Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Greece

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Greece , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 21 February 2018]
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 2001, Greece hosted about 6,500 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 6,224 persons with pending asylum applications, 147 granted asylum, and 148 granted humanitarian status during the year. Another 6,800 persons whom the Greek government recognized as refugees between 1980 and 2000 are regarded as having found a durable solution in Greece.

About 5,500 persons applied for asylum in Greece in 2001, a 78 percent increase from the 3,083 who applied in 2000. The largest number came from Iraq (1,972), followed by Afghanistan (1,459) and Turkey (800). During the year, Greece approved the applications of 147 asylum seekers, granted humanitarian status to an additional 148 applicants, and denied 1,047 cases.

Despite the substantial increase in asylum applicants in 2001, the majority of asylum seekers and migrants entering Greece continued to view the country as a point of transit en route to other Western European destinations.

Asylum Procedure

The asylum procedure is regulated by Presidential Decree No. 61, issued in June 1999, which assigned a specialized staff within the police directorates to interview asylum seekers. Following their interviews, police forward asylum applications along with recommendations on whether to grant or deny to the Ministry of Public Order (MPO), which issues decisions.

The 1999 decree includes procedures for handling the asylum applications of unaccompanied minors and women. The decree also gives asylum seekers the right to an interpreter and mandates the referral of torture victims to specialized experts. Regulations oblige the authorities to give asylum seekers an information leaflet that explains the asylum procedure and provides contact information on organizations that assist asylum seekers, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The decree also instructs interviewers to consult the UNHCR Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status and the European Union joint position on the definition of a refugee when evaluating claims. Despite these measures, diplomatic sources reported that officials handling asylum claims in many cases were poorly trained, often resulting in substandard interviews and asylum decisions in 2001.

The 1999 decree also created a temporary status for rejected asylum seekers who cannot be returned to their home countries for humanitarian reasons, such as civil war, natural disasters, or an imposed embargo. Rejected asylum seekers may apply to the MPO for a humanitarian stay of deportation, the grounds for which include the UN Convention Against Torture prohibition on repatriating a person who might face torture. In 2001, more than one-third of the 148 persons granted humanitarian stays of deportation were from Iraq.

Recognized refugees are issued five-year residence permits, work authorization, and travel documents. They are entitled to apply for reunification with separated spouses, minor children, and other dependent family members.

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

Under the law, claimants with improper documents in the transit zones of airports, persons traveling from "safe third countries" and applicants with "manifestly unfounded" claims 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.

Restrictive Measures

In 2001, Greek authorities apprehended an estimated 220,000 irregular migrants, a significant increase from the 164,000 arrests made during the previous year. In response to the increased number, the Greek government took several steps to prevent the arrival of undocumented migrants, including would-be asylum seekers.

The Greek Parliament passed a new aliens law, effective in May 2001, which includes 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 illegal alien transported. While asylum seekers technically were exempt from the provisions of the aliens law, human rights and refugee organizations reported that in practice authorities did not differentiate between undocumented asylum seekers and other illegal migrants, often denying them the chance to apply for asylum.

Greece also concluded a readmission agreement with Turkey in November that provides for the return of undocumented migrants. UNHCR and human rights organizations criticized the agreement for not including procedural safeguards to ensure that asylum seekers would have access to the Greek asylum procedure, an omission that became immediately evident with the agreement's implementation. During the third week of November, Amnesty International reported that Greek authorities summarily returned more than 120 irregular migrants to Turkey without affording them the opportunity to apply for asylum. Authorities also deported a group of 34 Afghans and Iraqi Kurds to Turkey on December 3, reportedly including individuals who had expressed the wish to apply for asylum.

Landmines that Greece deploys on its border with Turkey reportedly killed at least nine undocumented foreigners trying to enter the country in 2001. In response to the deaths of five migrants who strayed into a Greek mine field in the border zone, the U.S. Committee for Refugees called upon the Greek government to remove its minefields in a July 16, 2001 letter to the Greek Ambassador to the United States. The Greek government did not respond. On December 23, Greek landmines reportedly killed four men and injured three others, all from Iraq. Landmines in the border zone have claimed at least 20 lives since 1999.

Greek detention practices also came under fire in 2001. During the year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that poor conditions in two detention centers in Athens were inhumane and degrading for detainees. Prior to the rulings, Human Rights Watch reported a general level of filth, severe overcrowding, poor sleeping conditions, limited access to medical care, and inadequate provision of food at the two centers. There were also credible reports that authorities beat as many as 100 foreigners, at least 10 severely, in a Crete detention facility in June. Although three detention center employees faced disciplinary action for the incident, they had not been charged with criminal wrongdoing by year's end.


In November 2000, the government announced an amnesty for undocumented migrants, allowing them to legalize their situation in Greece if they could prove that they had entered the country by November 14, 1998. An amendment to the May 2001 aliens law eased eligibility to include foreigners who could demonstrate that they had entered Greece before April 2000.

About 350,000 foreigners applied to legalize their status in Greece in 2001, one-third of whom reportedly had not received temporary residence permits by year's end.

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