Hunger strikers granted asylum

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) yesterday welcomed a decision by Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis to grant asylum to six Iranian men who have been on hunger strike for several weeks in protest at long delays in the processing of their asylum applications. According to government sources, all of the men – two of whom have been on hunger strike for 40 days – were granted political asylum. The protesters had set up camp outside the offices of the UNHCR in Palaio Psychico, northern Athens, complaining that at least eight years had passed since they submitted their applications to be granted refugee status. The UNHCR welcomed the granting of asylum to the Iranians, done through the activation of a committee to assess asylum applications. But the agency noted that this was an emergency measure and called on the government to draft new legislation establishing a more permanent way of dealing with the backlog of thousands of asylum applications. «The UNHCR hopes that [the government] will be able to guarantee a fairer and more efficient form of examining all pending applications,» a written statement issued by the agency said yesterday. The Iranians who had been protesting outside the offices of the UNHCR claim that they would be persecuted for their beliefs if they returned to their homeland. A team of counselors, including an adviser to Chrysochoidis and a representative of an anti-racism group, were dispatched last Friday to talk to the hunger strikers.