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Greece: Boat arrivals from Turkey dramatically up this year

Briefing notes

Greece: Boat arrivals from Turkey dramatically up this year

5 October 2007

While the numbers of irregular arrivals by sea in Italy and Spain are decreasing - by as much as 60 percent in the case of the Canary Islands - the number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Greece by boat from Turkey has increased dramatically this year. Among those arriving by boat are Iraqis, Afghans and Somalis.

The average number of people arrested, intercepted or rescued by the Greek Coast Guard every year since 2002 has been around 3,000. So far this year, there have been almost 4,500 such cases, according to Coast Guard figures. The Greek Police quote even higher figures, reporting close to 5,000 people arrested in the islands of Samos, Chios and Lesvos alone.

In Samos, the Greek police reported some 2,400 people arriving irregularly by boat during the first eight months of the year, compared with 1,580 for the whole of last year, and 455 in 2005. The situation was similar in Lesvos, with 1,926 people arriving as of August this year, compared with 1,766 for the whole of last year and 1,696 the year before.

As a result of the increase in the number of arrivals, detention centres in Samos, Chios and Lesvos are experiencing serious problems of overcrowding.

This week, following a regular visit to Samos, we expressed strong concerns regarding conditions at the holding centre there, with increased overcrowding and a lowering in the standards of hygiene representing serious health hazards. UNHCR called for the immediate closure of this centre.

We welcome the announcement by the Interior Ministry of Greece that all persons currently in the old centre will be transferred to a newly built centre in Samos which will open at the end of this month.

Asylum seekers in Greece include an increasing number of Iraqis, as well as people from other countries in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and South Asia. In the first six months of this year alone, some 3,500 Iraqis applied for asylum in Greece, the second highest number in any industrialised country, after Sweden. This figure includes people arriving by land and air as well as by sea.

Irregular entrants in Greece face major difficulties to access asylum procedures. These include lack of information about their rights and asylum procedures, lack of qualified interpreters and insufficient legal aid. A guide to asylum procedures in Greece published by the Greek Ministry of Public Order with UNHCR's help is expected to contribute to ameliorate the situation.