3 April 2008
Spotlight on Greece - EU asylum lottery under fire
In an open letter sent to the European Commission and the 27 Member States ECRE, an alliance of refugee groups across Europe, calls for measures to be taken to safeguard the rights of asylum seekers entering the EU via Greece. Greece has the lowest rate of asylum-seeker application approval in the European Union. It gave the green light to only 0.04% of requests last year, 0.05% in 2006 and recognised only 39 and 11 refugees in 2005 and 2004 respectively. Afghans and Iraqis fleeing war make up the bulk of those who seek asylum in Greece, fearing political persecution in their countries.
Under the so-called Dublin system, the first EU Member State that an asylum seeker enters should be the one to examine the application. “By requiring that those fleeing persecution must claim asylum in the first EU country they reach, the Dublin system fails to take account of the fact that a person’s chance of being recognised as a refugee varies hugely from one EU country to another. Greece is not a safe place for those in need of protection” said Bjarte Vandvik Secretary General of ECRE.
On 7 February 2008, Norway took the decision to suspend the Dublin system and examine the applications of all asylum seekers who had passed through Greece on their way to Norway. The Norwegian authorities’ decision followed new information about the violation of asylum seekers’ rights in Greece. Germany has stopped transferring separated children back to Greece and other states are also reviewing their policies on whether it is safe to return asylum seekers there. ECRE calls on all Member States to follow the example of Norway by immediately suspending Dublin transfers to Greece.
The rights of asylum seekers in Greece are routinely violated. Ahmed is an asylum seeker from Iraq. He told us that he first fled to Syria, then Turkey before finally reaching Greece, where he was arrested, beaten by police and detained for one month on a remote island. Before being released from prison, Ahmed agreed to have his fingerprints taken on the understanding that it would not prevent him from lodging an asylum request in another EU country. Since Ahmed was homeless and harassed by the police he decided to contact a smuggler to help him travel to Sweden, where he was told that he would have to be returned to Greece because his fingerprints had been taken there. To avoid being deported, Ahmed fled to Norway. “I ask for your mercy because of all the obstacles that I have experienced”.
The current situation in Greece is just one symptom of more fundamental and far-reaching flaws inherent in the Dublin system as highlighted in a new ECRE report. ECRE’s findings reveal the injustices of the Dublin system, which fails to protect the rights of asylum seekers because it is based on the false assumption that there is a level playing field of protection across the EU.
ECRE calls on the European Commission to take account of the recommendations in its report when proposing amendments to the Dublin Regulation later this year. These include measures to:
As well as being unfair, the Dublin rules are also inefficient, resource-intensive and an obstacle to genuine sharing of responsibility between members states. ECRE has long advocated replacing the Dublin regime with a system that safeguards the rights of refugees and ensures responsibility sharing in processing applications between Member States. “Ten years on, the Dublin system still isn’t achieving its aim – thus failing refugees and Member States. The EU can surely find a better system than the current one which bounces vulnerable refugees around Europe like ping pong balls, with devastating consequences for those unlucky enough to land in countries which lack proper asylum systems” added Bjarte Vandvik.
Notes to Editors:
1. The European Council on Refugees & Exiles (ECRE) represents 63 refugee-assisting organisations throughout 28 European countries.
2. Sharing Responsibility for Refugee Protection in Europe: Dublin Reconsidered available at www.ecre.org
3. The Dublin Regulation is a mechanism for allocating responsibility to a Single Member State for processing an asylum claim. It establishes a hierarchy of criteria for identifying the responsible Member States and aims at ensuring that every asylum claim within the EU is examined by a Member state as well as preventing multiple asylum claims.
4. ECRE public letters sent to the European Commission and to the 27 EU Member States calling for the suspension of Dublin transfers to Greece will be available at www.ecre.org from 03 April 08.
5. Asylum-seeker application approval rates in Greece: the statistics for 2007 and 2006 only refer to 1st instance decisions, while the 2005 and 2004 figures are for first and second instance. In 2007, the recognition rate on appeal was 2.05% and for 2006 it was 2.08%.
6. The case study of Ahmed is based on information provided by the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers (NOAS), a member organisation of ECRE, during an interview they conducted while preparing a forthcoming report on the situation faced by asylum seekers in Greece. This report was drafted jointly with the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and Greek Helsinki Monitor.
For further information/background and interviews
ECRE Secretary General, Bjarte Vandvik
Tel +32 (0) 2 234 38 06 or +32 496 288 047 (mobile)
ECRE Head of Policy and Advocacy, Chris Nash
Tel+44 (0) 207377 7556 or +44 9007912300366 (mobile)
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