ESTIA throughout Greece in partnership with municipalities and NGOs, and significant collaborative efforts have been made to promote integration and empower refugees to participate in the social life of their host communities. ESTIA provides safe and dignified housing for 22,700 vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees.

Changes in detention rules are also of particular concern. Asylum seekers risk long periods of detention in Greece with more limited legal remedies, in clear violation of international standards, according to which asylum seekers should generally not be detained.

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