The Current State of Greek Asylum Seekers
There are currently more than 96,600 refugees and migrants in Greece. More than 35,000 of these migrants are asylum seekers living on five islands in squalid conditions. As of October 31, 2019 alone, more asylum seekers have arrived in Greece than the total number of asylum seekers that arrived in 2018. Despite the influx of asylum seekers in 2019, Greece is still receiving less compared to 2015 and 2016. On two Aegean Islands holding asylum seekers, families have created shelters on steep hillsides in a struggle to survive. Furthermore, the government cut public healthcare funding for new asylum seekers in July, forcing people to seek help from NGOs or privately fund their own healthcare, which is a big issue for people with chronic illnesses and children needing immunizations to enroll in school.
Tensions are rising between migrants and Greek citizens. Asylum seekers on the Aegean Islands have protested their conditions by starting fires and rioting. On the other hand, nationalistic Greek citizens have protested the presence of the migrants in Greece. Anti-migrant protests have included blocking a bus from transporting migrants in northern Greece, and consuming pork and alcohol right next to a refugee camp to protest Muslim refugees. The right-leaning government has also taken up the side of its Greek citizens, as mirrored by its new asylum law that attempts to reframe the immigration issue into one of illegal immigration.
New Greek Asylum Laws
On Oct. 31, 2019, Greece’s newly elected government passed a new asylum law that seeks to slow the flow of refugees crossing the Aegean Sea into Greece from Turkey. Many objected to the rapid passage of the 237-page law which involved very little public input and only days to for proposals that normally require months of examination. The proposals worry many important organizations such as the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Greek National Commission for Human Rights.
The asylum law is a threat to the human rights of those who come to Greece to seek refuge from unsafe conditions like wars in the Middle East. A prominent characteristic of the new asylum law is the creation of a list of “safe” countries of origin that the Greek government will use to accelerate the asylum screening process. Asylum seekers arriving from “safe” countries will automatically be assumed to not be in need of the Greek government’s protection. In addition to expedited “safe country” asylum applications, Greece is attempting to expedite all asylum applications to catch up to the 68,000 backlogged asylum applications in the system. The new law also allows asylum seekers to be detained for up to 18 months if their asylum applications are rejected or being reconsidered. Detainment of people for simply requesting asylum from an unsafe situation is a clear violation of human rights. Ironically, it is unconstitutional to detain asylum seekers who have not committed a crime under Greek law. Asylum seekers will be barred from freely leaving their respective Aegean Islands until they either receive refugee status or are rejected and sent back to Turkey.
Why The New Asylum Laws Are Problematic
The new asylum laws lay out consequences for asylum seekers that are clear violations of their human rights. Since Greece is a European Union border country, it is burdened with more refugees and asylum seekers. However, disdain for asylum seekers should never turn into the abuse of their human rights.
Vanessa Real Williams is a sophomore from Angeles City, Philippines. She is studying Public Policy.