United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Greece, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bc42.html [accessed 9 March 2014]
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At the end of 1997, Greece hosted more than 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included: 1,083 persons with pending asylum applications; some 860 asylum seekers with temporary protection, including 250 Bosnians; and 130 persons granted asylum during the year. During 1997, 4,376 persons applied for asylum in Greece, a 168 percent increase from the 1,635 persons who applied in 1996. As in previous years, most asylum applicants in Greece, a large number of whom were Kurds, came from Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. These three countries accounted for 94 percent of the asylum applications filed in 1997. Iraq produced by far the largest number (3,808), followed by Turkey (172), and Iran (151). According to UNHCR, Greece hosted an estimated 4,000 Bosnians at the end of 1997, 250 of whom did not have a durable solution. During the year, Greek authorities granted refugee status to 130 persons and rejected refugee status for 2,227 others, an approval rate of 5.5 percent. Those granted refugee status included 65 persons from Iraq, 31 from Turkey, and 17 from Iran. Greece provided temporary protection to 94 asylum applicants in 1997, and extended the temporary protection of some 519 others, providing them with renewable, six-month residence and work permits. The Greek parliament passed new legislation in December 1996, amending asylum sections of the Aliens Act. The amendments modify border and admissibility procedures, abolishing the requirement that asylum seekers submit their applications immediately at the border. However, the new law has a "prioritized and accelerated procedure" for applications that are "manifestly unfounded" and also for applicants arriving from safe third countries. At year's end, the law had not yet been implemented. Asylum Procedure Presidential Decree 83 of 1993 makes the Ministry of Public Order (MPO) responsible for establishing criteria for determining the admissibility of asylum applications, for refugee status determinations themselves, for appeal procedures for rejected asylum claimants, and for procedures for revoking refugee status. Rejected applicants may file an appeal with the MPO, but must do so within five days of receiving the negative decision. Appeals are decided within 60 days on the advice of a committee that includes the legal counselor to the MPO, two representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a senior police officer. During the application procedure, asylum applicants must stay at the location they have declared as their home address or residence, or risk discontinuation of the asylum process. Some 350 asylum seekers live in the Lavrion Refugee Center, the country's only center for asylum seekers, operated by the Greek Red Cross. Refugees at the center receive food, clothing, medical care, educational help, and counseling free of charge. Other refugees receive limited help from NGOs, and free medical care and education from the Greek government. Generally, if Greece rejects their applications, it also withdraws asylum seekers' residence permits. If recognized, refugees have the right to work. Persons allowed to stay on other humanitarian grounds cannot work. UNHCR and the Greek Refugee Council called into question Greece's strict admissibility procedure at the end of 1996. The procedure provides that the MPO may rule asylum applications inadmissible if they are not submitted immediately at the border control point or, in the case of unauthorized entry, at the nearest public authority where the applicants present themselves or are discovered. The MPO may also deem inadmissible applications from asylum seekers who do not arrive directly from countries where Greek authorities believe their freedom or lives are in danger. Although applicants can appeal inadmissibility rulings to the MPO within two days of receipt, it has reportedly overturned such rulings. However, in 1997, perhaps anticipating implementation of new legislation, Greece did not reject any applications as inadmissible. Border Enforcement, Expulsions In June, Greece ratified the Schengen Convention, which outlines responsibility for adjudicating asylum claims for applicants who arrive in the countries covered by the convention and provides for the removal of border controls between member states. During the year, hundreds of people, mostly Kurds from Iraq and Turkey, drowned while trying to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece. In July, 35 Kurds were killed when their boat exploded, and 14 Iraqi asylum seekers drowned when their boat capsized. Greek authorities deported more than 180,173 Albanians during 1997. Nine Albanians applied for asylum in Greece in 1997, and none was approved. Following economic collapse in Albania in early 1997, USCR wrote to the Greek embassy in Washington, D.C. on March 14 about the situation of Albanians fleeing to Greece. "Given the explosiveness of the situation there, one cannot assume that safety, either from abuses inflicted by state or non-state actors over which the Albanian government has proven to be increasingly unable to control, can be found anywhere in the country," said USCR. "For that reason, we urge that Greece provide shelter to any Albanians seeking it, for as long as conditions in Albania remain unsafe."