Asylum committees improving, UNHCR says

The quality of asylum processing procedures has improved significantly since February when appeals committees examining asylum applications were restructured, the head of the Athens office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, said yesterday.

?The procedures have improved incomparably,? Tsarbopoulos said, noting that more time is spent on interviews with applicants and that the appointed translators are better qualified than before. ?These are obvious aspects of a credible asylum processing procedure but we never had them in Greece before,? the UNHCR chief remarked.

Still certain problems remain and the refugee agency has made proposals to tackle them. Few migrants gain access to the committees as they must submit their initial applications with the Athens Aliens Bureau, which accepts only 20 to 30 claims a week.

More than 40,000 asylum applications are pending in Greece, the first point of entry for a relentless influx of immigrants seeking a better life in the European Union.

The UNHCR and other aid groups, including Doctors Without Borders, have been pressing authorities to improve substandard conditions in detention centers for migrants in Greece, particularly in the northern region of Evros. According to a new report by the medical aid group, 60 percent of the illnesses afflicting migrants being held in Evros detention centers have been caused by unsanitary and cramped conditions in the facilities.

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