October 20, 2010

Statement by the Head of the UNHCR Office in Greece in relation to the hunger strike of Iranians at Propylaia, Athens

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The UN Refugee Agency

1. The hunger strike of Iranian asylum seekers at Propylaia, seven among whom have sewed their lips, is based on their legitimate claim to have their asylum applications processed and a final decision on their legal status issued, according to the asylum legislation.
2. It should be noted that among the hunger strikers, there are persons whose interviews at first instance are delaying for more than a year, while others’ cases are pending at second instance for several years.

3. This situation is the result of the serious problems and shortcomings of the asylum procedure in Greece, which subsequently create prolonged uncertainty and despair among the asylum seekers. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a substantial reform of the asylum system, guaranteeing a fair, efficient and fast examination of the claims and issuance of the respective decisions. To this end, UNHCR recalls that it supports the creation of a new independent Asylum Service, as foreseen in the relevant draft law that has been prepared by the competent Ministry and needs to be promoted soon to the Greek Parliament. In addition, UNHCR is ready to participate in the Appeals Committees that are to be re-established under the draft Presidential Decree, which is currently at the Council of State and is expected shortly to come into force. The operation of these committees will allow the adjudication of more than 46,000 asylum claims currently pending at second instance.

4. In the meantime, UNHCR calls on the authorities not to further delay the scheduled examination of the claims of the Iranian asylum seekers, at first instance or in the exceptionally re-established appeals boards, with all necessary procedural safeguards, and issue final decisions on their status following a fair and in-depth examination of the reasons on which they base their claims for international protection.    

5. It has to be noted that UNHCR supports similar claims of all asylum seekers, independently of their nationality, since they are entitled, according to the law, to a fair and prompt response from the national authorities on their legal status.
Athens, 20 October 2010

Source: UNHCR