UNHCR says asylum situation in Greece is 'a humanitarian crisis'

Briefing Notes, 21 September 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 21 September 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is today calling on Greece to urgently accelerate implementation of its planned asylum reform. This is in light of the continued absence in Greece of a functioning asylum system, an issue with important implications for the wider EU.

The conditions for asylum-seekers in Greece, which is among the principal entry points to the EU, are notoriously difficult. Most asylum-seekers receive no assistance. Many live on the streets, including women and children. The refugee status determination system does not operate properly and as a result, persons needing international protection are not identified as such. This is a humanitarian crisis situation which should not exist in the European Union.

UNHCR welcomes Greece's plans to implement a far-reaching reform of its asylum system even in the face of current economic challenges. We also appeal to the European Union to step up its assistance to help Greece to comply with its international and European obligations. Until such time as an asylum procedure meeting international standards is in place in Greece, UNHCR reiterates its recommendation to other European countries not to send asylum-seekers back to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation. Yesterday, in a statement, Human Rights Watch called on UNHCR to intervene and take on responsibility for refugee status determination in Greece in light of these shortcomings. UNHCR notes this recommendation, but emphasizes that responsibility for asylum rests with the state, and as an EU member, Greece is bound by European Union legislation to have laws and procedures for dealing with people seeking asylum.

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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

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

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