Greece, flooded by refugees, under fire for asylum policies
The UN refugee agency last week harshly criticized Athens for poor treatment of asylum seekers – a majority of whom are from Iraq and Afghanistan.
A squalid squatter camp on the outskirts of this port city stands as a stark symbol of Greece's broken asylum system.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
If they're caught, they could face deportation back to Greece under a European Union refugee policy known as Dublin II, which requires asylum seekers to apply in the first country they enter. But conditions are so bad that few want to stay.
"If there were good facilities like in other European countries, everyone would stay here," says Ehsan Khatri, who shares a shack with his cousin and several other men in the camp.
Greece is facing mounting criticism for its treatment of people seeking political asylum. Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the country's system was so flawed that other European countries should no longer return asylum seekers to Greece, raising a serious test to Europe-wide cooperation on refugee issues.
UNHCR accuses Athens of turning down asylum applications on first review regardless of merit and of failing to provide adequate facilities for asylum seekers. Greece says it is overwhelmed and needs more support from other European countries. Since 2001, according to numbers provided by the Greek government to UNHCR, the number of asylum seekers has risen from just under 1,200 people to 20,684.
Indeed, as one of the European Union's easternmost countries, Greece is increasingly a gateway for people fleeing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most pay smugglers to take them by land across Turkey and then by boat to Greece. Many spend time in one of several government-run detention centers for illegal immigrants, where they are fingerprinted, their details entered into an EU-wide system known as FRONTEX, and given deportation orders.
Some choose to stay in Greece, either illegally or by applying for refugee status here. But most plan to continue on to wealthier European countries, like Sweden, known for their more generous asylum policies. They either don't know about the Dublin II rules, or choose to take their chances.