News

29 March 2021

Arbitrary fines for lowering protection mask to drink water - Greek Ombudsman calls on Chios police to comply with the law

On 24th March 2021, the Greek Ombudsman replied to a Report that Equal Rights Beyond Borders submitted in January 2021, because asylum seekers on Chios were arbitrarily and discriminatorily fined for violating the restriction of movement that was imposed due to COVID-19. The letter of the Ombudsman was addressed to the Police on the island of Chios and requested inter alia to review all objections against the respective fines already submitted on behalf of the residents of the EU Hotspot Vial and to re-issue decisions which include the required reasoning and justifications and to stick to the law in the future.

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The Greek Ombudsman, as an Independent Authority in charge of mediation between citizens and public services, accepted our report submitted in January 2021 that was based on the experiences of six asylum seekers. We represented the asylum seekers by submitting objections to the police of Chios on the grounds that the fines were unjustly imposed. It was noted in the report that the fines were imposed even when the criteria for their imposition were not met:

  • one of the asylum seekers was fined for not wearing a mask while he was brushing his teeth in front of his tent in the EU Hotspot (RIC) of Vial

  • one of them was similarly fined for not wearing a mask when he just removed it for few seconds on the street in order to drink a sip of water

  • two were fined that did not wear a mask while being outside with no persons around - by police officers not wearing a mask themselves

  • some of the represented individuals had correct certifications of movement - that are needed for asylum seekers in Greece to move on the island - and were nonetheless fined.

All of the fines were imposed without explaining to the asylum seekers the reasons why they were imposed in a language they could understand.

Equal Rights Beyond Borders submitted objections against the unlawful imposition of such fines in the six above mentioned cases but they either did not receive any reply from the police, or they received vague and non argumented replies beyond the time limits prescribed by the relevant legislation. In issuing these rejections the police did not follow the correct legal process: no justification, nor any reasoning -even a brief one- were included in the decisions, nor did the rejections followed the formalities of publicity of a typical administrative act, meaning there was no protocol number, no name of the specific instrument of the authority (the employee), who signs under the so-called administrative decision, which is, in practice, nothing more than an unsigned and completely plain e-mail, but is considered to be an administrative decision.

Hereinafter, the Ombudsman accepted our report and, following an analysis of the existing legal framework and obligations of the Police Authority, reached the following conclusions:

  1. to review all the objections already submitted for the concerned residents of the RIC and to re-issue decisions which include the required reasoning and justifications
  2. to implement, in the future, all the relevant provisions for the imposition and re-examinations of administrative fines

  3. to provide the Ombudsman with all available information in their possession regarding:

    1. How many fines have been issued during the period of validity of the measures of restriction of movement against the residents of the RIC;

    2. How many objections have been submitted against those fines;

    3. How many objections have been accepted and how many have been rejected under a reasoning or under no reasoning and required justification”

It concluded by inviting the Police Directorate to let the Ombudsman know their view and inform them about the decisions that will be taken.

We will be waiting for a reply from the police Authority which is expected to answer to the Ombudsman with the required information and to take individual measures for the applicants concerned. We already deem the intervention of the Greek Ombudsman of great value and importance. We are confident it will be a valuable step for the upholding of the rule of law and for the correct implementation of legislation in an equal and non-discriminatory manner.

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On how COVID-19 is faced in the EU Hotspot Vial, we recommend also reading our report on the imposed measures.

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