Refugees in Greece are seeking asylum again – in Belgium

Athens: Increasing numbers of refugees are leaving Greece where the lack of an integration policy leaves them unable to find shelter and work. Belgium has emerged as a new destination, but the host country argues that asylum cannot be shifted from one country to another.

Edo is disenchanted with Greece. Despite holding refugee status since April 2021, the political refugee from Congo spent several years in Greece without the slightest hope of integrating. “I wanted to believe in it, but there was nothing for me there,” he said. “You are given a status but it’s only a piece of paper, you have no chance of integrating and finding work. The Greeks want us to leave.”
Edo left Greece by the end of 2021, and set down his suitcases in Belgium. “Did I have a choice? I knocked on many doors but I never found work. I looked for cleaning jobs, jobs as a garbage collector…I was rejected everywhere. I was told: ‘The work is for Greeks’. I experienced racism too. Some people made the sign of the cross when they would see me, as if I were the devil.”
Edo decided to leave to start afresh: he filed a new asylum claim in his second host country. “I knew it would be complicated,” he admitted. Edo first made a request to theOffice of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRA), but it was dismissed. He then filed an appeal to the Foreigners Litigation Council (CCE) and he is still waiting for the judge’s response. “I hope the Belgians will give me a new chance here,” he said.

Cases like Edo’s are not rare. “We have been seeing more and more cases from Greece and also Bulgaria,” said Armelle Philippe, a Belgian lawyer and specialist in foreigners’ law. “Just this morning [March 13, editor’s note] I received two new cases filed by refugees from Greece. Despite having valid papers, these are people who are homeless there, who were beaten by the Greek police, or were not treated despite serious pathologies.”
Since last December, the CCE was contacted four times for this type of case: each time, they involved refugees from Greece and Bulgaria. “The phenomenon is not new, but it seemed essential to us to ensure that the information on this issue was updated,” said Jean-Christophe Werenne, a judge at the CCE.

A recent press release acknowledged that the situation in Greece and in Bulgaria “can sometimes be problematic”, but upheld that asylum can’t be shifted from one country to another.

Two of the four files presented to the CCE were dismissed and the two others were “canceled”, meaning thy were sent to the CGRA.

Is not impossible in theory to submit a new asylum application. “Yet these are not simple cases to defend, we must be able to prove that the refugees are in a situation of extreme material deprivation,” said Mr. Phillipe. “It is extremely rare for Belgium to grant asylum to these people who already benefit from protection elsewhere.”
The CGRA explains the reason on its website: “It is automatically assumed that an asylum seeker who already received refugee status in another country of the European Union does not need protection in Belgium since all EU member countries must respect the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees the fundamental social rights of refugees.”
“There is also the notion of mutual trust between member states,” explained a member of CIRÉ, a Belgian association for the defense of foreigners. “It’s very complicated to disavow another member state, it would be like saying, ‘Greece is failing, it doesn’t know how to protect its citizens, we will grant you asylum in Belgium’. All this can create diplomatic tensions.”
Yet certain files obtain a positive response. “[Despite the trust between Member States] during his hearing, an asylum seeker can provide evidence to prove that he can no longer benefit from the protection granted by another EU country,” wrote the CGRS.

Edo is counting on this aspect to defend his case. “I am not protected by Greece since despite my refugee status, this country has not helped me find a roof over my head, find a job or even give me financial aid. Instead, they treat me like (I’m) nothing.”
Many refugees have for years been unable to build their lives due to a lack of integration policy in Greece. They receive practically no aid from the state. An exception is the Helios program, set up in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), but very few statutory refugees access it. In addition, only people who were granted asylum after 2018 or living in state-provided housing are eligible.

The same problem exists with ESTIA, the important Greek refugee housing program. Funded by the European Union, it had more than 20,000 housing units but ended definitively in 2022. The Greek Ministry of Immigration in 2023 announced that it would not renew the program, despite the European Commission’s commitment to continue funding until 2027.

Belgium is not the only country concerned by these “double asylum” cases. France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland were also alarmed by the “considerable” number of refugees from Greece submitting new asylum requests. In June 2021, they even informed the European Commission.