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.
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Mr. Khatri, a young man who claims he left Afghanistan after the Taliban threatened him for working as a translator for American troops, knows the rules. But he says he still plans to continue on to England and apply for refugee status there.Skip to next paragraph
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"If they ask me how I got there, I know what to tell them," he says, explaining how he avoided being fingerprinted while in Greece. "If there were good facilities like in other European countries, everyone would stay here."
But even those who want to stay often can't.
In 2007, just eight people were granted refugee status by Greece on first application. On appeal, an additional 132 were.
The acceptance rate – at 0.5 percent, the lowest in Europe – is only one obstacle asylum seekers face in Greece, however. Human rights groups also say asylum seekers, who are usually treated as economic migrants, are regularly abused by authorities and rarely informed of their rights. There is almost no infrastructure to support those who have managed to apply for asylum and little hope that their applications will be successful.
But the flood of criticism is beginning to have an effect. Earlier this year, Norway announced that it would no longer return asylum seekers to Greece and a Swedish court refused to return an Iraqi asylum seeker to Greece.
Back in the Patras shanty, many feel they have nowhere to turn. Local authorities have cracked down, making it increasingly difficult to continue on to Italy. Police harass and arrest the Afghans when they leave the camp to try to buy food or use a nearby public toilet.
"People who come to Greece are trapped," says Christos Karapiperis, who works for the local branch of the Greek Red Cross, which has helped about 200 Afghans apply for political asylum. "Most don't want to apply for asylum here. Maybe if it was clear that they can only apply for asylum here there would be more applicants."
Mr. Karapiperis and his colleagues try to convince them their best chance is to try and apply for asylum in Greece. But the Red Cross is not trusted in the camp; they say because smugglers who control the camp have spread rumors accusing them of working with the police.
So for now, most still try to move on, despite the risks.
"I've tried lots of times, but haven't been successful yet," says Khatri. "But I'll keep trying, trying to pass this border."