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Greece: Spotlight on asylum-seekers' difficulties

UN refugee agency puts spotlight on difficulties of asylum-seekers in Greece

Pointing out that few people have been granted asylum in Greece in comparison with its European neighbours, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today launched a country-wide campaign to express its concern that Greek authorities are discounting over 98 per cent of asylum applications.

“UNHCR accepts that many asylum applications are unfounded but at these levels of rejection many genuine refugees are being left without a status and are finding themselves in a very vulnerable situation in Greece,” said Karen Farkas, the agency’s representative in the country, responding to the Government’s assertion that the vast majority of these applications are not valid.

Because of Greece’s location at the border of the European Union and at the crossroads between Asia, Africa and Europe, considerable numbers of migrants enter the country every year, UNHCR said.

Most of those caught entering illegally are arrested and placed in administrative detention, usually for the maximum legal term of three months. In 2004, UNHCR said, Greece granted overall recognition, including humanitarian status, to 0.9 per cent of applicants. The average equivalent figure in other EU member states that year was 26.4 per cent.

These figures rose slightly in 2005, but, except for two cases that year, virtually all asylum seekers were rejected at first instance, including medically certified torture survivors, the agency maintains.

“States have a legitimate right to monitor their borders in view of growing irregular migration and security concerns,” Ms. Farkas said. “But within the large flow of people that come to Greece are a small number of men, women and children who are seeking safety, some of whom have special needs.”

Ms. Farkas added that UNHCR is working with the Greek authorities to create border control mechanisms that help identify people seeking asylum at the earliest possible stage. “Some steps forward have been made with the previous Cabinet and we hope that we will be able to continue building on these in order to improve the situation in Greece and allow refugees to live in safety and dignity,” she said.

The awareness campaign is using an image of a see-saw to illustrate the fate of asylum seekers, which UNHCR said hangs in the balance between being accepted as refugees by the authorities or rejected.

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