Last week, a group of mainly Syrian women and children began a protest outside the Greek parliament in Athens to demand that they are reunited with family members elsewhere in Europe.
Like many refugees in Greece, both on the island and the mainland, the protestors are waiting for family reunification. This is their legal right, according to the EU’s own regulations under Dublin III, and yet they are often left stranded in Greece for a wait between ten months and two years.
“Our family ties are stronger than your illegal agreements,” read one banner. “Reunite our families,” said another.
Family reunification procedures are protracted, complex, and often difficult for refugees to access. The process begins when an individual submits an asylum application, with a request to be reunited with family members who are residing elsewhere in Europe. From this date, the host state has three months to submit a Take Charge Request (TCR), which seeks to pass the decision-making responsibility on the individual’s asylum claim to the country where their family members reside.
The Greek office charged with such applications has, in the majority of cases, reached or missed the deadline to send the requests to the other EU countries. As a result, it reverts to submitting the applications under the discretionary clauses. Not only does this cause longer waiting periods, but it also results in a vast number of applications using discretionary clauses, which should in fact be reserved for humanitarian or other extenuating circumstances.
Furthermore, if a TCR is sent after the time period has elapsed, the receiving country no longer has a responsibility to respond to the request – it does so only at its discretion. This means that valid TCRs can be rejected, simply on the basis that the receiving state has no responsibility to consider the application because it is out of time.
After the TCR application has been submitted, two decisions must then be provided: first, regarding the TCR itself, and second, regarding the asylum application itself. In the case of family reunification to Germany, the estimated average time from the German decision until transfer was reported, in August, to be between 8 and 9 months. When taken with the long waits for Greece to submit a TCR, and for the German authorities to make a decision, the overall wait period can be as long as two years.
“Valid and accepted family reunification claims are taking months, even years to be processed,” said Daniel Taylor, legal support volunteer in Athens.
“This is ripping families apart and causing constant, daily anguish for families who are separated – knowing that they have a legal right to be together, yet clueless as to why that legal right is not being translating into reality,” he continued.“The cost of such delays for these families, in terms of their welfare, mental health, education and future prospects, is immeasurable.”
It should be noted that a letter from Greek Migration Minister Mouzalas to his German counterpart, leaked in May 2017, suggested the existence of an unofficial agreement between the two countries to limit transfers under the Dublin Regulation. While this has been denied by both governments, employees of the Dublin Unit in Greece reportedly informed refugees that a maximum of 70 persons would be transferred per month.
Dalal Rashou, a 32-year-old from Syria, is among the protesters outside the Greek parliament. She has five children, one of who is in Germany with her husband.
“I have not seen my husband, my child, for more than one year and nine months,” she said. “I miss him, and every day I am here in Greece I cry. I don’t want to stay here, I want to go to my husband!”
Family reunification is a right, and one enshrined in European law. The ongoing delays to reunite vulnerable individuals with their families, for which EU member states are responsible, needlessly prolongs their suffering.
As the weather grows colder, and refugees face another winter in deplorable conditions, it is incumbent on European states to fulfil their legal obligations and reunite families at the earliest possible opportunity.
Some of the families protesting in Athens were profiled by Refugee Support Aegean here. For further information on family reunification, see the briefing note by Stiftung PRO ASYL and Refugee Support Aegean, which this article drew heavily from.
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