[:en]Thousands of families fleeing the war cannot be reunited because the EU does not fulfil the right to family reunification. In 2016, the requests for reunifying families have duplicated, but only 11% of requests have been resolved.


The “Separated” report by Action Aid on the 50.000 refugees in Greece, the overwhelming majority coming from Syria, reflects serious violations of human rights by the European Union and Greece, which prevent the reunification of families who were separated in their flight from different armed conflicts, while failing the relocation with which European countries committed themselves in September 2015.


Action Aid has found, in a study that includes 50 interviews, that the EU definition of “family” prevents parents from being reunited with their descendants over the age of 18 and, what is more, that refugees are not adequately informed of their right to apply for this reunification.


Since the border between Greece and Macedonia was closed on 20 March 2016, the 50.000 people trapped in Greece have only two ways to leave: by relocating into another European state or by requesting a family reunification with someone who already is legally in the EU. For those who have arrived after that date, they are either returned to Turkey or can only leave the closed spaces where they are confined by the second option, family reunification. To clarify the legal “limbo” in which they live, Greece offered them to pre-register to receive “international protection”, a first step for their relocation, a process that 28.000 people fulfilled. However, those on Greek islands didn’t have the possibility to request it.


Many of those interviewed in the “Separated” report say that they were not informed of their right to family reunification or their subsequent relocation, even though international human rights law and standards make it very clear that the family should be protected and reunited whenever possible, and that the interests of children must always be a priority. The EU Regulation 604/2013 itself, known as “Dublin III”, stipulates that Member States should cooperate to ensure family reunification whenever possible, with a special concern for minors with family in the EU. But the definition of “family” used by the EU does not include siblings or adult children, or dependents such as disabled, elderly or pregnant members of the family.


Syrian woman, 53 years old, Moria, Lesvos

“I was travelling with my niece but she left to Germany irregularly. Now I am here alone. I have two boys in Germany. They are 24 and 21 years old. I have applied for the family reunification but I have been told that they are too old and maybe I cannot go there. I am going to stay here alone? I wish at least I could be aware of the process”.


Syrian woman, 50-year-old, Skaramagas, Athens

“I am tired. I am here seven months with my two daughters 21 and 11 years old. My husband, my 16-year-old son and my ten-year-old daughter are in Germany. We left Aleppo for a better future but we haven’t found it yet. We have the asylum seeker card and we have applied for family reunification. I don’t know how long will take this situation but I cannot take it anymore. Two days ago, I was thinking of drowning myself in the sea”.


The figures on family reunification, however, are revealing: in 2015, 1.082 people applied for asylum and 744 were accepted, while in 2016 there were 2.446 requests but only 283 achieved their objective (11%), a 62% less than the previous year. In fact, even when meeting all the requirements, the waiting time to resolve the files can be more than eight months, even if there is a minor in another European country.


If the host country refuses family reunification, there are not sufficient legal remedies for an applicant to appeal against a negative decision on their family reunification application. Instead it is up to the state (in this case, Greece) to reapply and resend the application for family unification to the respective member state for reconsideration. In practice this means that when an application for reunification is rejected, applicants have no legal means to appeal directly against this decision. A long administrative legal procedure could be started in the country where they are located, but with uncertain results. Family reunification then can be postponed for years, or never take place at all.


Relocation will take 15 years

Looking at the relocation of the 50.000 ‘trapped’ in Greece, the situation is no better. Of the 14.667 requests made between January and September 2016, only 4.637 people were moved to another EU country – less than one third – although in September 2015, the European Union and the Member States agreed on a two-year plan to relocate 160.000 asylum seekers. According to the report, “at this pace, it will take the EU almost 15 years to relocate them”. Of these, it is worth remembering that Spain promised to receive 17,000 before September 2017, of which only 687 have arrived up to 15 December 2016. In any case, refugees who arrived after 20 March 2016 are not eligible for this relocation. Neither are Afghans, even if they are fleeing a war. Only Syrians, Iraqis and Eritreans are eligible.


On the other hand, applicants cannot choose the EU State that will examine their application for asylum. Although they are given a list to choose from among eight countries, they can actually be accepted by any country, even an unselected one. In addition, immediate relatives who want to be relocated together are rarely granted, which creates a situation of special vulnerability for women travelling alone with minors.

In all of this, among the refugees, the general complaint is the lack of information, as reflected in the “Separated” report.


Given this situation, Action Aid and Alianza por la Solidaridad require the EU and Spain, as one of its Member States:

  1. Broaden the definition of family for the purposes of refugee family reunion to allow adult asylum seekers to be reunited with their parents, siblings and adult children and grandparents, as well as recognise the role of dependents’ caregivers
  2. Ensure that all asylum seekers are fully informed of their rights
  3. Ensure applicants have the right to an effective appeal against a negative decision
  4. Provide Greece with the resources – financial and human – to ensure that it can meet its obligations and respect the rights of asylum-seekers in Greece
  5. Ensure that all member states participate in the relocation scheme, fulfilling the principles of solidarity and responsibility sharing, according the quotas allocated in 2015



To the Government of Greece, they demand:

  1. Make legal aid available for family reunification applications and make the application process clear and accessible to all interested asylum seekers; precise information should be given on the process itself and the time limits involved
  2. Ensure that applications are dealt with swiftly to avoid people being left in limbo and with uncertainty regarding their future
  3. Ensure that the Greek Asylum Office is sufficiently resourced and has investment to swiftly process family reunification applications


Rosa M. Tristán, Alianza por la Solidaridad 

Thursday, 20 December 2016[:]