Greece grapples with asylum 'humanitarian crisis': UNHCR

21st September 2010, Comments 0 comments

The UN refugee agency warned on Tuesday that Greece faces a "humanitarian crisis" with thousands of asylum seekers living in the rough and urged the EU to do more to help its cash-strapped member state.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees called on Greece to accelerate planned asylum reforms, highlighting a "continued absence of a functioning asylum system", that has left many would-be refugees on the streets.

But the agency acknowledged that it was also up to the European Union to help solve the issue, as Greece shouldered the burden of dealing with those arriving on its territory under EU rules, mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

There were 16,000 new asylum applications in the southeast European state in 2009, while the country has just 865 reception places for asylum seekers, according to the UNHCR.

"This is a humanitarian crisis situation which should not exist in the European Union," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists.

"Greece is struggling to deal with what is essentially an EU problem," he said, underlining "important implications" for the rest of the 26 nation bloc.

The refugee agency welcomed Greece's plans for "far reaching" asylum reforms despite the financial crisis the country is facing.

"We also appeal to the European Union to step up its assistance to help Greece comply with its international and European obligations," said Edwards, including by keeping asylum seekers who had moved elsewhere in the EU after reaching Greece.

Under the European "Dublin II" regulations, the country where an asylum seeker arrived is responsible for dealing with their application, and those who try to move deeper into the near borderless bloc can be sent back to Greece.

Greece granted refugee protection to just 48 people last year, just 0.3 percent of asylum seekers, compared to a more common average of about 31 percent in countries like Britain, France, Germany and Sweden, according to the UNHCR.

© 2010 AFP

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