NEWS

Greece is no safe haven for asylum seekers

For 45 years, Europe adhered strictly to the provisions of the 1951 Geneva Convention that protects foreigners on humanitarian grounds. But in recent years, there have been a growing number of convention violations, especially in Greece. In 2002, the granting of asylum practically came to a halt in Greece. Today, 50,000 asylum applications are pending. Of those, only 3,487 applicants hold permits granting special asylum, and the percentage of applicants granted refugee status – less than 1 percent – is by far the lowest in the European Union. Greece is earning itself a reputation for abusive and illegal practices on the issue. Norway, for instance, officially describes Greece as an «unsafe» country when considering the return of refugees to their first point of EU entry. The EU has discussed these practices by the Greek government. There will likely be an official complaint to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) or the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Greece is already being tried by the ECJ for its delay in harmonizing ECJ Directive 2001/55 on minimum conditions for the provision of temporary protection to illegal immigrants or refugees. Karen Farkas, the UN High Commissioner’s representative in Greece, recently expressed hope that «the Greek government would take all necessary action to incorporate EU directives on asylum into Greek legislation.» At the moment, refugees are systematically impeded from making asylum applications. They are deported summarily without being permitted to contact lawyers and representatives of humanitarian organizations. Women, the elderly and unescorted children are detained and released – and are then deported, even if they are from war-torn countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia. Public prosecutors are not duly informed of cases of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. There are no suitable venues and staff for the reception of refugees, as Kathimerini discovered on a visit to Kokkinopilo, a former army camp that has been converted into a reception center for asylum seekers. Police officers also openly disregard the law. «In my detention centers, there is no penal code,» said one chief of a department dealing with foreigners.