During 1996, 1,635 persons applied for asylum in Greece. As in previous years, most asylum seekers, a large number of whom were Kurds, came from Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. These three countries accounted for 91 percent of the asylum applications filed in 1996. Iraq produced the largest number (1,037), followed by Turkey (271), and Iran (177). UNHCR estimated that Greece hosted 4,000 Bosnians at the end of 1996. During the year, Greek authorities granted refugee status in 139 cases and rejected refugee status in 756 others, an approval rate of 15.5 percent. Those granted refugee status included 61 persons from Turkey, 33 from Iraq, 24 from Iran, eight from Lebanon, and seven from Syria. Some 811 applications were pending at year's end. Greece entered into readmission agreements with Poland and Bulgaria during 1996. Asylum Procedure Presidential Decree 83/1993, issued in 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 are required to stay at the location they have declared as their home address or residence, or risk discontinuation of the asylum process. Some 350 asylum seekers are accommodated in the Lavrion Refugee Center, the country's only center for asylum seekers, operated by the Greek Red Cross. Refugees at this 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. At the end of 1996, the Greek government announced that it would establish more temporary stay centers to house asylum seekers in 1997. Generally, if their applications are rejected, asylum seekers' residence permits are withdrawn. If recognized, refugees are granted the right to work. During 1996, MPO officials issued 16,375 residence permits to refugees, a 26 percent increase over the 13,000 permits issued in 1995. Persons allowed to stay on other humanitarian grounds are not permitted to work. UNHCR and the Greek Refugee Council called into question Greece's strict admissibility procedure at the end of 1996. The procedure provides that asylum applications may be ruled inadmissible by the MPO 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 inadmissibility rulings can be appealed to the MPO within two days of receipt, few if any such rulings are believed to have been overturned. In 1996, Greek authorities rejected 255 applications, representing 446 persons, as inadmissible. Greece abolished the law on inadmissable applications with an amendment signed into law on December 31, 1996. Under the new legislation, which was scheduled to take effect in 1997, the Greek government claimed that all applications for asylum will be considered on a substantive basis. However, the new law also contains a "rapid procedure" provision for those whose applications are "clearly an abuse of the system" and also for applicants arriving from safe third countries. Temporary Protection Greece provided temporary protection to a group of 1,815 Iraqi Kurds in 1996, providing them with renewable six-month residence and work permits. The Greek government also allowed 14 rejected asylum claimants and 16 other persons of concern to the MPO to stay temporarily in Greece on humanitarian grounds. Border Enforcement, Expulsions Greece has reportedly apprehended 22,900 persons attempting enter illegally from Turkey between 1992 and 1995, including 9,590 in 1995. In May 1996, the Albanian and Greek governments signed an accord to legalize the status of some 350,000 Albanians working in Greece, and to set legal procedures for the entry of seasonal laborers into Greece. In August, however, after about 5,000 Albanians had been deported during a five-day period, the Albanian government asked the Greek government to explain why it was deporting them. Overall, the Greek authorities report that they deported more than 272,000 Albanians during 1996. On September 4, USCR wrote to the Greek government inquiring about the mass deportations and seeking assurances that any Albanians claiming to be refugees would have an opportunity for a hearing on their claims before being returned. On September 15, the Greek ambassador to the United States responded, saying, "Greece is second to none in assisting Albania to cope with its social and employment problems." The ambassador said that Greece "is a magnet for needy people from abroad who often prefer to illegally cross rivers and mountain passes into Greece rather than follow the established procedures." The ambassador did not say whether the Greek authorities had set up any refugee screening procedures before deporting the Albanians. On December 25, about 280 undocumented aliens seeking to enter Greece by boat drowned off the coast of Sicily after two boats carrying the aliens collided. Most of the passengers were from India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. At year's end, Greek prosecutors were preparing to bring murder charges against the captain and crew of one ship, which, according to survivors, rammed a second, smaller ship after forcing most of its passengers to transfer to the smaller ship. The government was also preparing to deport the 110 detained survivors following their testimony against the smugglers.

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