UNHCR urges Greece to step up implementation of asylum reform

News Stories, 21 September 2010

© UNHCR/J.Björgvinsson
Asylum-seekers are interviewed about their application in Greece.

GENEVA, September 21 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday called 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 European Union (EU).

"The conditions for asylum-seekers in Greece, which is among the principal entry points to the EU, are notoriously difficult," a UNHCR spokesman, Adrian Edwards, told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday. He noted that most asylum-seekers receive no assistance, while many live on the streets, including women and children.

The refugee status determination system does not operate properly and, as a result, people needing international protection are not identified as such. "This is a humanitarian crisis situation which should not exist in the European Union," Edwards said.

The spokesman stressed that 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," he said. "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." Under Dublin II, asylum-seekers found moving within Europe must be sent back to the country where they made their application.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch called on UNHCR to intervene and take on responsibility for refugee status determination in Greece in light of these shortcomings. Edwards said UNHCR noted 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.



Greek Gateway to NowherePlay video

Greek Gateway to Nowhere

Asylum-seekers see Greece as a gateway to Europe, but the reality is quite different.

UNHCR country pages

EU Asylum Law and Policy

EU law and practice affects creation of refugee protection mechanisms in other countries.


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.


Trends on asylum and protection in EU Member States.

EU Instruments

UNHCR's regularly comments on key EU Regulations and Directives relating to asylum.

UNHCR Projects

UNHCR has numerous projects with EU Member States to improve the quality of asylum.

Judicial Engagement

UNHCR expertise helps courts interpret legislation in accordance with international asylum law.


The significance of resettlement as a durable solution is increasing in the EU.

Integration (refugee rights) and Family Reunification

Integration is a two-way process requiring efforts by the host societies as well as the refugees.

Border Cooperation

UNHCR is lobbying for protection-sensitive border management.

Asylum Practice

UNHCR is monitoring asylum practice and whether it is consistent with the 1951 Convention.

Practical cooperation

UNHCR is promoting and supporting cooperation with EU Member States and EASO.

Working with the European Union

EU law and practice affects creation of refugee protection mechanisms in other countries.

Groups of Concern

UNHCR expects Member States to pay particular attention to asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs.

Statelessness in Europe

UNHCR engages with EU Member States to identify and resolve the problems of stateless persons.

UNHCR Central Mediterranean Sea Initiative (CMSI)

EU solidarity for rescue-at-sea and protection of Asylum Seekers and Migrants.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

George Dalaras

George Dalaras

The makeshift camp at Patras

Thousands of irregular migrants, some of whom are asylum-seekers and refugees, have sought shelter in a squalid, makeshift camp close to the Greek port of Patras since it opened 13 years ago. The camp consisted of shelters constructed from cardboard and wood and housed hundreds of people when it was closed by the Greek government in July 2009. UNHCR had long maintained that it did not provide appropriate accommodation for asylum-seekers and refugees. The agency had been urging the government to find an alternative and put a stronger asylum system in place to provide appropriate asylum reception facilities for the stream of irregular migrants arriving in Greece each year.The government used bulldozers to clear the camp, which was destroyed by a fire shortly afterwards. All the camp residents had earlier been moved and there were no casualties. Photographer Zalmaï, a former refugee from Afghanistan, visited the camp earlier in the year.

The makeshift camp at Patras

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

Greece: A New Registration CenterPlay video

Greece: A New Registration Center

In Greece, the total number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year stands now over 400,000. The small island of Lesbos, a popular tourist resort, has been at the frontline of this influx of arrivals. On a calm day, up to 5,000 migrants and refugees arrive here.
Greece: Refugee Crisis in EuropePlay video

Greece: Refugee Crisis in Europe

Over 100,000 refugees have arrived to Greece by sea this year. UNHCR is mobilizing emergency teams, resources and delivering basic humanitarian assistance in order to address the most urgent gaps and support government efforts. Volunteers, local communities and NGOs are providing invaluable assistance but they need support.

Greece: Refugees in KosPlay video

Greece: Refugees in Kos

UNHCR is stepping up its field presence in the eastern Aegean islands of Greece where, in recent weeks, an average of 600 people, mostly refugees, have been arriving every day by sea from Turkey.