Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2018, 12:53 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Greece

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 6 July 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Greece, 6 July 2011, available at: [accessed 23 January 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.

The situation of minorities and asylum seekers featured prominently in the public debate in Greece, which still hasn't ratified the FCNM or signed the European Charter for Minority Languages. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, visited Greece in February to hold discussions with the authorities about issues relating to the human rights of asylum seekers and minorities.

The recognition of the right to freedom of association and expression of persons belonging to the ethnic Macedonian community (who live in the administrative region of Macedonia), and of members of the Turkish community (who, along with Pomaks and Roma, comprise a Muslim minority in Western Thrace) has been a long-standing concern that remains unresolved. Regarding ethnic Macedonians, the 1998 ECtHR judgment of Sidiropoulos and Others v. Greece found Greece in violation of Article 11 on its refusal to allow the registration of the organization 'Home of the Macedonian Culture'. The Greek courts refused the application on the basis that the use of the term 'Macedonian' questioned the Greek identity of Macedonia and undermined territorial integrity. Implementation of the 1998 judgment is still pending, and the organization has not yet been registered. In 2007 and 2008, the ECtHR rendered three judgements against Greece for violating Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the ECHR regarding members of the Turkish community (in the cases Bekir-Ousta and Others; Emin and Others; Tourkiki Enosi Xanthis and Others).

In a letter to the Greek government, Commissioner Hammarberg raised concerns that ethnic Turkish and other minority associations that have recently tried to secure registration have been unable to do so. These cases strike at the heart of the right to self-identification for members of minorities in Greece, where ethnic Macedonians are not granted minority status, and the right to collective minority identity is denied to the Turkish minority, who are only counted as part of a larger Muslim minority. During his visit, the Commissioner recommended ratification of the FCNM, which Greece signed in 1999, and the implementation of the ECtHR judgments. He stressed that the Greek authorities need 'to show greater receptiveness to diversity in their society and to take further measures that would allow minority groups to express their identity on the basis of self-identification'.

The treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in Greece became a particular focus of international attention during 2010. In March, Amnesty International published a report high-lighting the failure of the Greek asylum system to provide a fair asylum determination procedure and the right to an effective appeal. Amnesty urged state parties to the EU Dublin Regulation to stop transferring asylum seekers to Greece, where they face multiple violations of human rights, including the risk of being forcibly returned to a country where they are in danger of persecution. The Dublin Regulation is an EU law that determines which member state is responsible for examining an asylum application lodged within the EU, and usually requires that asylum seekers be returned to the first country they entered upon arriving in the territory of the EU. In September, in his first-ever oral intervention as a third party in an ECtHR case concerning the return of an Afghan asylum seeker from Belgium to Greece, Commissioner Hammarberg expressed his particular concern regarding Greek asylum law and practice. Issues include the risk of refoulement, non-compliance with human rights safeguards, and asylum seekers' reception and detention conditions. He also added that 'under the "Dublin Regulation" certain countries face the challenge of dealing with numbers of asylum applications beyond their capacities' and called for a halt to transfers. The UNHCR echoed these concerns and recommended that EU member states not send asylum seekers back to Greece, where the 'continued absence of a functioning asylum system' was described as a 'humanitarian crisis', with many asylum seekers, including women and children, receiving no basic assistance and living on the streets.

The poor asylum detention practices of Greece, and in particular the detention of unaccompanied minors was examined by Médecins Sans Frontières in a report published in June 2010, which presented data from psychological counselling sessions as well as individual testimonies. The report demonstrates that detention can exacerbate existing problems and contribute to new traumas and psychological distress. Amnesty International also voiced its dismay concerning the substandard conditions in which unaccompanied minors are held.

Realizing the seriousness of the issue, Rapid Border Interventions Teams from the EU's border agency, Frontex, were sent to Greece on 24 October. The news agency Euractive quoted the European Commission as describing the vast inflow of refugees and undocumented migrants into the country from neighbouring Turkey as 'increasingly dramatic' and reported on the EU's call to its member states to assist Greece in dealing with the humanitarian situation. Athens has turned to the EU requesting assistance in administering the Turkey-Greece border, which has seen an increase in the number of undocumented migrants, since other EU member states tightened border controls in the Mediterranean Sea. In reaction to the deployment of Frontex border officials to Greece, UNHCR warned that the rights of asylum seekers must be protected.

The influx of immigrants also stirred up heated emotions within the borders of the economically distressed country. Violent incidents occurred as tensions grew over undocumented immigration at the busiest transit point for human trafficking in the EU. On 16 November, during the Muslim holiday Eid-al-Adha, local residents and members of the far-right Chrysi Avgi, a group widely linked to a growing number of violent attacks against migrants, clashed with police at a prayer site. Chrysi Avgi also won its first ever seat on the Athens City Council in local elections in 2010.

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