5 December 2014

“We escaped from death in Syria. We escaped from death in the Aegean. We want to live with dignity in Europe”, demand the more than 150 Syrian refugees who, since 19 November, have been staging a protest in front of the Greek Parliament in Athens. For more than two weeks, Syrian men and women, both young and old, have taken to the streets to denounce the appalling conditions they are facing in Greece. Tens of protesters have been transferred to hospital due to hypothermia and as a result of the hunger strike started by many of them on Monday 24 November.

After having used their savings and borrowed money to reach Europe, many refugees are struggling to get by in Greece, and demand that the Greek government helps them to provide food, housing and medical care for them and their families, and allows them to move to other European countries. “Crisis-hit Greece alone cannot support the weight of accommodating war refugees (…) The only solution for ourselves and our families is to have the right to go to another country to start a new life of dignity for our children,” said Nander Halbuni, one of the protesters.

However, the Dublin system requires that, as a general rule, asylum seekers must seek protection in the first European country they reach. Although the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly condemned Greece for degrading treatment of asylum seekers and other Member States do not formally return asylum seekers to Greece, those who can’t afford to pay smugglers to be taken to other European countries remain stuck in Greece.

The Greek Refugee Council called on the Greek authorities to provide Syrian refugees with housing and food, meet their immediate medical needs and offer welfare benefits to their families, regardless of whether the refugees have lodged an asylum application. 

The head of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Greece George Tsarbopoulos underlined the right of people applying for asylum to join their family members in other European countries. UNHCR recommended that Greece take measures to ensure the integration of Syrians who have been granted asylum in Greece by using the funds that the European Union allocated for this purpose. Finally, UNHCR stressed the need for more solidarity amongst EU member states in order to avoid countries of first arrival, like Greece, being overburdened by the current Syria crisis.

According to Eurostat, 395 Syrians applied for asylum in Greece from January to September 2014, while close to 5,000 Syrians were detected crossing the Greek-Turkish border from April to June 2014 alone, according to the EU Borders Agency Frontex.

From January to September 2014, 73,775 Syrians sought protection in the 28 countries of the EU. 3.2 million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.


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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 5 December 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.