Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Greece

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Greece , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 21 October 2017]
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 year's end, Greece hosted almost 800 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 392 persons with pending asylum applications, 175 persons granted humanitarian status, and 222 granted asylum during the year. Another 6,290 persons whom the Greek government recognized as refugees between 1980 and 1999 are regarded as having found a durable solution in Greece.

Some 3,083 persons applied for asylum in Greece in 2000, up 98 percent from the 1,528 who applied in 1999. As in previous years, most asylum applicants in 2000 were from Iraq (1,334), Turkey (591), and Iran (135), and most were Kurds. These three countries accounted for 67 percent of the asylum applications filed during the year. Afghan asylum applicants, numbering 446, were also a significant portion of the applicants. In 2000, Greece granted 222 asylum requests and rejected 1,748, an approval rate of 11 percent.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assisted 14 Iraqis and 5 persons from Congo-Kinshasa to resettle from Greece to third countries (the United States and Canada) in 2000.

Asylum Procedure

Greece substantially revised its asylum procedure in June 1999. Presidential Decree No. 61/99, regulating the asylum procedure, assigned a specialized staff within police directorates to interview asylum seekers, and said that all applications, whether or not they are submitted at entry points upon arrival, should be decided on the merits.

The 1999 decree includes specific provisions for unaccompanied minors and women. It also provides for the obligatory use of interpreters and referral of torture victims to specialized experts. The decree states that the authorities should give asylum seekers an information leaflet that mentions UNHCR. It also advises interviewers to use the UNHCR Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status.

The 1999 decree gave asylum applicants 30 days to lodge an appeal, and brought onto the Appeals Board, for the first time, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) representative from the Athens Bar Association and a UNHCR official.

Under the law, claimants with improper documents in the transit zones of airports, persons traveling from "safe third countries" and those with "manifestly unfounded" claims are put into an accelerated procedure. The Ministry for Public Order (MPO) decides such claims. The law allows the authorities to detain persons in the accelerated procedures at airport facilities for a maximum of 15 days.

The 1999 regulations also created a new temporary protected 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 Convention Against Torture prohibition on returning a person who might face torture.

In 2000, about one-third of the 175 persons granted humanitarian stays of deportation were Iraqis. Iranians, 41 of whom were granted humanitarian stays, represented the second largest group.

Recognized refugees are issued five-year residence permits, work authorization, and travel documents. They are entitled to apply for reunification with separated spouses and minor children. According to Decree 61/99, dependent elders as well as children older than age 18 with special needs are considered "dependent" family members for purposes of family reunification for recognized refugees.

Restrictive Measures

In 2000, Greece arrested some 164,000 foreigners for illegal entry, of whom 125,136 were from Albania.

Other nationalities apprehended included Iraqis, Romanians, Bulgarians, and Afghans. An estimated 500,000 unauthorized foreigners were living and working in Greece in 2000. This represented about one-fifth of Greece's total population.

In July, the government ordered doctors in Greek state hospitals to refuse non-emergency health care to undocumented migrants. Hospital doctors protested the measures. However, in August, the government threatened them with "administrative, disciplinary, and criminal consequences" for not implementing the decree.

In November, Greece's Cabinet approved an Aliens Bill that primarily addresses seasonal migrant workers. Once it becomes law, the bill will devolve the issuance of residence permits from the Ministry for Public Order to local authorities. Under the bill, foreigners whose applications for entry visas are denied will not be entitled to any explanation unless they are related to a Greek national or are from a European Union (EU) country. The legislation also introduces a three-month prison sentence and heavy fines for people who employ foreigners without authorization. It is expected to become law in 2001.

Prior to deportation, foreigners are often held in jails, police stations, and other detention facilities where conditions are often "appalling," according to a December Human Rights Watch report. In one 75-bed facility in Athens, Greek authorities held 150 detainees in filthy, roach-infested conditions for up to a year, the report said.

The Greek coast guard took an active role in blocking asylum seekers' access to the country, apprehending more than 3,600 undocumented migrants in the first ten months of the year. In January, 275 undocumented migrants were found and detained on the island of Naxos. In July alone, the coast guard detained a total of about 550 undocumented migrants. In August, because of a lack of detention space, some 250 Kurdish migrants who landed at Koufonisi, just south of the island of Crete, were held in a soccer stadium until accommodation could be found.

Greece arrested many suspected human traffickers during the year, often imposing prison sentences of up to 60 years, the most severe penalties on traffickers in the EU. During the first ten months of the year, Greek authorities arrested some 140 persons suspected of human trafficking.

Although Greece and Turkey have no formal agreement for readmitting third country nationals, along the Greek-Turkish border, border guards are reported to "bounce" migrants back and forth in the vicinity of the Evros River and in the frontier islands. Kurdish migrants allege that they have been repeatedly forced at gunpoint to swim back to the other side of the Evros River or to board small boats to take them back. Extortion, bribery, and smugglers characterize the process, and Kurds allege that their efforts to seek asylum in the border region have been spurned.

Landmines in the border region between Greece and Turkey have claimed the lives of some 27 migrants in the past decade. In August and September, three Turkish migrants were killed by landmines in the same week while attempting to cross the minefield areas between Turkey and Greece at Alexandroupolis.

In March, the Schengen Agreement came into force in Greece (see box, p. 198). Greece has bilateral readmission agreements with Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Slovenia.


Greece formalized the administration of its reception center for asylum seekers, as well as certain health and welfare issues, through a presidential decree, PD 266/99, which came into effect in October 1999. PD 266/99 assigned the Ministry of Health and Welfare responsibility for the Lavrio Refugee Center, the country's only fully government-funded reception center for asylum seekers.

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. (Foreigners wanting to apply for asylum alleged that Greek authorities required them to produce electricity bills or other documents to prove that they had steady residence before allowing them to apply for asylum.)

The Lavrio Refugee Center, operated by the Hellenic Red Cross, accommodates about 300 people. Residents receive food, clothing, medical care, educational help, and psycho-social counseling (from International Social Services) free of charge.

Another center in Aspropirgos, funded by the European Commission in cooperation with the MPO and other Greek government agencies, serves asylum seekers and refugees opting for voluntary repatriation. It is operated by an NGO, the Hellenic Institute of Solidarity and Cooperation with Developing Countries.

Médecins Sans Frontières runs another center for asylum seekers and refugees in Penteli. The Hellenic Red Cross operates a reception center for asylum seekers in Nea Makri, which accommodates about 70 people. Both centers opened in 1998 in response to an overflow of asylum seekers who could not be accommodated in Lavrio. At the time, about 1,000 Kurds were living in the open air in Koumandourou Square and in nearby parks in Athens.

In 2000, the Greek Council for Refugees obtained a grant from the European Commission to give a daily allowance of the equivalent of about $4.00 (1,500 GDR) for 20 days to a maximum of 1,660 newly arrived asylum seekers, in order to assist them in finding housing.

Recognized refugees, asylum seekers with pending claims, and persons granted humanitarian status have work authorization in Greece, under Presidential Decree, PD 189/98.


In November, the government announced a second opportunity for undocumented migrants to legalize their situation in Greece, provided they can prove that they entered the country on or before November 14, 1998.

By year's end, about 180,000 of some 220,000 immigrants who had registered for temporary legal status under the first amnesty of 1998 had received residence permits, leaving some 40,000 still waiting. The scheme was open to employed or employable persons, but excluded, among others, criminals, persons with infectious diseases, persons previously deported, the elderly, and students.

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