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Statement by Greece to the 65th Session of the Executive Committee of the UN High Commissioner’s Programme on the Note on International Protection (Geneva, 2 October 2014)

Friday, 03 October 2014

Statement by Greece to the 65th Session of the Executive Committee of the UN High Commissioner’s Programme on the Note on International Protection (Geneva, 2 October 2014)

Mr. Chairperson,

Greece aligns itself fully with the Statements delivered by the European Union earlier this week and wishes to underline some issues that are of particular importance to our Country under this agenda item.

At the outset, we would like to thank the High Commissioner for his comprehensive Report on International Protection and particularly for highlighting the great challenges presented by mixed migration and movements by sea, as well as for presenting UNHCR’s activities in assisting Governments in their efforts to improve asylum and protection systems.

As regards protection at sea, the past few months have been particularly challenging in the Mediterranean, with the numbers of those crossing the Aegean being constantly on the rise in recent months, as the recent Update on UNHCR's operations in Europe has also pointed out. We express our condolences to the families of all those who have lost their lives in dangerous sea journeys, at the hands of criminal smugglers. The sacrifice of human lives should serve as a reminder to the international community that there is an urgent need to address this serious humanitarian problem in a holistic manner, by fully respecting the principles of burden-sharing and solidarity. This is not a Greek, an Italian or a Maltese problem. It is a common challenge with wider implications. For our part, we have spared no efforts to combat human trafficking in the Mediterranean and to save lives in humanitarian rescue operations at sea. Indeed, since the beginning of 2014, the Greek Coast Guard has saved more than 6,000 lives. In any case, there is a need for a further discussion on this issue and in this respect we commend the High Commissioner’s initiative to convene a High Level Dialogue on Protection Challenges at Sea in December, to which Greece will participate with a high level delegation.

As far as national initiatives to further improve protection and refugee systems are concerned, allow me at this stage to express my Government’s gratitude to the High Commissioner for the important assistance which UNHCR has offered to Greece in our effort to establish new structures with regard to asylum and first reception procedures. Since August 2010, Greece has adopted a new strategic plan for asylum and migration management, the National Action Plan, which has been applied for four years now with great success. In addition, our country has devised the Revised Action Plan on Asylum and Migration Management, which aims to rapidly, efficiently and effectively address any problems which were observed during the initial implementation of the Action Plan. Under the relevant legislative provisions, the Asylum and First Reception Services, as well as an Appeals Authority have been established and after more than a year of operation, the Asylum Service has recorded 11,059 applications for international protection. By September 2014, the percentage of positive decisions at first instance amounted to 21.6%.

Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to express our deep appreciation and commend UNHCR for its leading role in addressing the humanitarian challenges in Syria and Iraq, amongst other crises. On our part and despite the unprecedented financial crisis of the past few years, we have made every effort, commensurate with our capabilities, to provide humanitarian assistance, while since January 2013 we have also received more than 20,000 Syrian nationals, of which only 629 have applied for asylum.

To conclude, Mr. Chairperson, as is well known, Greece faces a particularly strong migratory pressure, due to its geographic position at the external border of the European Union, its extensive land and sea borders and its proximity with main countries of origin, but also as a country of transit of irregular migrants and asylum seekers. In this regard, we strongly believe that international and regional cooperation, solidarity and burden-sharing are the only means to ensure that refugees are afforded the protection and respect they deserve.
Thank you for your attention.

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