On Wednesday, UNHCR presented its protection considerations and recommendations regarding Syrians in Greece. UNHCR calls on the Greek authorities to facilitate access to the territory for Syrians as well as unhindered access to asylum procedures. Furthermore, UNHCR’s Head of Office in Greece, Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, emphasised that until the security and human rights situation in the region has sufficiently improved, no Syrians should be deported back to Syria or neighbouring countries. UNHCR emphasized that Syrian refugees should not be detained and that their expulsion orders or return decisions should be suspended.
Major General Emmanuel Katriadakis of the Greek Ministry for Public Order and Citizen’s Protection said that an order has been in effect since 9 April, according to which Syrians may only be detained for ‘a few days’ in order to identify their origin. There will also be a six-month suspension on all return orders of Syrians, with the possibility of renewal every six months until the situation is back to normal.
Reacting to the announcement, the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), Member of ECRE, said: “We welcome the Greek government’s announcement to provide protection to Syrian asylum seekers and refugees and we look forward to seeing that this is actually enforced by the relevant national authorities. We will continue monitoring the situation through our visits to detention centres across Greece”
Although according to official statements, no Syrian national has been deported by Greece in 2012, some testimonies received by UNHCR and other human rights organisations from Syrians refer to having experienced ‘push-backs’ or informal returns from the Greek border.
Of the 152 Syrian nationals who received a decision in first instance on their asylum application during 2012 in Greece, 150 were rejected and two were granted international protection.
According to the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection, 7,927 Syrians were arrested for irregular entry in Greece in 2012. 1,276 Syrians were arrested in the first quarter of 2013.
Detention discourages Syrians from applying from asylum, GCR says: “Whether they hold papers or not, Syrians are kept in detention centres for six months. In cases where they apply for asylum, they are held in detention for 12 months following the submission of their claim for asylum. Together with their distrust of the Greek asylum system, this is the main reason for which they do not want to apply for protection”.
Asylum seekers in Greece may be detained for up to 18 months, while conditions in detention and reports of ill-treatment and police brutality continue to receive intense criticism from human rights groups and have resulted in hunger strikes, suicide attempts and riots.
Aitima, another of ECRE’s Greek member organisations has underlined that unaccompanied children, families, victims of torture and the sick are all systematically detained in Greece, as well as migrants who have no possibility of being deported. The NGO emphasizes that this is not only contrary to national and international law, but an unnecessary additional cost to the already over-stretched Greek state. Aitima urges the authorities to put an end to the detention of asylum seekers, to investigate the allegations of detainees’ ill-treatment, and issue six-month stay permits for individuals whose deportation is not feasible.