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18th Jan 2020

Greece under fire over refugee treatment

Greece is facing growing pressure over the way it treats asylum seekers arriving to its territory, with a group of 63 refugee-assisting organizations urging all EU capitals to immediately suspend transfers of applicants to the Mediterranean country.

On Thursday (3 April), the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) issued open letters to EU governments as well as the European Commission, calling for the red light until Greece fully complies with EU and international law.

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  • Greece gave the green light to only 0.04% of asylum requests in 2007 - many are from worn-torn Iraq (Photo: Jan Oberg)

The letter cites "the unacceptable conditions for asylum claimants in Greece, the obstacles to accessing a fair determination procedure and the risk of other serious human rights violations" as reasons for the move.

"Greece is not a safe place for those in need of protection," Bjarte Vandvik, the head of the ECRE, said.

The country has been under the spotlight over possible breaches of asylum seekers' rights for quite some time.

On 7 February, Norway - a signatory to the Dublin agreements, a set of criteria designed to establish which EU state is responsible for examining an asylum claim - became the first country to suspend the return of asylum seekers to Greece.

Germany has stopped transferring separated children back to Greece, while the European Commission decided in January to challenge Athens' refugee practices at the EU's top court.

The commission criticism centres around the fact that unauthorised departure of an asylum seeker from Greece leads to a withdrawal of their asylum application and discontinuation of the asylum procedure.

According to refugee-assisting organizations, the approval rate of asylum seekers' applications in Greece is also alarmingly low. In 2007, out of a total of 20,692 claims considered, only 140 asylum seekers were granted refugee status and 23 were granted humanitarian status.

Wider problem

However, Mr Vandvik believes that the current problems in Greece are "only a symptom of fundamental and far-reaching flaws inherent in the Dublin system".

Under the rules, responsibility over an asylum seeker usually lies with the member state that played the greatest part in the applicant's entry into or residence on EU territory.

"After ten years in operation, the Dublin system still fails to achieve its aims," the ECRE's head said, underlining that "responsibility is assigned but not carried out".

The European Commission is set to further harmonize the rules on how asylum seekers should be treated in all 27 member states, with concrete proposals expected later this year.

Brussels believes that a change is necessary to reduce secondary movements of applicants within the bloc, known in EU jargon as asylum shopping and refugees in orbit.

The ECRE, for its part, has tabled four key recommendations - to suspend transfers to states that cannot guarantee fair examination of asylum claims; to better ensure the reunification of family members; to improve solidarity between states; and to introduce a special procedure for cases involving children and other vulnerable groups.

"The EU can surely find a better system than the current one which bounces vulnerable refugees around Europe like ping pong balls, with devastating consequences for those unlucky enough to land in countries which lack proper asylum systems," Mr Vandvik concluded.

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