Monday, November 7, 2011

Greece: The pressure is on to fix a failing aslyum system

Asylum seekers wait in Greece, photo by Moises Saman
 In addition to the problems Greece's government seems to be having of late with corruption, there are several factors compounding their migration woes. On the one hand, the border between Greece and Turkey is the main entrance point for people fleeing to Europe, making Greece a reluctant EU gatekeeper (alongside a disincentivized Turkey.) On the other hand, you have Dublin II which makes it EU policy to send asylum seekers back to their first entry point in the Union to be processed. In other words, even if plenty of people make it out of the country, Greece can't realistically escape from being a major asylum-seeker center.

The government currently has a giant backlog of asylum applications, a small percentage of which have a chance of being reviewed any time soon if past numbers are anything to go by. As of January 2011 , UNHCR set the number of asylum seekers at over 55,000, and rumor has it that a many people have been waiting more than 10 years to be reviewed. In January the government promised to streamline procedures and set deadlines for decisions, but its not clear that much progress has been made. The events of the last few weeks suggest that the problem is actually getting worse.

On October 26, UNHCR called for a monetary intervention on the border in language that pretty clearly accused the government of wrongdoing (and possibly torture?)
The humanitarian situation on the Greek side of the border is critical, with large numbers of persons detained in extremely difficult conditions, as recently highlighted by the UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture Mr. Manfred Nowak after a visit to the area. Shelter, medical care and psycho-social support are all needed in this situation.
In addition, the press release implied that the current asylum in procedure in Greece is unavailable to most asylum seekers and unable to identify individuals at risk of refoulement.

Quickly coming to the rescue, Norway announced on November 3rd that they would inject 160 million kroner (c.a $28 mil) into Greece's asylum system, to be funneled through the UN. The Memorandum of Understanding, which also involved IOM and other NGOs in Greece, apparently targets the funds for reception centers, in particular for health care for arrivals.

But in the meantime, those asylum-seekers who have been residing in Greece for the last decade face legal limbo, discrimination, and arbitrary procedures. According to a press release this week from the Greek Council for Refugees, there have been recent mass arrests in Athens, leading to abbreviated asylum procedures that violate Greece's own procedural safeguards. It seems that these actions were an attempt to speed up procedures after recieving so much negative attention for their backlog. However, I think the Greek Council for Refugees puts it best:
The attempt of the Ministry of Citizen’s Protection to complete the asylum procedures of as many asylum seekers as possible in the briefest possible time period is obvious. But these actions must not only be aimed at finalizing the procedure but they should be in accordance with the law and protect these people and their rights.

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