HIAS Greece Secures First Civil Marriage License For Syrian Refugees

MYTILINI, GREECE—In a precedent-setting ruling, a Mytilini county court has recognized the right of a Syrian refugee and asylum seeker living in Greece to receive a civil marriage license. The July 13 ruling followed the first legal action in Greece seeking a civil marriage license for Syrian refugees who did not have the required documentation. HIAS Greece, which has been providing legal aid in Lesvos since July 2016, represented the couple in the case. The two are set to marry in early August in the Municipality of Lesvos. 

The female asylum seeker’s application to marry her partner, who had already been recognized as a refugee, was initially rejected by the Municipality of Lesvos, due to her inability to provide a certificate of celibacy and a birth certificate. However, HIAS successfully argued that in view of her ruptured relationship with her country of origin, failure to produce such documentation should not stand in the way of receiving a marriage license or forming a family.

“This litigation is part of our overarching strategy to help advance the legal integration of refugees in Greece,” said Rachel Levitan, associate vice president of program planning and management at HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees. “We are striving to ensure that the minimum guarantees for asylum seekers and refugees set out in the European legal framework are enacted and upheld by Greek authorities.”

By ruling in favor of the HIAS clients and granting them the right to a civil marriage license, the court opened the door for acknowledgement of other social rights not yet being granted to refugees in the country.

“It’s another level of recognition,” said HIAS Greece country director Vassilis Kerasiotis.

“This decision is also a recognition of the constitutional right of any human being in Greek territory to establish family life according to the European Convention of Human Rights,” Kerasiotis added. “The court has shown that these rights are not just a right in theory, they’re also something that is applicable in reality.”

In its ruling, the court explained that the protection of the fundamental rights to contract marriage and to family life must prevail over the security of Greek family law, which is safeguarded by specific civil and criminal law provisions. Hence, the court found that the missing documents can be substituted by a simple sworn statement and proceeded to grant the applicant the requested marriage license.


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