NEWS

UNHCR expects more Afghans in Greece

Afghans who have fled their country to escape from famine, human rights abuses and prolonged civil war make up the majority of asylum seekers in Greece, according to a United Nations refugee agency official. I must say that in the particular case of Greece the highest number of refugees here are Afghans. So far this year we have received 600 Afghan asylum seekers, but when compared with the millions of Afghan refugees there is no reason to be afraid that an influx of people could come to Greece, said Florinda Rojas Rodriguez, representative in Greece of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, in an interview with Kathimerini’s English Edition. The UNHCR official noted that although the number may be high for Greece, when compared with those who have arrived in other European countries the percentage is much smaller. But this doesn’t mean that the Greek government, or the UNHCR, don’t have to be prepared for any eventuality, she said. If we see that there is a continuation of group arrivals, we will have to coordinate our efforts with the Greek government for the better preparation of the reception conditions, and to work very fast for the eligibility determination. If we can work closely with the Ministry of Public Order I am sure that the eligibility determination of refugee status can be expedited and therefore we can easily determine who is and who isn’t a refugee. The UNHCR official underscored that as many as 3 million Afghans have sought refuge in Pakistan and Iran in recent years, while as many as 1.5 million are estimated to be internally displaced within Afghanistan. My office right now is working to prepare for this emergency situation, she said. The UNHCR has so far sent as many as 700 staffers to Pakistan and Iran. The preparation must also include the assistance of the internally displaced people. Rodriguez noted that the refugee agency is preparing for an emergency situation where as many as 1.5 million Afghans may seek refuge in Pakistan and Iran. We have to work for this preparation because there are already people who are looking for a safe place in Pakistan and other neighboring countries. Even in the last few days we are still receiving between 30,000 and 40,000 new arrivals. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers has already started forming a humanitarian coalition, and a special emergency appeal for the Afghan refugees. According to Rodriguez, the refugee agency has so far generated $258 million, which will cover the costs of assisting the Afghan refugees for over a period of six months.Right now we are delivering the basic aid, such as blankets, tents, food, transport of water supplies, medical assistance, while at the same time we are holding negotiations with Pakistan and Iran to guarantee the protection of those refugees, she noted. The UNHCR official also took note of government efforts to improve conditions at refugee reception centers, while stressing that more work is needed. I must say that I am pleased with the efforts of the Greek government to improve the reception of asylum seekers, the conditions of the reception centers, and to help those people who are requesting asylum, Rodriguez remarked. At least this is my experience as a UNHCR representative here. She was quick, though, to note that there is still ample room for further improvements, especially in areas where the state mechanism appears to be lacking speed. We still have many things to do. This is true. Some of our concerns regard the slow pace of the asylum procedures, which is against the asylum seeker, but also against the State, which will have to bear the cost and responsibility for him, she said. However, I must say that, yes, I am pleased because although we have made small steps the situation is improving. According to Rodriguez, Greece has also responded promptly to the UNHCR’s emergency appeal for the Afghan crisis. Athens last week pledged $1 million for refugee relief and will also fund a camp of 10,000 Afghan refugees in Iran for at least the next five months. I think that the prompt response of Greek authorities to our appeal is indicative of this country’s interest to be closer to the humanitarian efforts, Rodriguez said.