News Stories, 10 January 2007
ATHENS, Greece, January 10 (UNHCR) – Goodwill Ambassador George Dalaras has been busy in recent weeks finding out about refugee issues in Greece and will soon visit Africa to see UNHCR field operations at first hand.
The popular Greek singer and musician, who was appointed a UNHCR goodwill ambassador in October, last week visited the Athens Aliens Police Directorate with a UNHCR delegation.
In mid-December, Dalaras met Minister of Public Order Vyron Polydoras and discussed refugee protection issues in Greece. He plans to hold further discussions about refugees and the work of UNHCR with the ministers of interior and health in the coming weeks.
Dalaras also hopes to visit refugee camps in Sierra Leone and Liberia from February 12-18. Details are yet to be finalised, but this will be his first formal visit overseas as a UNHCR goodwill ambassador.
During the January 3 visit to the Athens Aliens Police Directorate, Dalaras toured the rooms where asylum seekers are interviewed, visited cells that are used to hold illegal immigrants as well as asylum seekers, and met detainees. He heard about measures that had been implemented to speed the processing of asylum seekers and deter economic migrants from seeking asylum in a bid to prolong their stay in Greece.
Dalaras and the UNHCR representatives said it was important to keep upgrading the quality of the asylum procedure so that guarantees for the protection of refugees would not be sacrificed for speed. Dalaras also proposed a pilot programme for the observation of asylum procedures by trained volunteers.
"It is very important that asylum seeker claims are examined in a fair, fast and efficient way and that they live in humane conditions. I want to contribute so that these rights are protected," he said during the visit, adding: "Refugee protection is not a matter of compassion; it is a matter of social solidarity, human rights principles and the state's obligation."
Although Dalaras has been a UNHCR goodwill ambassador for less than four months, his relationship with the agency causes goes back several years while the singer's mother was a refugee from Asia Minor. He will be starring in a UNHCR benefit concert at the Athens Concert Hall on January 30.
By Ketty Kehayioylou in Athens, Greece