UNHCR position document issued

Briefing Notes, 18 April 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 18 April 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has issued a position document advising governments to refrain from returning asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin Regulation until further notice.

The Dublin Regulation provides for a system to determine responsibility for examining asylum claims lodged in the European Union according to specific criteria, and aims to ensure that each claim is fairly examined by one Member State to deter multiple applications and enhance efficiency.

While the Government of Greece has taken a number of steps to improve its asylum system and practice, a substantial number of asylum seekers continue to face serious challenges in accessing and enjoying effective protection in line with international and European standards. Essential procedural safeguards are not guaranteed throughout the refugee status determination process, both at first and second instance, to the detriment of asylum seekers. They also often lack the most basic entitlements, such as interpreters and legal aid to ensure that their claims receive adequate scrutiny from the asylum authorities.

As a result, asylum seekers continue to face undue hardships in having their claims heard and adequately adjudicated. Moreover, reception conditions in Greece continue to fall short of international and European standards.

UNHCR calls upon the Government of Greece to promptly review its asylum procedure at first and second instances and in so doing take in due consideration UNHCR's advice. Furthermore, other governments and the European Commission are encouraged to reinforce their support to Greece.

UNHCR remains committed to continue supporting the Government of Greece in strengthening its asylum system to a level reflecting international and European standards and good practice.




UNHCR country pages

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

International Migration

The link between movements of refugees and broader migration attracts growing attention.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

George Dalaras

George Dalaras

The makeshift camp at Patras

Thousands of irregular migrants, some of whom are asylum-seekers and refugees, have sought shelter in a squalid, makeshift camp close to the Greek port of Patras since it opened 13 years ago. The camp consisted of shelters constructed from cardboard and wood and housed hundreds of people when it was closed by the Greek government in July 2009. UNHCR had long maintained that it did not provide appropriate accommodation for asylum-seekers and refugees. The agency had been urging the government to find an alternative and put a stronger asylum system in place to provide appropriate asylum reception facilities for the stream of irregular migrants arriving in Greece each year.The government used bulldozers to clear the camp, which was destroyed by a fire shortly afterwards. All the camp residents had earlier been moved and there were no casualties. Photographer Zalmaï, a former refugee from Afghanistan, visited the camp earlier in the year.

The makeshift camp at Patras

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

Greece: A New Registration CenterPlay video

Greece: A New Registration Center

In Greece, the total number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year stands now over 400,000. The small island of Lesbos, a popular tourist resort, has been at the frontline of this influx of arrivals. On a calm day, up to 5,000 migrants and refugees arrive here.
Italy: Maya's Song Play video

Italy: Maya's Song

Nawaf, his wife and children are used to the sea, they lived by it and Nawaf was a fisherman back in Syria. They never imagined they would be boarding a boat that was a one way passage out of Syria. Nawaf was on the run after brief time in detention were he was tortured. By the time he release, he was blind in one eye. Now safely in Europe the family is looking forward to restarting their life in Germany, to having their 6-year old daughter go to school for the first time.

Greece: Refugee Crisis in EuropePlay video

Greece: Refugee Crisis in Europe

Over 100,000 refugees have arrived to Greece by sea this year. UNHCR is mobilizing emergency teams, resources and delivering basic humanitarian assistance in order to address the most urgent gaps and support government efforts. Volunteers, local communities and NGOs are providing invaluable assistance but they need support.