UNHCR urges EU investment in asylum support for Greece

Briefing Notes, 26 October 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 26 October 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

It was announced yesterday (Monday) by the European Commission that the Greek Government has requested the deployment of Rapid Border Intervention Teams from FRONTEX, the EU's Border Management Agency, to assist at the land border between Turkey and Greece.

UNHCR understands the difficult situation that Greece faces. The land border between Turkey and Greece has become the main entry point into the EU for irregular migrants and asylum seekers. According to Greek government sources, several hundred people are now crossing this border on a daily basis. And the toll in human lives grows by the month. Of crossings at the Evros River we know of forty-four drowning this year, while the actual number is believed higher. A new disappearance was reported only last week.

Of those who make it across, some are returned to Turkey under an arrangement between Turkey and Greece. The humanitarian situation on the Greek side of the border is critical, with large numbers of persons detained in extremely difficult conditions, as recently highlighted by the UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture Mr. Manfred Nowak after a visit to the area. Shelter, medical care and psycho-social support are all needed in this situation.

While recognizing the imperative of controlling the EU's external border, UNHCR cautions that asylum needs must not be overlooked. UNHCR urges the FRONTEX teams to make sure that any persons who are seeking international protection are identified and referred to the competent authorities. This is currently a particular challenge in Greece, as the asylum system does not function properly. Access to the procedure is difficult at best, and according to UNHCR's direct observation, the procedure itself does not succeed in identifying persons in need of protection. For these reasons, UNHCR has been working closely with the Greek authorities and with EU partners on the proposed reform of the asylum system. UNHCR welcomes the Greek government's intention to reform its asylum procedure. However, this reform is not yet in place.

UNHCR urges the European Union and its member states to show solidarity with Greece by accelerating support to help the Government to bring its asylum system up to standard. In the meantime UNHCR continues to call on other European governments to refrain from sending asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin II mechanism.

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George Dalaras

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