Asylum System in Greece
When an asylum seeker reaches Greece after spending an onerous period braving some of the harshest conditions the human experience has to offer, they frequently meet consternation. The country they arrive in submits people looking for a better life to an elaborate system that starves them of their rights as asylum seekers under the Geneva Convention. This inevitably devolves into situations that mirror gross human rights violations. These situations exacerbate what many of the people face in their home country: poverty. The Borgen Project spoke to migration specialist Margaux Cachera to better understand the asylum system in Greece and its effect on poverty.

How the Policy Changed

Cachera worked on Leros, a Greek Island in the southern Aegean sea. She worked in conjunction with a hotspot that serves as the first glimpse of Europe for some migrants. She insists the asylum system in Greece has intrinsic ties to Europe’s policy on migration, which is admittedly poor. “There’s the basic issue of European countries not following the rule of law regarding refugees. One of the main principles of international law is nonrefoulement, which they are violating. So they are infringing on a key principle of refugee law. They simply go around it.”

The process of refugee migration in Europe is as follows; every asylum seeker may submit an application for international protection once inside the boundaries of the asylum country. However, on the fringes of Europe, in places like Spain, Italy and Greece, they face more difficult migration problems than northern countries. They have also increasingly looked to tighten immigration laws and border controls. After years of loosely following international law, a 2016 agreement with Turkey changed everything about the asylum system in Greece.

The controversial legislation and agreement with Turkey ensured that refugees and asylum seekers could no longer travel to other European countries. They thus end up in a clogged system that does not want them. Programs to house, feed and integrate asylum seekers have since fallen into disrepair. Cachera contends that in the years since the agreement came into being, the asylum system in Greece has become a divisive political football. “Since then, there has been a shift to a more intense, right-wing government and this agreement has started to be more harshly applied – not that it wasn’t ever applied before – and they [refugees and asylum seekers] are now being put into detention camps at scarier rates.” The asylum system in Greece is now morphing from a process by which people integrate into society to a process by which they experience exclusion or imprisonment.

The Poverty Asylum Seekers Face

If one reaches a Greek island with the hopes of attaining asylum, they immediately face stark reality. Before the 2008 economic crisis in the country, migrants experienced greater employment than natives. The following years proved the opposite, with unemployment rates among refugees dropping at greater rates than natives.

This phenomenon does not apply to asylum seekers, who often cannot obtain employment due to a lack of legal standing in Greece. As a result, they must live in a kind of limbo – unable to be employed and unable to have their case heard. This has created an environment with “no stable electricity or running water, limited food and insufficient space for social distancing.”

Cachera highlights the paradox about the asylum system in Greece – often asylum seekers (those who have not yet received their refugee status) benefit from greater aid than those who have received official status but are soon to lose it if they receive the good news of refugee status. “Asylum seekers don’t face the kind of poverty that refugees do. They have a shelter – which is deplorable but a shelter nonetheless. They have food – daily meals. And a stipend.” It then becomes curious to figure out why the system does not aid in the integration of its new migrants.

Greek’s hostile position to NGOs that help asylum seekers and provide programs that grant emergency housing and cash assistance programs like ESTIA and HELIOS, which “subsidizes rent and independent housing for up to twelve months” for vulnerable refugees, essentially subjugates asylum seekers to unwanted and uncared for wards of the state. It perpetuates a kind of incomplete existence in which not even prisoners remain.

What this Means for the Future

The solution appears to be one of increased funding to systems that aid asylum seekers and refugees. This functions in addition to the restoration of eligibility periods for programs like ESTIA. Such programs provide housing and cash to newly arrived refugees. Greece must realign itself with the principle of nonrefoulement. It must also reconsider its agreement with Turkey, which amounts to a naked attempt to circumvent established rules of the Geneva Convention, the doctrine that employs itself to protect vulnerable asylum seekers.

Of course, poverty has intrinsic ties to the process. Amnesty International recognizes 1.4 million refugees who currently need resettlement out of the more than 70 million people who have experienced forcible displacement due to “conflict, persecution or natural disasters.” Developing countries host about 84% of these people, which does not include Greece. Without a 180 degree turn to restore dignity and material resources to those waiting for refugee status the system is bound for further disrepair.

