EU ministers question Greece′s handling of refugees | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 09.03.2012
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EU ministers question Greece's handling of refugees

Once again, Greece is facing criticism - but this time, it's not about the national debt. EU interior ministers have called for the country to better protect its borders against illegal immigrants.

The influx of refugees from Arab and African countries into Greece seems to have no end. Camps are overflowing, with people living in poor housing or on the streets. The Greek authorities are simply overwhelmed.

The asylum process in Greece proceeds slowly, if at all. Many refugees are leaving Greece and heading for other EU countries; something the interior ministers of Germany, Austria, Sweden, Belgium, France, the UK and the Netherlands want to prevent.

Human rights violation

But to call for Greece to completely seal its borders could be seen as a human rights violation, for it would deny refugees the right to seek protection.

"It was assumed across the board that these people weren't looking for asylum from serious human rights violations, without even investigating their asylum claims, or giving them legal protection, even though they were entitled to this," said Hendrik Cremer, senior researcher at the German Institute for Human Rights. And, he adds, they were entitled to these rights before they even set foot on dry land.

Under-age illegal immigrants shouting slogans and holding banners reading we want freedom we don't want food

Refugees in Greece face poor living conditions

EU countries that intercept refugee boats in international waters and send them back to their home countries, or to another receptive host country, may find themselves in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which forbids sending people to face "torture or…inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

This also applies to the borders of the European Union, says Cremer. "These EU countries can't simply say: You are not allowed to enter."

Dublin II and Schengen

Within the EU, the rule is that whichever country a refugee arrives in is responsible for his or her asylum procedure. This process is controlled by the regulation known as Dublin II.

EU member countries, like Greece, that lie in coastal areas and are more accessible to refugees, must therefore take on a significantly higher number of asylum seekers than landlocked countries.

To address this problem, Cremer suggests that "asylum seekers be distributed among all EU member countries, in order to ease the strain on the coastal countries." That, however, would require a change to Dublin II.

Cremer disagrees with those who have called for a more stringent protection of the EU's internal borders by, for example, reintroducing border controls in the Schengen Area. Every EU country to receive a refugee at its border is required to fully respect the asylum procedure, so to send a refugee claimant to another country within the EU is not allowed.

And, in the case of Greece, Cremer warns that refugees "may be at risk of inhumane treatment, and may not be guaranteed access to the asylum procedure."

Around 200 illegal immigrants on the shores of Crete

There seems to be no end to the influx of refugees in Greece

Greece fighting a losing battle

Karl Kopp, of the German refugee organization Pro Asyl, says more solidarity is needed among the EU countries. He criticizes the fact that Greece has been left alone to deal with the flood of refugees.

Kopp says it would make sense to develop a common border protection system for all of Europe, "with humane admittance conditions that would be made mandatory so they are similar throughout the EU." By implementing this system, he believes Europe would have the chance to effectively deal with the thousands of homeless refugees currently found on the continent's southern shores.

By his estimates, based on the high number of existing political conflicts, the number of refugees showing up in the EU is relatively low. "Around 250,000 people are making it into the EU every year," said Kopp. "And still, it's been the tendency for years for EU states, even Germany, to isolate themselves."

Author: Beatrix Beuthner / cmk
Editor: Gregg Benzow

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