Home News Greece slammed over refugee rights record

Greece slammed over refugee rights record

Published on 05/04/2009

Athens — A top UN official on Friday slammed Greece’s failure to improve on its "drastically low" ratio of recognition granted to refugees and asylum seekers.

Speaking at the end of a four-day visit, assistant United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Erika Feller urged a series of changes to Greek immigration processing structures.

"We strongly recommend that the system of refugees protection and asylum be very carefully reviewed with quite a number of changes," she told a press conference.

"The percentage of recognition is drastically low and not representative of the number of the refugees coming to the country."

According to the Greek offices of UNHCR, just 0.05 percent of claimants in 2008 were accorded refugee status at the point of arrival into the system, although that figure rose to 10.3 percent after subsequent hearings.

In past years, the initial figure averaged out at around two percent.

Feller highlighted a substantial problem in the western port of Patras, where "many people live in circumstances which don’t meet the minimum needs of human dignity".

Greece, on Europe’s south-eastern frontier with sea and land borders with Turkey, is a major transit route for thousands of clandestine migrants from countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan aiming for Italy and the rest of the European Union.

"It’s not sufficient to hope (the problem) will solve itself," Feller said, adding that migrants had been landing at the Patras docks for the past 10 years, despite heavily-criticised conditions.

"Greece has to confront a complicated mix of irregular migrants, including refugees," she underlined.

The plight of asylum seekers in Greece has also been highlighted by the Council of Europe and Amnesty International over recent years.

In December, Human Rights Watch said that around 1,000 migrant children from war-torn regions are struggling to survive in Greece where there is a "systematic" failure to protect them.

Greek police are regularly accused of overstepping their authority and treating migrants with excessive force.

In March 2008, four officers were sacked after being caught on mobile phone video beating two Albanians in their custody.