Greece - Attica Regional Asylum Office, 24 October 2013, GT [2013] Application No. 95/000186182

Country of Decision:
Country of Applicant:
Date of Decision:
24-10-2013
Citation:
G.T [2013] Attica Regional Asylum Office 95/000186182
Additional Citation:
Case number 755
Court Name:
Asylum Service, Attica Regional Asylum Office
National / Other Legislative Provisions:
Greece - Αναγκαστικός Νόμος 389/1968 (Φύλλο Εφημερίδας Κυβερνήσεως 125 Τεύχος Α) (Emergency Act)
Greece – Decree No. 141/2013 on harmonisation of Greek legislation with the recast Qualification Directive
Greece – Decree No. 113/2013 on establishing a uniform procedure for harmonisation with the recast Asylum Procedures Directive
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Headnote: 

The Applicant's claims that he would be in danger in Syria because of the civil war there were accepted, because he was a Christian and is considered an enemy by both sides and because he left his country illegally and applied for international protection. The Applicant's fear of being killed as a non-combatant in the civil war was considered to be well-founded. It was considered that there was a reasonable chance that he would be arrested and mistreated since the Syrian state would perceive him to have political beliefs since he had lived abroad and would be considered to be opposed to the regime. Internal relocation of the Applicant was not possible because if the Applicant were to return to any region of Syria he would be at risk of suffering serious harm because of the indiscriminate violence and also because the actor of persecution was national/governmental. The Applicant was recognised as a refugee.

Facts: 

According to his statements, the Applicant was a citizen of Syria born on 15.1.1985 in Aleppo, Syria. He, like all his family, was a Christian. He left Syria on or about 3.11.2012. According to his claims, his reasons for leaving were the war and the fact that he was a Christian.  He was afraid to return because he would be killed at the border when they discovered that he was a Christian and because he would be at risk of arrest by the regular army because he left Syria illegally and sought asylum in another country. The Applicant submitted an application for international protection at the Attica Regional Asylum Office on 12.7.2013 and attended an oral hearing on 23.7.2013.

Decision & Reasoning: 

The Applicant was deemed to be generally credible. Extensive references were made to country of origin information. The Applicant's claim that he could be at risk because he was a Christian was accepted; but his claims that Christians are killed every day at roadblocks or that all Christians have the same stance against the war were not accepted. There was not deemed to be a reasonable chance that his life would be at risk from both armies because he was a Christian, nor that his fear of this was well-founded, because it was decided that – despite the rise in the number of attacks on Christians – the research did not reveal evidence that the persecution of Christians was generalised. The kidnappings and some murders which had occurred seemed to be targeting specific people e.g. rich Christians, patriarchs etc. and the Applicant did not have those characteristics. Also, his family had lived throughout the period in a region of Syria controlled by the regular army and they had not faced any threats to their lives because they were Christians. His fear that he would be killed at the border because he was a Christian was also not considered to be well-founded. The Applicant's claim that a civil war is being conducted in Syria and that the Applicant was not safe was accepted, and his fear of being killed as a non-combatant during the civil war was considered to be well-founded since the war in Syria was generalised and all of its citizens were in danger. The Applicant's claim that anyone who had left the country illegally was arrested by the authorities, detained as a political prisoner and mistreated (because the government considered them to be traitors and dissidents) was accepted; and it was considered that there was a reasonable likelihood of him being arrested and mistreated or even killed during his detention (because the Syrian state would perceive him to have political opinions because he had lived abroad and would be considered to be opposed to the regime) and that his fear of this was well-founded. The risk cited by the Applicant could be seen as “persecution” to the extent that there was a strong possibility that there was a threat to his life, physical integrity, security and liberty. The reason for him being at risk of persecution was his political opinion. Protective refugee status is recommended even in cases where a person did not previously have an established and publicly-known political position, if there is a reasonable chance that the person could be seen as being sympathetic to the opposition and be perceived to be a dissident. The rapid spread of violence since fighting broke out in the country of origin and the continued deterioration of the situation led to the conclusion that if the Applicant returned to any area of Syria he would be likely to suffer serious harm because of the indiscriminate violence, since the nature of the violence is such that can one cannot determine with certainty which areas will be affected in the near future – and, in any case, the actor of persecution was national/governmental – and, therefore, relocation of the Applicant was not possible.

Outcome: 

The Applicant was recognised as a refugee. There was no possibility of expelling him.

Observations/Comments: 

This was one of the first positive decisions by the new Greek Asylum Service which was established by Law 3907/2011 and began operating in June 2013, and which has taken over the police service's role in the reception, examination and judgment of submitted applications for asylum.

It is interesting that it was accepted that the Syrian authorities considered seeking asylum abroad to be an expression of a person's opposition to the Syrian government. Such people are detained and interrogated by the security services; and, generally, people who have left Syria illegally face arrest, detention, searches and mistreatment upon return. So, the reason for him being at risk of persecution was his political opinion. Furthermore, it was expressly stated that refugee status is recognised even in cases where a person did not previously have an established and publicly-known political position, if there is a reasonable chance that the person could be seen as being sympathetic to the opposition and be perceived to be a dissident. It is particularly significant that refugee status was recognised with this reasoning since the vast majority of Syrians now fleeing the war leave the country illegally and apply for international protection in other countries.

Furthermore, in relation to the element of persecution, it is interesting to note the extensive references made to general conditions of detention in Syria (which were characterised as dangerous since detainees can be subjected to mistreatment or torture which could even lead to death).

Finally, in relation to assessing the current security situation in Syria, it is interesting the Asylum Office accepted that the rapid spread of violence since fighting broke out in the country of origin and the continued deterioration of the situation led to the conclusion that if someone who had applied for international protection were to return to any area of the country he would be at risk of suffering serious harm because of the indiscriminate violence. The “serious harm” which was mentioned can, in any case (i.e. even if refugee status is not recognised), establish a right to be granted subsidiary protection under  Article15(c) of the Qualification Directive (individual threat against a non-combatant's life or physical integrity because of the use of indiscriminate violence in cases of international or internal armed conflict).

Other sources cited: 

Amnesty International, Amnesty International Annual Report 2013: Syria, 23.5.2013

Amnesty International, Amnesty International Annual Report 2012: Syria, 24.5.2013

Amnesty International, Civilians bear the brunt as battle for Aleppo rages, 23.8.2012

Australia: Refugee Review Tribunal, Syria: 1. Will applying for asylum in Australia result in difficulties on return to Syria? Would asylum seekers be arrested and prosecuted for distributing false information about Syria? 2. Do Christians face systematic harm from Muslims in Syria, particularly Damascus? 3. Does the state provide protection to Christians if harmed by Muslims?, 15.4.2011

Council of Europe: Parliamentary Assembly [Resolution 1902/2012], The European response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, 2.11.2012

Hands off Cain 2010 Report, undated

Human Rights and Democracy: The 2012 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Report, p. 233

Human Rights Watch, Syria: Attacks on Religious Sites Raise Tensions, 23.1.2013

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Syria: The situation of Christians, including acts of violence against them: positions held by Christians in President al-Assad’s regime (July 2012 – January 2013), 24.1.2013

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Syria: Situation and treatment of Christians since March 2011: whether insurgents perceive Christians to be loyal to President Assad: treatment of Christians by insurgents in Homs, 29.6.2012

United Kingdom: Home Office, Operational Guidance Note: Syria, 15.1.2013, Syria OGN v. 8

United States Department of State, 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom – Syria, 20.5.2013