EU immigration official gives Greece mixed report

The European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom on Tuesday welcomed efforts by the Greek government to create a fairer system for processing the asylum applications of undocumented immigrants while emphasizing that more had to be done to improve conditions at migrant detention centers.

Meanwhile, employees of the Greek chapters of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Doctors of the World aid group said they were forced to intervene to avert the deportation of a 14-year-old Afghan who visited the police to report a racist assault on him by a group of men in central Athens but ended up being detained.

Following talks with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, Malmstrom credited the Greek authorities with “some progress,” noting that “the worst of the detention centers” had been closed, adding however that conditions at other facilities remained «“unacceptable.” The commissioner welcomed the planned opening of a central asylum processing center that would operate independently of the police but expressed particular concern about the “recognition rate” of asylum applicants from war-torn Syria, noting that it stood at “almost 0 percent” compared to “almost 100 percent” in other European Union member states. However, she recognized that the influx of would-be migrants to Greece was much larger due to its geographical position and said she would investigate the prospects of additional EU support for Greece.

The commissioner also expressed concern about a recent spike in racist violence and the rising popularity of the ultra-right Golden Dawn party.

In an unfortunately timed development for the government, a 14-year-old Afghan boy who visited police to report a racist attack on him was detained as he lacked a residence permit. The boy said he was attacked on Easter Monday by a group of men wearing black T-shirts who slashed his face with a broken beer bottle. The head of the UNHCR’s Greek chapter, Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, spoke of “a void in the Greek law when it comes to protecting victims of racist violence.”