30 January 2015

In its observations on the situation of asylum in Greece published today, UNHCR recommends that other EU countries continue to refrain from returning asylum seekers to Greece.

While welcoming some improvements in Greece’s asylum system -such as reforms which have led to a reduced waiting time for asylum decisions, improved quality of interviews and decisions, and the observance of procedural guarantees- UNHCR underlines that serious problems still remain in Greece’s asylum system.

Accessing the asylum procedure is still difficult and a backlog persists of more than 37,000 appeals pertaining to cases under the previous procedure. People who do not manage to apply for asylum risk being detained arbitrarily in poor conditions, without an individual assessment or without alternatives to detention being considered. They are also at risk of being returned to a country where their life or liberty could be in danger.

According to UNHCR, in 2014 alone, around 43,500 refugees and migrants arrived in Greece across the Mediterranean. The largest number of people came from Syria (around 60%), followed by Afghans, Somalis and Eritreans. In contrast, as of 20 October 2014, there were only 1,063 reception places in the country. UNHCR notes that the lack of accommodation and employment opportunities frequently leads to destitution and homelessness for asylum seekers and refugees. Furthermore, asylum seekers, and in particular those who are homeless, are at risk of racist attacks.

According to UNHCR, a considerable number of people in need of international protection, such as Syrians, do not wish to apply for asylum in Greece and move on to other European countries. For those asylum seekers who stay and are granted protection, integration prospects and related support for people granted asylum are practically non-existent.

Furthermore, UNHCR continues to document accounts of pushbacks at the Greek-Turkish land and sea borders.

EU Member States do not currently return asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin Regulation but NGOs have documented pushbacks of migrants and asylum seekers from the Italian Adriatic ports to Greece, under a readmission agreement between the two countries. Last week, it was reported that Germany will not return asylum seekers to Greece for a further year, even if Greece would be deemed responsible for the examination of the asylum claim according to the criteria established by the EU Dublin Regulation.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 30 January 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.