Letter to United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees Mr. António Guterres




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TO:  United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees Mr. António Guterres

20 January 2010


Dear Mr. Guterres,

On the occasion of your visit in Greece and your meeting with the non- Governmental Organizations working in the field of asylum, we hereby would like to present you our views concerning the situation of asylum seekers and refugees in our country.

It is well known, that Greece has various and constant problems in its asylum system, some of which are listed below:

  • Preventing asylum seekers to enter the Greek territory and exercise their rights according to the Geneva Convention as well as the Greek legislation (i.e. apply for asylum, seek protection for humanitarian purposes etc)
  • Limited access to the asylum procedure
  • Illegitimate actions concerning the asylum process
  • Very low recognition rates.
  • Accumulation of pending asylum claims in second instance
  • Illegal deportation (refoulement) of asylum seekers
  • Lack of protection for vulnerable groups, handicapped, minors, torture victims etc
  • Lack of the reception conditions prescribed by European asylum law


As a result,there have been thousands of cases of asylum seekers who have been deprived of their rights due to those illegal practices of the authorities.

Furthermore, a great number of cases (mainly on second instance), estimated at around 50.000, are pending for many years. 

However, since 2009 this already intolerable situation has, unfortunately, deteriorated. Some of the characteristics that describe this aggravation are given underneath:

  • The adoption of the Presidential Decree 81/2009, which abolished the second instance of the asylum process, denying this way asylum seekers their right for an effective remedy.
  • Practical suspension of the examination of asylum claims.
  • Almost absolute deprivation of the right to access the asylum process.
  • Massive arrests of asylum seekers.
  • Bulge of illegal deportations of the asylum seekers[1]

The result of this situation is that today the institution of asylum, practically doesn’t work in Greece.

The new government elected on 4th October 2009 has announced changes on the asylum process.  More specifically, the creation of a new civil asylum service which will eventually abstract the responsibility of the asylum from the Police.  However, so far no changes have been made.  The abolition of the Presidential Decree 81/2009, which is a necessity, as well as, a demand from all NGOs working in the field of asylum, has not taken place nor has the government ordered the Police to facilitate access to the asylum process. Regrettably, the situation remains practically the same.

So far, the government has set up a Committee of Experts which has reached some conclusions concerning the new asylum system and the transition period.  The work of this Committee will be followed by the Law-making Committee, the outcome of which will be put into public debate and finally the draft law will be checked by the Council of the State.  Even after all these processes take place, a long time will be needed before the new asylum service will be created and eventually work.

Obviously we have a long transition period ahead till the new system starts functioning.  Apart from the fact that no changes have been made so far, it is very worrying that for the transition period (according to the conclusions of the Committee of Experts):

The responsibility of asylum will remain under the authority of the Police, in other words will remain in dysfunction, with all its side effects.

Moreover, only few transition Committees will be set up for sorting out the estimated 50.000 cases pending on second instance, as a result, it seems that these cases will remain pending for many more years.

There is no sufficient provision for the restoration of justice and the rights of asylum seekers who were repressed due to the illegal practice of the Police (this matter concerns thousands of asylum seekers coming from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia etc)

Thus our organisation expresses its grave concern for the situation of asylum seekers in Greece and believes that the following steps should be taken:

  • Immediate disengagement of the Police Authorities with the functioning of the asylum system and its allocation to a civil service
  • Direct facilitation of accessing the asylum process
  • Setting up a sufficient number of transition Committees which will sort out the pending cases on second instance within a year (as it is already mentioned above, the estimated number is 50.000)
  • Reforming the asylum process so that there will be complete restoration of the rights of the asylum seekers who were excluded of the asylum process due to the illegal practice of the Police Authorities
  • Creation of a fair asylum system according to international refugee law


With honor,

On behalf of ‘AITIMA’

Spyros Rizakos


For further information, please look at AITIMA, NOAS, NORWEGIAN HELSINKI COMMITTEE “Out the back door. Dublin II regulation and illegal deportations of asylum seekers from Greece”, October 2009,http://www.nhc.no/php/files/documents/Publikasjoner/Rapporter/Landogtema/2009/44836_Rapport_out_the_backdoor.pdf)