Greece ‘rebuffing’ asylum seekers

A group of lawyers working on a voluntary basis to help refugees and immigrants seeking legal status in Greece yesterday accused the police of having stopped processing asylum applications nearly a month ago. «For the past 25 days, the Athens immigration unit has closed its doors and is refusing applications while a large number of refugees are at risk of being arrested and deported,» the statement issued by the Organization of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Asylum Seekers said. Questioned about the allegations yesterday, a senior officer at the unit on Iera Odos told Kathimerini that the long delays were due to the large backlog of asylum applications. According to Marianna Tzeferakou, one of the lawyers from the group, these are «the usual excuses.» «This practice is part and parcel of the country’s general policy toward asylum seekers and all those who merit international protection,» she said, adding that the migrants were being deprived of their rights as enshrined in international law. Tzeferakou’s group took the opportunity to condemn the stricter treatment of immigrants as agreed to by European Union member states under the bloc’s French presidency. The reforms foresee the extension of authorities’ right to detain an illegal immigrant to 18 months and the applicability of this measure to minors. In Greece, the current limit for detention is three months. The EU reforms also foresee a five-year ban on re-entry to the EU for migrants who get deported. According to the lawyers’ group, in implementing these reforms, Greece would be «taking several steps backward from its own Constitution by depriving migrants of freedom without official documents.» Greece argues that its geographical position at Europe’s southeastern border means that it is flooded with immigrants on their way to the rest of the continent, many of whom try to stay. More than 10,000 would-be migrants arrived in Greece via the Turkish sea border alone this year, according to port authorities. Over the past two days, authorities on Chios, Lesvos and Samos detained a total of 105 migrants.