Date: Wed, 18 Jun 97 16:09:00 CDT
From: Panayote Elias Dimitras <>
Subject: News Release: Refugees in Greece
Article: 13044

On the occasion of the International Refugee Day

Greek Helsinki Monitor, Press Release, 16 June 1997

To honor today's International Refugee Day, our organizations Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group—Greece would like to remind that the guarantee and the protection of the fundamental human rights and the physical integrity of every individual should be ensured in any case. This means that, as far as the refugees are concerned, the country of reception is obliged to protect these rights, since the country where they come from turns out to be unwilling or at least incapable of protecting them.

In Greece, almost every day, persons who arrive from other countries appear in border areas. They have taken the painful decision to leave their homes and their homelands, because they are afraid for their lives; or because they try to avoid war and civil conflicts; or because they cannot put up with continuing persecution, imprisonment and torture, as a result of their political, ideological or religious convictions,. Every single case of refugee consists a living example of the failure of a government to protect human rights.

It is characteristic that, according to the UNHCR, at least 300 persons ask every month political asylum in Greece. Regardless of the country they come from, there are at this moment two kinds of political refugees. The first kind concerns those refugees who are persecuted on an individual basis, because of their activity or their participation in opposition groups or because of their race, their religion or their ethnic origin. The unwillingness of state authorities to establish decent centers for the reception and hospitality of these refugees, in areas that have already been found and suggested, consists an unacceptable situation concerning their living conditions during the waiting period for the examination of their request for political asylum. Since we believe that these people should be able to find refuge and hospitality in their of preference, we think that it would be useful for them to take advantage of the forthcoming registration and legalization of the economic immigrants, so that the desired by us goal, that these refugees stay in Greece for as long as they want, be accomplished.

Furthermore, since we believe that a refugee should enjoy certain basic economic and social rights (e.g., education, medical care, etc.), we express our satisfaction with the recent recognition (with Law 2452/96) of the possibility for refugees to receive work permit and have access to health care and hospitalisation. Nevertheless, in fact, the dramatic lack of a suitable infrastructure and of the decrees that are required for the implementation of the above law completely undermines these positive provisions.

The second kind of refugees concerns those who have not been persecuted on an individual basis, but decided to leave their countries because of generalized violence (nationalistic, religious, racial) or civil wars that take place over there (e.g., Kurds of Iraq or Turkey). They are afraid of the possible repercussions of unrest caused by the police and security forces or by rebel groups or, in general, by persons who are not public officials. Consequently, in a such cases, we call on the government to avoid a costly and time-consuming individualized examination, and to grant the legal status of “temporary protection”, as provided by the UN. According to this status, a permit of stay should be granted for a certain period of time, during which deportation is not allowed and the right of work is guaranteed. It is also important to accommodate these persons in a way that they could find a more permanent and satisfactory solution to their problems (e.g. access to the procedures of asylum-seeking).

In the latter case belong the 1,300 Kurd refugees from Iraqi Kurdistan, who have lived in the settlements of the Ministry of Education in the area of Agios Andreas, in Attiki, since summer 1996. It should be emphasized that the previous declarations of Assistant Minister of Health Th.. Kotsonis, saying that “after 4/1/97, these refugees will be deported”, were unacceptable. Fortunately, the immediate reaction of Greek and international organizations prevented this from happening, but there is no response at all to the request of these refugees for asylum, which would solve their problem. As for the illegal passengers of the small boats that cross often the Aegean Sea, coming from Turkey, we think that they should be allowed to arrive in the port of their destination, where the local authorities should check if the legal conditions of provision of asylum are fulfilled or not. If Greece, as a place destination, does not allow disembarkation, then it is in fact deporting them.

Let's not forget that refugees are not an impersonal mass who just ask desperately for compassion. They are human beings, like the rest of us, and they turned out to be involved in some of the bigger upheavals of the 20th century, without any fault of their own. They are persons who can contribute to the prosperity of everyone, if a chance is given to them. Therefore we should not ignore them, as we usually do. It has to be understood that, as long as wars, persecutions, discrimination and intolerance prevail, refugees will always exist.

Panayote Elias Dimitras