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Greece’s Intervention to the General Debate of the 66th Session of the Executive Committee of the UN High Commission for Refugees (Geneva, 7 October 2015)

Thursday, 15 October 2015

“Mr. President,
First of all we would like to start by paying tribute to UNHCR Staff for carrying out their activities around the world often under dangerous and difficult circumstances and to thank them for the close cooperation we have in Greece.
Since the beginning of the year, Greece has received over 350,000 refugees and migrants. In the month of August alone, their number reached 80,662. By way of comparison, the sum total of new arrivals coming to Greece in an irregular manner for the year 2014 was 77,163. Taking the same months of 2014 and 2015, this represents an increase of 850%.
The vast majority (86%) of these recent arrivals has entered Greek territory via the maritime border with Turkey, mostly through five islands in the eastern Aegean. Again by way of comparison, the island of Lesvos has received 95,902 new arrivals (almost half the total) when the island’s resident population is 86,436. The much smaller island of Leros, with a population of 7,917, has received 10,684 refugees and migrants. The picture is very similar in the other islands (Kos, Chios, Samos, etc.). Finally, it needs to be emphasized that, from the beginning of 2015, in 1,527 separate search-and-rescue incidents, 57,188 persons have been rescued at sea by the Coast Guard and brought to safety. Despite this, tragically, several persons have lost their lives while making the perilous journey from Turkey.
It is obvious that Greece has found itself, in the summer of 2015, in the midst of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The main priorities were, and still remain, registering (with the assistance of FRONTEX) and then moving the new arrivals from the islands, where reception and social services are being stretched beyond breaking point, to the interior of the country. Secondly, with the cooperation of local authorities, NGOs and the UNHCR, the state is making every effort to respond to the basic needs of the new arrivals, to identify vulnerable persons or groups, and to inform them on the availability of international protection in Greece.
As to the profiles of the newly arrived refugees and migrants, the overwhelming majority are Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi nationals. Asylum seekers from these three countries have very high recognition rates in Greece, ranging from 100% for Syrians to 72% and 63.5% respectively for Iraqis and Afghans. However, very few of the new arrivals have actually applied for international protection in Greece. This is despite the fact that most of them are prima facie refugees, and despite the fact that the asylum procedure in Greece, through the establishment and functioning in the last two years of the Asylum Service, is now both credible and effective. An apposite illustration of this is the so-called “fast-track procedure”, whereby the majority of Syrian asylum seekers have their asylum claims registered, examined and a decision issued on them on the same day.  In addition, recognized refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are granted access to the labor market, free health care, and access to the public education system including vocational training.
We are, therefore, presented with the phenomenon of unprecedented numbers of people, most of them potential refugees, who manage to enter the territory of an EU Member-State like Greece where international protection can be provided, but who desire and actually do continue their trek to other EU Member-States where there is a diaspora of their co-nationals or where there is the belief, and often the reality, of better opportunities and more generous benefits.  We will work with our partner EU Member-States and EASO towards a fairer distribution of responsibilities for refugee protection, and we would like to thank UNHCR for its invaluable support to refugee protection in Greece.
Finally we would like to praise Mr Guterres' personal leadership, tireless commitment and dedication to his important mandate that has been an inspiration to us all. Mr High Commissioner, we would like to thank you for all that you have achieved in the area of refugees' protection worldwide during your tenure.
Thank you for your attention.”

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