Migration and Struggle in Greece

Greece’s refugee problem – article by Human Rights Watch director

Posted by clandestina on 31 July 2009

source of the Article: New York Times website



July 29, 2009WASHINGTON — The Greek government has come up with a novel solution to a growing backlog of asylum appeals: Abolish appeals.

Greece’s Refugee Problem

No backlog. No Problem.

But the problem can’t be dismissed so easily. Greece has a backlog of about 30,000 cases. A part-time asylum appeals board hears about 60 cases a week. At this rate, it would take about 10 years to clear the current backlog alone.

But wait. Greece, with its long coastal borders, is at the front line of migration to the European Union, with nearly 20,000 new asylum applications lodged there last year. Part of the reason is E.U. law, and the so-called “Dublin rules,” under which other Union member states can send asylum seekers who entered the E.U. through Greek borders back to Greece.

Last year, the Greek asylum approval rate was 0.05 percent. Since essentially everyone is initially denied, the appeals have been growing faster than the system’s capacity to keep up.

Anyone with a pocket calculator can see that the system doesn’t work. But it is not just a question of numbers. Each number represents a person. One of them is “Hamed,” who fled Afghanistan alone at age 13 when a local warlord threatened to kill him if he did not submit “for dancing and more.”

His asylum interview took place in 2008 in a noisy, crowded room in the Petrou Ralli police station:

“The policeman in civilian clothes asked something and the Iranian woman [the interpreter] told me I should say I came for a better life.

“I don’t know whether the police officer said that or not because I didn’t understand him. I told the Iranian woman that I wanted to explain my other problems. At that point the police officer shouted at me and I got scared. …”

The interview took five minutes.

The obvious solution is to have specially trained officials, including specialists in interviewing children, conduct careful, private interviews, and grant asylum to people who need it. Then, an independent body should work full-time to consider appeals in a fair and timely way.

Instead the government has introduced Presidential Decree 81/2009, which makes a bad system worse.

First, instead of creating a corps of specialized asylum interviewers capable of identifying people needing protection, the decree spreads the job of interviewing asylum seekers to police directorates throughout the country.

Police officers have a host of other duties and lack training in asylum law or in conducting interviews with fearful and traumatized asylum seekers.

Competent interpreters and asylum lawyers, in short supply even in Athens, are almost absent in the islands and border regions.

Second, the decree abolishes the right to lodge an appeal and eliminates the asylum appeals board (after it finishes the cases currently before it), retaining only strictly limited judicial review. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has declined to participate in the new asylum procedure, saying that it does “not sufficiently guarantee efficiency and fairness.”

Greek asylum procedures are just the tip of the iceberg of a system that fails at every stage to protect refugees and unaccompanied children.

These failures include illegal push-backs of migrants at the Turkish border, the puncturing of boats in the Aegean Sea, deplorable conditions of detention, police brutality, and various legal and administrative tricks to keep asylum seekers from lodging a claim, all of which Human Rights Watch exhaustively documented in two reports published late last year.

In June, the European Council’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture issued a report, saying that its repeated recommendations since 1997 to improve the conditions of migrant detention have been “largely ignored by the Greek authorities.”

Greece responded with legislative changes that extend the period of administrative detention to up to one year, and possibly 18 months. And, on July 12, the Greek authorities burned and bulldozed a long-standing campsite at Patras occupied by migrants, including many unaccompanied children, thus swelling the numbers being held in unacceptable conditions of detention.

If Greece does not put its own house in order, the European Union must hold it accountable. Other E.U. member states should suspend all returns of asylum seekers to Greece under the terms of the Dublin Convention and all E.U. institutions should demand that Greece immediately comply not only with Union asylum standards, but also with human rights norms that should long since have been considered inviolable among European states.

Bill Frelick is the refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch and the author of “Stuck in a Revolving Door: Iraqis and Other Asylum Seekers and Migrants at the Greece/Turkey Entrance to the European Union.”

And a critique of it from black cat – red cat

Greece’s Refugee Problem: that’s the wrong way to look at it

Through the internets and the twitters, I came across Bill Frelick’s op-ed at the New York Times, titled “Greece’s Refugee Problem“. The article is strikingly to the point, and I recommend to anyone reading it. As a Greek, I should add that under pressure from the rise of the far-right, the current conservative Greek government has been transforming Greece’s non-policy policy, which it inherited from the previous centrist (“socialist”) government, into an active anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policy.

From the previous non-functional system designed to ignore the problem, the new policies aim to actively block all paths for admission of people as refugees. At the same time, conditions for immigrants and refugees are deteriorating. The matter of the conditions in the “administrative detention centers”, may not even be the big issue here. There are tens if not hundreds of thousands more people that have entered the country illegally, who cram in newly emergent urban ghettos or are exploited viciously as dirt cheap labor in the countryside. These people are offered no means to integrate into society and social tensions build up to explosive levels. During the recent years Greece is becoming an increasingly violent society. And the government’s response is more repression and pressure, with conditions that are utter shame for people claiming to be heirs to a great civilization.

The NYT article correctly points out some of these points, although it focuses just on the asylum seekers. And Bill Frelick is absolutely correct in pointing out that Greece should be held accountable for what it inflicts on refugees. For too long have Greek authorities been abusing immigrants and refugees in preposterous ways, ignoring our own Greek Constitution that demands respect for human rights and human dignity and spitting in the face of anything we claim to be heirs to.

But Bill Frelick makes a grave mistake in singling out Greece. He completely overlooks the reasons why Greece has to face this problem. The Greek response to the refugee issue is definitely worthy of severe criticism, however refugees do not appear out of thin air. Mr Frellick is talking about the response to the symptoms, but fails to even mention the underlying condition. His example of an Afghan boy fleeing a pederast warlord is a very uncharacteristic example. Many more people have fled their countries due to the imperialist wars waged by the US and their allies. And even greater is the number of people fleeing their countries due to economic conditions imposed by the neo-colonial exploitation war waged by the EU, the US, China etc on third world countries. And sure, Greece is not innocent in any of these, too: it’s a well established member of the EU and NATO.

So yes Greece must be severely criticized. But severe criticism should also be directed towards those that uproot people from their countries in the first place. And if one looks beyond sentimentalist compassion into the true reasons of the problem, there can only be one  “j’ accuse”: capitalism. But the NYT wouldn’t publish anything about that, would it?

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