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15th Apr 2024

Finland halts migrant transfer to Greece after UN criticism

Finland has suspended sending migrants back to Greece following the UN refugee agency's sharp criticism of conditions faced by asylum seekers in the Mediterranean country.

Finnish immigration minister Astrid Thors on Friday (18 April) announced that only if they receive written guarantees that migrants will be fairly processed, will they return migrants to Greece.

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  • Refugees arriving in Europe are poorly treated by the Greek authorities, according to the UN (Photo: Notat)

Last week, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees recommended that European states halt the sending of refugees to Greece, complaining that procedural norms and conditions were not being met.

"[Refugees] often lack the most basic entitlements, such as interpreters and legal aid, to ensure that their claims receive adequate scrutiny from the asylum authorities," the UN agency said in a statement.

As a matter of course, Greece arrests all migrants missing the appropriate documentation and detains them for three months.

According to EU rules in place since 2003 – the so-called Dublin II Regulation - the first EU member state that a migrant enters should be the one to examine his or her asylum application, meaning that other member states regularly send asylum claimants back to Greece, as the country is often the first EU country a migrant steps foot in.

Greece argues that this puts an undue burden on it as well as other EU border states such as Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Malta.

Athens has denied accusation that it handles asylum seekers poorly. At the end of March, the Greek minister of the interior, Procopios Pavlopoulos, wrote to his Slovenian counterpart – Slovenia currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU - and requested that European justice ministers discuss the matter.

Greece respects the human rights of migrants and "EU fundamental values" at all times, Mr Pavlopoulos said in the letter.

The letter said that police and port authority officers "carry out their duties with eagerness and self-denial abiding by the Greek Constitution and legislation."

It went on to say that "third-country nationals" are "received by State officials with all due respect comporting to the principles of human rights."

"It is often the case that State officials do more than their duties dictate."

However, the Finnish move is not the first time a European country has halted sending refugees to Greece. In February, Norway - which together with Iceland is a signatory to the Dublin agreements without being part of the EU - suspended all such transfers, and Germany shortly followed by ending the return of unaccompanied minors to the country.

In March, a Swedish migration court refused the extradition of an Iraqi asylum-seeker to Greece, fearing he would not receive proper treatment.

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