Oxfam slams Greece for ‘inhumane’ asylum application system

A Syrian refugee woman and a girl make their way out of the water after as they arrive on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. The International Organization for Migration says a record number of people have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe this year, now topping a half a million as some 388,000 have entered via Greece. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen) ORG XMIT: XMM107

International NGO Oxfam attacked Greece’s new asylum law on Thursday, saying it caused the “exploitation of people” and constitutes “a blatant attack” on Europe’s humanitarian commitment to protect refugees.

Conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis came to power a year ago with the objective of reducing the number of migrants and refugees arriving in Greece, the main gateway for asylum seekers into Europe in 2019.

With the backing of the European Union, Greece has made it easier to reject claims for minor misdemeanors like failing to show up to an interview and has also curbed applicants’ opportunities to seek recourse for such decisions, the report published on Thursday said.

“The new Greek asylum system is designed to deport people rather than offer them safety and protection,” warned Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) in a joint report published on Thursday.

“This means that people who have fled violence and persecution have little chance of a fair asylum procedure, and even families with children are regularly detained in inhumane conditions.”

Even the most vulnerable are confined to the so-called hotspot camps on the Greek islands, which amounts – according to Oxfam and GCR – to “administrative detention.” The past months have seen also seen a harrowing increase in sexual violence, the report added.

Evelien van Roemburg, director of Oxfam’s migration campaign in Europe, also accused the European Union of being “complicit” in the new policy.

“Greece’s new law is a blatant attack on Europe’s humanitarian commitment to protect people fleeing conflict and persecution,” she said.

“The European Union is complicit in this abuse because for years it has been using Greece as a testing ground for new migration policies.

“We are extremely worried that the EU will now use Greece’s asylum system as a blueprint for Europe’s upcoming asylum reform.”

The Greek reforms aimed to speed up the processing of asylum applications, with a view to either more quickly deport people or grant them protection and cut down the huge backlog of cases.

Conditions in refugee camps on the Aegean islands are notoriously overcrowded and unhygienic. There are some 33,500 people living in camps in Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos, where the intended combined capacity is 8,000.

In recent months the conservative Greek government has accelerated asylum procedures and hired hundreds of new border police officers. It is also building a fence along the border with Turkey. In March, Athens suspended the right to an asylum procedure for one month.