Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July 2014, 15:15 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Greece

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 28 June 2012
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Greece, 28 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fedb3fe32.html [accessed 30 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

On 3 January 2011, the Minister for Citizen Protection, Christos Papoutsis, announced plans to build a 12.5 km fence along its border with Turkey, to prevent undocumented migrants entering the country. The minister stated that some 128,000 migrants and asylum-seekers reached Greece in 2010, more than 40,000 of them crossing the border from Turkey at the Evros border post. Greece's land border with Turkey is more than 200 km long, running mostly along the Evros River, and is increasingly used by Asian and African migrants to enter the country since traditional routes across the central and western Mediterranean have been blocked by strengthened maritime surveillance and bilateral repatriation deals between Italy and Spain with various African countries. But it is unlikely that a 12.5 km fence will prevent waves of immigrants from flowing into the country.

Various agencies, including the European Commission, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, expressed concern that the fence would simply make migrants more dependent on people-smugglers and therefore more vulnerable. Fears that many more would drown in the river at the hands of smugglers are compounded by serious shortcomings of the Greek asylum system, which has been described as 'dysfunctional' by the UNHCR. The FRA carried out a field research mission in the Evros region in January and concluded that the humanitarian situation of asylum-seekers and migrants, particularly those held in detention centres, was extremely worrying.

Despite the international outcry, the Greek government moved ahead with plans to build the fence. 'We have unemployment and serious problems', commented Papoutsis, who denounced the 'hypocrisy of those who criticize'. Just days after the announcement of plans to build a fence, Papoutsis put forward a plan to use floating prisons and old army bases to house undocumented migrants. Greece's administrative court subsequently approved the plans to build a fence, and construction began in February 2012, despite the EU's refusal to fund the project.

Also in January 2011, the Greek parliament passed a new law to remove control of asylum-seekers from the police and hand it over to a new asylum service that will deal with a backlog of applications. The law also puts in place a procedure for appeal following the rejection of an asylum request. The move comes after repeated delays. In 2011, the largest groups of people came from Afghanistan (with 44 per cent), as well as Algeria (16 per cent), with other smaller groups arriving from Pakistan, Somalia and Iraq.

In September 2011, Human Rights Watch (HRW) raised grave concerns regarding the conditions of migrants and asylum-seekers kept in detention. Unaccompanied children, single women and mothers with children are housed with unrelated adult men in overcrowded conditions. HRW accused the EU and its member states of becoming 'complicit in Greece's shameful conduct' when a multinational team of FRONTEX (the EU border agency) border guards were deployed along the Turkish border and helped Greece apprehend and detain undocumented migrants. At the same time, the ECtHR fined the Belgian and Greek authorities after Belgium had sent an Afghan back to Greece. In December, the European Court of Justice advised courts in the UK and Ireland that transfers of asylum-seekers to Greece should not take place if their human rights would be jeopardized. By the end of the year, Germany, the UK, Sweden, Norway and Iceland had suspended transfers of asylum-seekers to Greece because of the poor conditions awaiting them there.

The impact of the worst economic and social crisis in Greece's recent history has been felt among the country's minority and migrant populations. The Turkish minority in Western Thrace has been severely affected economically, according to the Anatolia News Agency, as a result of the collapse of the local tobacco industry and small businesses that were their primary source of income. Government restrictions on tobacco-growing had affected the local Turkish community even before the economic crisis, and the small number of factories left in the region have gradually closed.

The economic crisis has weakened migrant workers' labour rights, rendering this group increasingly vulnerable. On 25 January, 250 migrants in Athens and 50 in Thessaloniki began a hunger strike to protest against their living conditions and insecure legal status. The strike ended after six weeks when the government offered a deal for them to obtain residence permits, which ensure continuous employment and social insurance payments.

The legal requirements for acquiring Greek citizenship have changed to allow second-generation migrants who were born in the country or have studied in Greece for six years to apply for Greek citizenship. Further legislative changes have made it easier for long-term residents to vote and stand in local elections. Another initiative established local integration councils that act as consultative bodies for migrants. As the Greece Section of ENAR has commented, these developments were positively received by civil society and migrant communities, but there is still concern over whether these reforms will be implemented effectively.

Social tensions increased between the majority population and minority and migrant communities throughout 2011, according to ENAR-Greece and HRW. The number of racist incidents and hate crimes against minorities and migrants has increased with the rise in the number of migrants and asylum-seekers over past decades. The economic crisis has exacerbated already existing xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in Greece. Local media often associate migrants – and especially Muslims of different ethnic backgrounds – with crime and criminality, ENAR-Greece pointed out. Far-right groups, such as Golden Dawn, with xenophobic, nationalist and anti-immigrant agendas are gaining popularity.

On 6 December 2011, the government proposed a draft measure to tighten Greek laws on speech that incites hatred, discrimination or violence, in line with EU rules on hate speech. In the same month, HRW issued a report on increased racist violence in Greece, welcoming the trial of three people who assaulted an Afghan asylum seeker in Athens in September 2011. This was the first trial of its kind since 1999, even though racist violence in the capital has increased in recent years, reaching alarming proportions in 2011. As HRW stated, this case is just the tip of the iceberg in the crisis-torn country, where the police and state authorities remain tardy and ineffective in responding properly to racist violence.

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