In its latest report on refugee protection in Greece, UNHCR highlights serious shortcomings in the country’s asylum and reception systems and the lack of a comprehensive plan for the integration of beneficiaries of international protection. Furthermore, UNHCR urges the Greek authorities to stop systematically detaining persons arriving irregularly in the country and to step up its efforts to prevent and combat racist violence.

While welcoming the start of operation of the Regional Asylum Office of Attica, in the context of the new civil Asylum Service, in June 2013, UNHCR urges the government to secure sufficient staffing of the New Asylum Service and establish Regional Asylum Offices in other areas of the country to ensure access to the asylum procedure.

Greece remains one of the main gateways to the EU for refugees and migrants. However, UNHCR highlights that reception capacity for asylum seekers stands at 1,000 available places – including those for unaccompanied children – thus meeting only 56% of all requests made in 2012.

In March 2013, the first operating First Reception Centre was opened in the Evros region, signifying an improvement in the registration of newly arrived migrants and refugees and the coverage of their basic needs. However, all other relevant border locations lack the necessary first reception mechanisms.

UNHCR stresses the importance of systematically referring unaccompanied children to special accommodation facilities, in addition to submitting them to a guardianship system and providing them with special procedural safeguards, taking into account at all times the ‘best interests of the child’.

Persons arriving irregularly in Greece are systematically detained often in conditions below human rights standards. In addition to the detention of persons arriving in Greece in an irregular manner, undocumented migrants arrested in the context of the Operation “Xenios Zeus” are also often detained. Among those detained in pre-removal detention centres are asylum seekers unable to lodge their asylum application and persons who cannot be returned due to humanitarian reasons, which include serious medical conditions or the inability to obtain travel documents.

UNHCR emphasises that an increasing number of persons are attempting to enter Greece by sea via the Greek islands close to Turkey because of strengthened surveillance of the land border in the Evros region. This is, however, a highly dangerous route that has been marked by human tragedies, including the drowning of a 6-year old Syrian girl in May 2013.

UNHCR underlines that border control should be implemented in a way, in which access to territory and to safety is not impeded and does not result in push backs.

In order to combat racist crimes, UNHCR urges Greece to encourage the victims regardless of their legal status in the country to report any threats or attacks against them. According to UNHCR, the existing legal framework, apart from its deficient implementation, fails to address the impunity of perpetrators and adequately protect victims. In particular, UNHCR recommends that undocumented victims and important witnesses should be granted a temporary residence status until the final judgment of the criminal proceeding in order to facilitate the prosecution of the perpetrators.

Regarding the lack of an integration policy, UNHCR underlines that most beneficiaries of international protection remain unemployed and destitute, unable to properly integrate into Greek society.

For further information:

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 20 September 2013.

You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.