More applications, less recognition for asylum in Greece

In its report on «Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries» for the first quarter of 2003, the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, said that applications for asylum in rich countries fell by 16 percent from the last quarter of last year, with only Greece and Japan showing increases in the percentage of asylum seekers. But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in Greece expressed concern that the percentage of people granted refugee status and «humanitarian status» (a subsidiary form which affords them less rights) in Greece fell to 1 percent in January 2002 from 22.4 percent a year earlier. This figure is among the lowest in the EU and the UNHCR said that this trend has continued into the first quarter of this year. «The only countries showing major increases in percentage terms were ones receiving relatively small numbers of asylum seekers in the first place. Of these, Greece was the most significant with 717 extra asylum seekers in the first quarter of this year, compared to the last quarter of 2002 – a rise of 47 percent. The next highest was Japan with a 23 percent increase – but that actually translates into a mere 13 extra asylum seekers,» the UNHCR reported. In absolute numbers, 2,246 people requested asylum in Greece in the first quarter of this year, from 1,529 who did so in the last quarter of 2002. Britain saw the biggest drop, with almost 10,000 fewer people claiming asylum than during the previous quarter, a decline of 32 percent. The last quarter of 2002 saw the arrival of 30,100 asylum seekers. The 29 industrialized countries covered by the UNHCR’s quarterly report (which excludes Italy because its statistics are not yet available), received a total of 121,700 asylum applications in the first quarter of 2003 compared to 144,400 in the previous quarter, the UNHCR reported. «In Europe, applications fell to the lowest quarterly level in at least three years with a total of 94,300 claims filed, or 19 percent fewer than in the last quarter of 2002. The 14 EU countries listed (except Italy) together fell by over 17 percent. Central Europe saw an even bigger drop of 34 percent,» the report said.