The asylum situation in Greece - ‘a humanitarian crisis'

©Ministry of Mercantile Marine/J.Vahlotis

UNHCR is calling on Greece to urgently accelerate implementation of its planned asylum reform. This is in light of the continued absence in Greece of a functioning asylum system, an issue with important implications for the wider EU.

The conditions for asylum-seekers in Greece, which is among the principal entry points to the EU, are notoriously difficult. Most asylum-seekers receive no assistance. Many live on the streets, including women and children. The refugee status determination system does not operate properly and as a result, persons needing international protection are not identified as such. This is a humanitarian crisis situation which should not exist in the European Union. 

UNHCR welcomes Greece’s plans to implement a far-reaching reform of its asylum system even in the face of current economic challenges. We also appeal to the European Union to step up its assistance to help Greece to comply with its international and European obligations. Until such time as an asylum procedure meeting international standards is in place in Greece, UNHCR reiterates its recommendation to other European countries not to send asylum-seekers back to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation.  

This month Human Rights Watch called on UNHCR to intervene and take on responsibility for refugee status determination in Greece in light of these shortcomings. UNHCR notes this recommendation, but emphasizes that responsibility for asylum rests with the state, and as an EU member, Greece is bound by European Union legislation to have laws and procedures for dealing with people seeking asylum.

Last month, the UK Border Agency confirmed that returns of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation are to be suspended pending the resolution of the case of 'NS', which has been referred by the UK Court of Appeal to the European Court of Justice. UNHCR will act as a third party intervenor in the case. In the meantime, the UK will exercise the sovereignty clause under the Dublin Regulation, a decision which UNHCR welcomes. Around 1300 applications that would otherwise be the responsibility of Greece will now be considered by UKBA in order to avoid a backlog of cases. UKBA also intends to apply the sovereignty clause to asylum seekers arriving through Greece in future until the European Court of Justice judgment is given.