Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Greece

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Greece , 1 June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3eddc498c.html [accessed 20 September 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.

At the end of 2002, Greece hosted around 1,800 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection, including 1,700 with asylum claims pending, 64 persons granted humanitarian stays of removal, and 36 persons granted asylum. The authorities rejected about 9,300 asylum claims, and approximately 830 claims were abandoned or closed.

Around 5,600 persons applied for asylum in Greece in 2002, a slight increase from the 5,500 persons that applied in 2001. The largest numbers came from Iraq (2,600), followed by Afghanistan (1,200) and Iran (400).

The 64 persons granted humanitarian relief came largely from Iraq (18), followed by Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Afghanistan with 6 each.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern about the small number of refugees recognized in Greece, which has one of the lowest acceptance rates for asylum seekers in Europe despite having some of the most liberal asylum laws. In 2002, only about .4 percent of cases decided were granted asylum.

Asylum Procedure

Presidential Decree No. 61, issued in 1999, regulates the asylum procedure. A specialized staff within the police directorates is assigned to interview asylum seekers. After interviewing applicants, the police forward the applications along with their recommendations to the Ministry of Public Order (MPO), which issues decisions.

The decree includes procedures for handling the asylum applications of unaccompanied minors, including the appointment of a guardian. The decree also gives asylum seekers the right to an interpreter, mandates the referral of torture victims to specialized experts, and provides for female officers to interview female applicants. Regulations oblige the authorities to give asylum seekers an information leaflet that explains the asylum procedure and provides the contact information of organizations that assist asylum seekers, including UNHCR. The decree also instructs interviewers to consult the UNHCR Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status and the European Union (EU) joint position on the definition of a refugee when evaluating claims.

Gross Deficiencies in the Asylum Process

As in the past, many officials handling asylum claims were poorly trained, resulting in many substandard interviews and asylum decisions in 2002, according to diplomatic sources. In June, a group of 47 human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Helsinki Federation, issued a joint statement criticizing human rights violations against foreigners, potential asylum seekers, asylum seekers, and undocumented migrants in Greece. According to these groups, the Greek authorities failed to provide competent translators, failed to inform foreigners of their rights, provided misleading information, refused to provide asylum application forms, and maintained poor detention conditions. In some cases, asylum seekers without legal counsel were ordered deported after an examination of only a few minutes. Authorities often did not give persons the opportunity to apply for asylum prior to arresting them as illegal immigrants.

Recognized refugees are issued five-year residence permits, work authorization, and travel documents. They are also entitled to apply for separated spouses, minor children, and other dependent family members to join them in Greece. Asylum seekers may work and have access to medical services.

Rejected asylum applicants have 30 days to file an appeal with the Appeals Board, which includes a representative of the Athens Bar Association and an official from UNHCR. The Appeals Board only has the power to make recommendations on cases to the MPO, which retains the authority to issue appeals decisions. As in past years, the MPO disregarded a significant number of Appeals Board recommendations to grant asylum or humanitarian status in 2002.

Claimants with improper documents in the transit zones of airports, persons traveling from countries deemed safe, and applicants with claims deemed manifestly unfounded are put into an accelerated procedure, also decided by the MPO. Authorities may detain persons in the accelerated procedure for a maximum of 15 days.

The 2001 Aliens Law imposes carrier sanctions and stiff penalties, such as fines and prison terms, for individuals who either employ or facilitate the entry of undocumented foreigners. The law also mandates that smugglers who knowingly transport undocumented aliens in unsafe conditions receive prison sentences of two years for each alien transported. Asylum seekers themselves, however, are exempt from the provisions of the Aliens law.

In 2002, the MPO drafted a Presidential Decree proposing a decentralized refugee status determination procedure at the first instance level (Regional Police Directorates, instead of the MPO), which the government will likely adopt in 2003.

Detention and Ill-Treatment

An asylum seeker may be detained for up to three months. The detention is subject to examination by administrative and judicial officials on their own authority or at the request of the detainee.

Detention conditions for asylum seekers were reportedly overcrowded, and police verbally and physically abused detainees.

Police and border guards shot at unarmed persons trying to enter Greece, claiming their weapons went off accidentally. Human rights groups assert that even if the shooting were accidental, the frequency of the incidents was alarming.

Restrictive Measures

Greece has urged the EU to assist with patrolling its coasts, as thousands of improperly documented migrants use them as a route into Greece and the rest of the EU. Plans to create such sea patrols were underway amid concerns of asylum advocates who feared it would prevent genuine refugees from having their claims heard. The EU states that by these measures it is trying to prevent genuine refugees from falling into the hands of smugglers.

Many continued to die in the hazardous voyages by sea to Greece. In December 2002 alone, 24 deaths were recorded, with more persons declared missing from four different boat arrivals smuggled through the Aegean Sea.

Greece continued to employ landmines at its borders with Turkey, which caused an unknown number of deaths to immigrants seeking to enter Greece.

Pursuant to a readmission agreement signed with Turkey in 2001, Greece continued to return improperly documented migrants to Turkey in 2002, including persons from Iraq and Iran. The agreement does adequately safeguard them against refoulement, since Turkey generally only allows Europeans to claim asylum.

Alternative Forms of Protection

Greece allows rejected asylum seekers to apply for "humanitarian stay of removal" if they cannot be returned to their home countries for reasons such as civil war, natural disasters, or an imposed embargo. The MPO may grant a humanitarian stay if the applicant can show that he or she would face torture upon return.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) generally does not count recipients of humanitarian forms of relief who have been found not to meet the definition of a refugee. Nevertheless, given the manifest deficiencies of the Greek asylum process and the abysmal approval rate that is likely a result, USCR considers that an adequate process would have granted at least as many applicants asylum as the MPO granted humanitarian stay of removal. Therefore USCR counts such persons among refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection.

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