A story of struggle & perseverance

March 8, 2023

A story of struggle & perseverance, image

By WeMove Europe

This is a story about turning the tides of cruelty in EU migration policies — and how it couldn’t happen without you. About how the WeMove Europe community came together to protect our right to asylum and hold EU lawmakers to account. And it’s a story of how we won.

In March 2020, Greek police fired tear gas and smoke grenades at hundreds of people fleeing war and poverty. [1] And decided to suspend new asylum applications. [2] The Greek authorities blatantly ignored international law, and treated fellow human beings seeking safety without dignity. [3]

Rather than protect people, EU leaders chimed in to issue their support. We were shocked by these tweets from Presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel:

At this moment, the WeMove Europe community refused to be bystanders. Almost 100,000 of us joined the campaign, calling on the EU to stop this violence and to force Greece to reinstate the right to asylum. [4]

Predictably, when the EU Commission President said she was too busy to meet with us, we knew we needed to go beyond a petition. So we secured pro bono lawyers and got to work.

In September 2020, alongside the legal team at De Brauw, we filed a complaint — together, we called on the EU Commission to start an infringement procedure against Greece.

It was the first time we’d used a legal tactic like this. Many people said it wouldn’t work, that we were being too ambitious and that EU leaders would ignore us. Experts said we likely had less than a 2% chance of being successful.

Nevertheless, we persevered. Thousands of WeMove Europe members chipped in to fund the specialist research to gather the evidence to back up the complaint.

Over three months, we collected evidence of the systemic abuse of people on the move in Greece. In 67 detailed pages, we described how Greek authorities were violating their rights and breaching EU law. [5] We then partnered with Oxfam and argued that the European Commission, as the guardian of EU law, had a responsibility to intervene.

Our complaint hit the headlines too, and was covered by Der Spiegel, EU Observer, Il Giornale, La Vanguardia, Die Zeit, to Le Figaro to name just a few.

After we didn’t hear back for a few months, WeMove Europe supporters sprung to action with tweet storms, emails and petitions to EU lawmakers, asking them to take this complaint seriously.

Over the next two years, COVID happened, but our community kept working to protect people on the move. WeMove Europe staff met regularly online with the Commission staff handling the complaint. And we never gave up. Whenever they asked for more evidence, we were ready especially thanks to the help of Oxfam, Human Rights Watch and the Greek Council for Refugees.

And at the end of January 2023, after almost three long years of waiting, pushing and pressuring, we heard the good news. We had won. Against all odds, the EU Commission had started an infringement notice against Greece and other European countries. [6]

Greece and others must now end their violations of asylum laws or risk being taken to court. [7]

And evidence shows that this infringement notice directly references issues raised in our complaint — including the protection of unaccompanied children and the arbitrary detention of those seeking asylum. [8]

Over three years ago, when this crisis worsened in Greece, the WeMove Europe movement refused to be bystanders. And it’s been a marathon to secure this win. It’s taken perseverance and years of work.

But things are slowly starting to change — together, via this infringement notice to the Greek authorities, our movement has sent a clear message to all EU leaders: that our asylum laws must be respected and people deserve to be treated with dignity.

Thank you for being a part of this.


[1] The Guardian: Greece and Bulgaria crack down on Turkish borders as refugees arrive: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/28/tensions-rise-between-turkey-and-russia-after-killing-of-troops-in-syria

[2] The Independent: Greek police fire teargas at hundreds of migrants on Turkey border: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/greece-turkey-refugee-crisis-tear-gas-police-border-a9366456.html

[3] Human Rights Watch: Greece: Violence Against Asylum Seekers at Border: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/17/greece-violence-against-asylum-seekers-border

[4] WeMove Europe: Petition titled ‘Humanity First’: https://act.wemove.eu/campaigns/humanity-first-greece-turkey

[5] WeMove Europes and Oxfam International: Complaint to the European Commission Concerning Infringements of EU Law by Greece: https://oi-files-d8-prod.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2020-09/wemove-oxfam-complaint-to-ec-asylum-greece-eu.pdf

[6] European Commission: January Infringements package: key decisions: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/inf_23_142

[7] Oxfam press release on infringement: https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/european-commission-launches-infringement-proceedings-against-greece

EUobserver: Greece faces possible court over 'prison-like' EU-funded migration centres: https://euobserver.com/migration/156678

[8] Just last week, a leak in a Greek newspaper, published confidential letters between the EU Commission and the Greek Government. Efsyn: Greece apologizes for refugee issues: https://www.efsyn.gr/ellada/dikaiomata/376712_apologoymeni-gia-zitimata-prosfygon-i-ellada

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