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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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.

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