- - Monday, December 8, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Nikolia Apostolou’s article on Syrian refugees in Greece (“Flood of migrants besets Greece,” Web, Dec. 3) fails to convey the full picture of irregular immigration that Greece and the European Union face.

In the past few years, due to the geopolitical developments in the Middle East, irregular immigration through Greece’s borders has skyrocketed. In the first 10 months of 2014 almost 65,000 irregular immigrants have entered Greece — that’s 6,500 per month, an increase of about 80 percent over the same period in 2013. At the same time Greece is going through the toughest economic crisis in its history. Despite the substantial progress which has been praised by all partners and the return to growth in 2014, unemployment remains high (above 26 percent) and the overall GDP loss since 2009 is at 25 percent. The proportions of irregular immigration, which are historically high, exceed the capacity of the existing national structures and services, despite the efforts Greece is constantly making.

In managing irregular immigration Greece follows EU regulations and international treaties. There are six detention centers where irregular immigrants are kept until they are repatriated. Irregular immigrants awaiting repatriation have access to food, sanitary facilities, translators, social workers and doctors. All relevant information and data are available to reporters and non-governmental organizations. All one has to do is ask the authorities.

But immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, including Syrian refugees seeking a better life in Europe, don’t want to stay in Greece. They want to reach central and western Europe. Yet the EU “country of first entry” principle means that Syrians entering the European Union through Greece have to apply for asylum in Greece. This is the only legal solution for them. EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos recently said that there is a legal gap in the case of Syrian refugees in Greece who want to move on to other European countries because they refuse to apply for asylum despite the request of the Greek authorities. They cannot be forced to apply.

Once they are granted refugee status, they will be entitled to stay and obtain work permits, health care and the opportunity to visit other European countries. Moreover, Greece, adhering to humanitarian principles, provides Syrian refugees with a six-month stay permit, which can be renewed for as long as it is necessary. Greece also puts in place rapid asylum procedures for those who can be identified.

Irregular migration is not only a Greek problem, it’s a European problem. Greek authorities, with the help of the European Union, are making enormous efforts to protect the Greek borders, which are also the external borders of the European Union, at a very difficult time for the regions of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. What is needed is a comprehensive European strategy to manage irregular migration, which will include burden sharing among the EU member states.

CHRISTOS G. FAILADIS

Press and communication counselor

Embassy of Greece

Washington

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