Cite as: McDonough P. & Tsourdi E. (2012), "Putting solidarity to the test: assessing Europe’s response to the asylum crisis in Greece". NEW ISSUES IN REFUGEE RESEARCH || Research Paper No. 231 (UNHCR)
These papers provide a means for UNHCR staff, consultants, interns and associates, as well as external researchers, to publish the preliminary results of their research on refugee-related issues. The papers do not represent the official views of UNHCR. They are also available online under ‘publications’ at <www.unhcr.org>
The challenges facing refugees in Greece are widely known. Since 2007, a stream of reports has documented serious deficiencies during every stage of the refugee experience, from arrival at the border through implementation of a final asylum decision. The humanitarian situation has improved somewhat in 2011, but at the same time the challenge facing Greece has grown. The European Union’s administrative and physical external border control regimes have become more stringent, rendering many former routes into the EU inaccessible. 2010 saw a massive shift of migration flows to the Evros region, the land border between Greece and Turkey.
More than 80% of all irregular entries into the EU now cross this border. Greece bears the responsibility for securing the rights and providing for the needs of nearly all the refugees among this population, as an EU law known as the ‘Dublin regulation’ requires that most people in need of protection request it of the first member state they physically enter. Greece has about 2% of the EU’s population and GDP, and one of its less developed asylum systems. By 2010-2011, human rights conditions there had led several member states to stop sending people back under the Dublin regulation. In January 2011 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found Greece liable for ill-treatment of an asylum seeker, and for failing to provide a means of legal redress, and found Belgium had violated the same standards by returning him to Greece.
Hundreds of individuals had already appealed to the court and to national courts for orders stopping transfers to Greece. Those member states that had not yet stopped transfers quickly did so. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled in December 2011 that member states may not transfer asylum seekers in the face of “substantial grounds” for believing there is a serious risk to their fundamental rights, and must either find another responsible state or process the asylum application themselves. At this point, the Dublin system has essentially ceased to operate with respect to Greece...