As part of our efforts to monitor access to the COVID-19 vaccines for undocumented migrants in Europe, we’re speaking with national-level advocates about the situation in their countries. This interview was conducted in July 2021 with Lefteris Papagiannakis of Solidarity Now to discuss the situation in Greece. It is not meant to offer an exhaustive picture of the legal and practical context in Greece. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have information you’d like to share, and follow our Twitter page @PICUM_post to get more recent updates.
What does the Greek vaccination strategy say about undocumented migrants?
The Greek vaccination strategy says nothing about undocumented migrants. This is something we, and other NGOs, try to raise every time we meet with public health officials, but the political environment is very hostile. There’s like an allergy to talking about undocumented migrants.
How does the mainstream booking system work? Is that accessible to undocumented migrants?
To register for your COVID-19 vaccine, you need a social security number. This is needed whether you book it online, at citizens’ services centres or pharmacies. EU citizens and refugees can access a temporary social security number, but many may not have it in practice for bureaucratic reasons. For undocumented migrants, such a number is not available.
Greece has a large migrant population who live in so-called refugee camps. Is anything being done to reach those people?
Vaccinations against COVID-19 have started in main camps in mainland, but they don’t reach everyone. For instance, people who get a second rejection of their asylum claim are not given the vaccine.
A lot depends on the person’s residence status, which is a complex matter in Greece, and especially inside the camps it can change from one day to the other.
Are there any risks of immigration enforcement as a result of people trying to access the vaccines?
We don’t have a formalised ban against public services sharing personal data with immigration authorities. So it can happen that undocumented patients get reported. But this is almost a non-issue in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, as undocumented people aren’t even able to book their shot.
Update from September 2021:
Since July, the Greek government has established and convened meetings of working groups to discuss access to the COVID-19 vaccines for undocumented migrants in the country. Despite this positive step, no practical measures have been implemented to address persisting challenges.
Registration still requires having a social security number, and so remains problematic. Under a circular issued in May, undocumented people with documents from their country of origin can use them to register for a social security number to book and get their vaccination. But some do not have even these documents – and for many who do, they are fearful of registering because of possible immigration consequences.
Furthermore, specific groups of undocumented migrants face different challenges, depending on if they live in the “camps” on the islands or mainland; in the city, where many work in the hospitality sector, or as domestic workers, or vendors; or in more remote regions on farms doing seasonal work.
Humanitarian organisation INTERSOS has launched the campaign “Vaccines for All” to open up access to COVID-19 vaccines for undocumented people in Greece. The campaign calls for the removal of existing barriers to vaccinations, including simplified registration, and a clear statement from the government that everyone in Greece can be vaccinated, without fear of immigration consequences. It also aims to raise awareness and build trust among migrant communities around the vaccination. The campaign is joined by the Greek Forum of Migrants and the Greek Forum of Refugees as implementing partners.
Update from November 2021:
On 2 October 2021, the Greek government published Law 4839/2021, which includes a provision making it possible for undocumented people and stateless persons in Greece to obtain a provisional social security number (PAMKA) so that they can register for COVID-19 vaccination.
The law (Article 32) law indicates that undocumented migrants will not be deported if they seek access to the vaccination process. Undocumented migrants will be issued a PAMKA exclusively for the COVID-19 vaccination, the receipt of the relevant certificate and for receiving COVID-19 self-tests.
The law (Article 31) foresees that NGOs and municipalities will have a role in the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccines. But the practical implementation has to be detailed in a future joint ministerial decision from the Ministers of Health, Digital Governance, Labour and Social Affairs, and Migration and Asylum.
The measure has been welcomed by advocates as a positive step towards addressing systemic barriers faced by undocumented people in getting the COVID -19 vaccines in Greece, although there is frustration that the inter-ministerial decision needed to implement the law has yet to be agreed. In the meantime, migrants’ rights organisations are rolling out community-based initiatives to inform migrants in Greece of their rights, to address their questions about the vaccine and to encourage strong uptake when it becomes available.
Humanitarian organisation INTERSOS continues the campaign “Vaccines for All” for the COVID-19 vaccines for undocumented people in Greece, including updating the website Vaccines for All daily with information and latest news on vaccination against COVID-19, translated into different languages. The campaign is joined by the Greek Forum of Migrants and the Greek Forum of Refugees as implementing partners.
Cover: Christophe Meneboeuf – http://www.pixinn.net