Refugee groups from across the EU, including the Refugee Council, have today filed a complaint with the European Commission stating that the Greek asylum system is failing and, as it currently stands, violates EU legislation on the treatment of asylum seekers.
The complaint states that asylum seekers in Greece are detained in overcrowded, dirty prisons or forced to live on the streets where many of them face harassment and violence. Asylum application can only be made on Saturdays at the police station in Athens. Every week thousands of asylum seekers queue up outside the station, yet only a small number are able to make a claim. There is a severe lack of information available about the asylum process, no interpreters and little access to legal aid. A serious shortage of accommodation means men, women and children are being left street homeless. And there is a serious risk that many refugees will end up being sent back either over the border to Turkey or to their home country to face the persecution from which they were fleeing, violating the terms of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Because of its geographical position, Greece receives a high number of asylum seekers. Each year tens of thousands of asylum seekers arrive in Greece. On top of this, the UK returns refugees who arrive in the UK to Greece without considering their asylum application if it can be shown that they have passed through the country.
Jonathan Ellis, Director of Policy and Development said:
“The situation is untenable. We can no longer stand by while the Greek authorities continue to violate EU law and treat asylum seekers in this way. Until the asylum process is accessible and fair we should halt all returns to Greece immediately. It is unacceptable that anyone should be sent back to Greece while we have such serious concerns for their safety and how they might be treated.
“This is yet another example of why we need a pan-European approach towards those who seek refuge in Europe. European countries need to work together to ensure that each country does its fair share to relieve the pressure on countries close to the borders and ensure that all asylum seekers to the EU are treated fairly and humanely.”