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Syrians are considered a priori refugees in Greece

17 April 2013 / 20:04:44  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Since 9 April, Greek police officers have not detained undocumented Syrian citizens in the country. In the case that a person is sent to jail, he or she should be released immediately after establishing his or her nationality as announced by a representative of the Ministry of Citizen Protection during a press conference organized by the Greek branch of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"Syrians are a special category because of the war that is raging in their country. However, even before the order, their maximum stay in custody was not longer than 1-2 months," he added. If the police seize a Syrian citizen, against whom an arrest and extradition warrant has been issued, he or she will receive a document for a six-month postponement of the execution of the sentence, which will be extended until the situation in Syria returns to normal.

In Greece, there are no statistics on the number of immigrants - neither on legitimate nor undocumented ones. Equally unknown is the number of refugees from Syria who have come here to escape the war. However, the police data on seizures of undocumented Syrians show that the influx of refugees has been increasing. The authorities seized 7,927 Syrians in 2012 whereas this number was only 1,522 in 2011, and 1,276 Syrians were captured during the first three months of 2013.

After erecting the fence along the Greek-Turkish land border in the region of Evros, trafficking networks have started transferring the majority of the immigrants and refugees to the islands of the North Aegean and the Dodecanese by sea. A video was presented during the press conference, in which the director of the port police on the island of Lesbos showed the boats, saying, "The capacity of these boats is up to 10 people. The traffickers transport 3between 30 and 40 people at one time, and even 50 people sometimes." The light vessels cannot fight the powerful waves and this turns out to be the last journey for many of the immigrants seeking a better life. Seven Syrians died in this way a month ago and the bodies of 21 Afghans had been found in December.

According to the United Nations, more than 1.3 million people have left Syria since the beginning of the war to escape the heavy fighting. The regional coordinator of refugees from Syria Panos Moumtzis said that they went mostly to Syria’s neighbouring countries because they hoped that the military actions would be cancelled and that they would be able to return to their homes. In Lebanon, they number more than 417,827 and they are scattered throughout the country. There are about 400,000 in Turkey, and nearly half a million in Jordan, which is already a problem to the five-million country. The government is preparing to refer the matter to the United Nations, as it believes that "the huge influx of refugees from Syria threatens Jordan’s national security."

Panos Moumtzis reiterated the call of the United Nations to neighbouring countries, namely to leave their borders open to refugees and to assist with the financing of their support from the world organization. "So far, we have collected about a third of the one billion dollars required. We aim to help 1.1 million refugees." He added that the main sources of financial support were Western governments.

In turn, the head of the Greek branch of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Yorgos Tsarmpopoulos welcomed the change of attitude of the Greek authorities to the refugees from Syria. He added that there were people of other nationalities among them, who were Syrian citizens and therefore, each case should be considered individually and carefully. "Another serious issue is giving refugee status at first instance. We know from our talks with Syrians that a large number of them do not apply upon arriving in Greece first because they have no confidence in the failed system and secondly, because they have relatives in other European countries and hope to join them. A minimum number of requests have been met within a year whereas things are very different when it comes to second instances."

The representative of the Ministry of Citizen Protection admitted that there were weaknesses in the system and announced that new immigrant and refugee services would be operational within 1-2 months. At the same time, more reception centres will be set up in different places along the border between Greece and Turkey, which will focus on establishing the nationality and citizenship of any immigrant or refugee (screening) upon entering the Greek territory.

Tags: SyriaWarRefugeesUnited Nations High Commissioner for RefugeesGreece
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