NEWS

Greece takes least refugees in EU

Greece ranked last in the European Union last year in terms of the protection it offered refugees seeking asylum within its borders, with only 1.1 percent of applicants granted refugee or humanitarian status as compared to an EU average of 21.1 percent, according to a report released by the Athens office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) yesterday. Last year, 5,664 refugees applied for asylum in Greece which ranked 12th in terms of the number of claims made, with the UK, Germany and France receiving the largest numbers of applications. Iraqis accounted for the largest group of applicants in Greece in 2002 – representing 45 percent of all claims. Of these, just 1 percent were granted protection in Greece compared to an average of 47.7 percent among other EU states. «This means that genuine refugees may be left without international protection and be at risk of forcible return to their country of origin with possible tragic consequences for their lives,» the UNHCR’s acting representative in Greece, Bart Leerschool, noted. However, the UNHCR’s Athens office said it had received assurances from the Greek government that no Iraqis (including rejected asylum seekers) will be deported, in accordance with a UNHCR global moratorium on forced returns to Iraq. A crackdown on terrorism in Greece may have contributed to Greece’s exceptionally low refugee eligibility rate, Leerschool added. «The UNHCR… appreciates the legitimate interest of states, including Greece, to combat terrorism. However, terrorism will never by combated by refusing protection to real refugees, who are themselves victims, not perpetrators, of human rights violations,» he said.