NEWS

Olympics ‘hurt asylum seekers’

Using security concerns for the Summer Olympics as a pretext, Greek authorities have throttled the rights of illegal immigrants seeking political asylum in the country, according to a report yesterday by the local branch of the Amnesty International human rights group. The survey on Greek policy on refugees between June 2002 and November 2003 noted that authorities treat asylum seekers «as potential terrorists and not as people trying to escape terror.» Amnesty officials say that, while in 2001 Athens approved 11.2 percent of asylum requests, this dropped to 0.3 percent in 2002 and 0.1 percent last year – when just three people were granted asylum status. «Political asylum is being abandoned in the name of the war on terrorism,» Costis Papaioannou of Amnesty’s Greek branch told a press conference. «Furthermore, security for the 2004 Olympics is used in Greece as a pretext to systematically break international treaties on the rights of refugees.» Amnesty said many refugees are not allowed to apply for asylum, while those who do have to wait 12-18 months before being granted asylum-seeker status. The group said it takes another two to three years for the request to be processed, adding that the evaluation process is weighted against asylum seekers. «The Greek authorities have rejected applications that fulfill every requirement,» Amnesty’s Spyros Rizakis said. «For example, people who have provenly been persecuted [in their own countries], even refugees who have been tortured. What else must befall someone for Greece to protect them as a political refugee?»