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COVID-19 in Greece: How the government manages access to asylum in time of pandemic

 In response to the Corona virus COVID-19 the Greek government through acts of legislative content and ministerial acts  has gradually provided restrictions since the end of February 2020.

One of the first measures was the shutdown of the Greek-Turkish borders.Invoking the article 78 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which provides for the adoption of provisional measures in emergency migratory situations at external borders, Greece announced the suspension of all asylum applications. The government’s decree was introduced on March 2nd and, approved by the Parliament, the regulation entered into force on March 26th (L. 4681/2020). No asylum requests were registered, and people receive no assistance. The measure was supposed to last a month and had to be lifted on 1st April, however due to the outbreak the Asylum Service has suspended its operation. Asylum seekers are detained andtaken immediately to reception centres, which are severely over-crowded. Aiming to restrain contaminationthe Greek authorities are imposing a 14-day quarantine on all newly arrived asylum seekers on Lesbos. This led to more than 150 asylum seekers being abandoned on the island’s northern shore during March and the beginning of April. Even though the 14-day period has since passed, they have yet to be registered, they have received no information about their status, no access to crucial medical services, and they are sleeping on the beach. Among the new arrivals are two babies, two unaccompanied children, a man with a physical disability and a woman suffering from rheumatic disease.

According to the Oxfam till the end of March, the Greek authorities have blocked at least 2,500 people from seeking asylum in the EU. 
Following the governmental decision the nationwide lockdown has been extended till the 4th of May. There is no information on deportations however NGOs have reported push-backs and returns of those found entering the Greek borders. The government has extended restrictions on the movement of refugees and migrants living in camps or accommodation centres throughout the country until May 10. 
To facilitate access of asylum seekers and immigrants to medical assistance Greece issued temporary healthcare numbers - Temporary Number of Insurance and Healthcare for Foreigners, PAAYPA/ΠΑΑΥΠΑ, which grants them access to the public healthcare system. The numbers are issued automatically together with their asylum seeker’s card by the Asylum Service. 

Vasiliki Karzi
ANTIGONE - Information and Documentation Center on Racism, Ecology, Peace and Non-Violence 

Kseniya Homel
The European and Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs

Greece Suspends Acceptance of New Asylum Applications, https://greece.greekreporter.com/2020/03/02/greece-suspends-acceptance-of-new-asylum-applications/, [02.03.2020]. 
Temporary Number of Insurance and Healthcare for Foreigners (PAAYPA/ΠΑΑΥΠΑ), https://cheering.eu/2020/04/02/temporary-number-of-insurance-and-healthcare-for-foreigners-paaypa-%CF%80%CE%B1%CE%B1%CF%85%CF%80%CE%B1/, [02.04.2020].
OXFAM & GCR briefing for Lesvos amidst the coronavirus, https://www.gcr.gr/en/news/press-releases-announcements/item/1420-oxfam-gcr-briefing-for-lesvos-amidst-the-coronavirus