UNHCR urges Greece to step up implementation of asylum reform

UNHCR calls on Greece to accelerate implementation of its planned asylum reform. This is in light of the absence of a functioning asylum system.

Asylum-seekers are interviewed about their application in Greece.  © UNHCR/J.Björgvinsson

GENEVA, September 21 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Tuesday called 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 European Union (EU).

"The conditions for asylum-seekers in Greece, which is among the principal entry points to the EU, are notoriously difficult," a UNHCR spokesman, Adrian Edwards, told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday. He noted that most asylum-seekers receive no assistance, while many live on the streets, including women and children.

The refugee status determination system does not operate properly and, as a result, people needing international protection are not identified as such. "This is a humanitarian crisis situation which should not exist in the European Union," Edwards said.

The spokesman stressed that 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," he said. "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." Under Dublin II, asylum-seekers found moving within Europe must be sent back to the country where they made their application.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch called on UNHCR to intervene and take on responsibility for refugee status determination in Greece in light of these shortcomings. Edwards said UNHCR noted 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.