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Europe

Germany puts freeze on sending asylum seekers back to Greece

Germany has cut Greece some slack by putting a one-year freeze on sending asylum seekers back to the Mediterranean country. The move was taken to help Athens raise standards inside refugee and asylum seeker centers.

Asylum seekers in a detention center in Athens

A majority of asylum seekers enter the EU through Greece

Germany has decided to temporarily stop sending asylum seekers who entered the European Union through Greece back to the Mediterranean country, the Interior Ministry said.

"The decision is limited to one year because the ministry believes that Greece will be able to improve conditions substantially during this period," the ministry said.

Greece has come under fire in recent years over the state of the detention centers it set up to house illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.

The Interior Ministry said the year-long pause in sending asylum seekers back to Greece for processing should help Athens in its bid to raise standards inside its crowded centers, which have been described by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) as dysfunctional at best.

The UNHCR welcomed the German decision to stop sending asylum seekers back to Greece. The body's representative for Germany, Michael Lindenbauer, commented that the asylum system in Greece had almost collapsed, causing a humanitarian emergency.

At least three-quarters of the 40,000 asylum seekers caught attempting to enter Europe illegally in the first half of 2010 did so through Greece, mostly via its porous border with Turkey.

Many seek to make it through to the EU's larger countries, such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom, but end up stranded in countries like Greece, Malta and Italy.

According to the so-called EU regulations, all asylum seekers are obliged to remain in their first EU country of entry for the duration of their asylum application.

Britain, Sweden and Norway have also put a temporary halt on sending asylum seekers back to Greece.

Author: Darren Mara (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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