Human rights advocates and migration specialists like Margaux Cachera often publicize shameful issues to garner attention for gross injustice. Questions about actionable solutions, though, often engender a bevy of good ideas. “How do you make camps better? Should camps exist at all? I guess we’re not trying to discuss revolution here but enabling people to have agency is key. That’s the whole thing…. Camps in the global north are so regimented to a certain extent that they don’t allow for a microeconomy… Personally, I think it’s crucial that people are allowed to cook by and for themselves if they want. Which can spawn local vendors. People then have money to buy food and cook for their families. Some form of normality in that form would create a more positive social impact inside the camps.”

Depending on our aims for humanity, the global community must understand and address the asylum system in Greece. This would not only benefit those inside the walls of refugee camps and hotspots but also impact global poverty.

Spencer Daniels
Photo: Flickr

History of RefugeesWhile it is apparent there has been an increase in refugee traffic over the last few decades, the history of refugees extends much farther back in time. There are some important messages contained within these mass movements that can help explain why refugees are displaced to begin with, what human rights refugees have, why it has been challenging to integrate refugees into society once displaced and the major social advantages in doing so. Furthermore, the history of refugee movements is not localized to any single region, but rather it is a global crisis that involves every member of the planet.

A common question is whether an individual is a migrant or a refugee, and the difference is force versus choice. Being a refugee means having been forcibly pushed out of a community or home, usually by violent means. On the other hand, a migrant makes the conscious decision to leave one’s home and seek a better life. However, these words have recently been used more interchangeably, which has led to failures in international treaties, in the view of government intervention and in the role of the public at large in amending refugee crises.

Upon investigating the definitions of refugee and migrant, there are several examples of forced movements of groups of people throughout history. The post-war movement following WWII has been one of the largest in history, coming second to present-day examples in the Middle East. The WWII refugee movement spawned several ideas surrounding the human rights of refugees, most importantly, the Common Asylum System out of the Geneva Convention. This grants international protection to anyone that meets the criteria of a refugee. However, current political structures and views of refugee-receiving nations have been less than ideal despite treaties that grant asylum, which has perpetuated poverty crises and large death tolls.

It is important to learn from the history of refugees the facts and lessons surrounding current and future refugee movements. The major factors leading to these movements are poverty and political corruption, whether from the government or from radical groups. However, the most important takeaway is of human rights for the innocent, usually dynamic members of society who are willing to integrate into safer living situations and have proved to be productive and non-violent in their new homes.

Casey Hess

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About San Marino Refugees
San Marino is a small country ensconced by its neighboring country, Italy. It is considered to be the world’s oldest surviving republic. Its population is a little over 30,000. The refugee population in the area is small, which makes it a low concern for the region. However, previous years reveal higher numbers of refugees. Here are 10 facts about refugees in San Marino.

10 Facts About Refugees in San Marino

  1. Refugees in San Marino have come from Italy, Czech Republic, Brazil and even Mexico in the past.
  2. During World War II, San Marino, who was neutral during the war, hosted approximately 100,000 refugees from Italy.
  3. Between 1998 and 2000, the refugee population in San Marino was four. In the years following San Marino did not see its refugee population exceed this number.
  4. Currently, there is only one reported case of a refugee in San Marino, making the region’s refugee population at one.
  5. San Marino is not included in the Geneva Convention of 1951 or the Protocol of 1967. However, the government still has a system in place for protecting refugees. This means that the San Marino government can protect refugees at risk of persecution based on race, religion, social group affiliation, political opinions and more.
  6. By action of the cabinet, the government can grant refugee status or asylum to those seeking refuge in San Marino. Requests for asylum are rare.
  7. Laws in San Marino allow for foreign travel, emigration and repatriation. The country’s government follows suit with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees by providing assistance to asylum seekers and people who are considered stateless. This is also reflective of policies from other comparative humanitarian organizations.
  8. According to the Council of Europe Development Bank, as of 2015 San Marino contributed 20,000 euros to the Bank’s Migrant and Refugee Fund. This contribution was a sign of solidarity with San Marino’s support of European social cohesion and refugees in the area, according to the Bank’s report.
  9. According to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, requests for softer citizenship requirements have been declined in the past, making it difficult for refugees to eventually obtain citizenship.
  10. More than one million migrants and refugees landed in European countries. By comparison, the refugee population in San Marino is a mere fraction of a percentage of that total. While there are numerous facts about San Marino refugees, these are 10 facts about San Marino refugees that are important to know.

Though the refugee population in the country is minute these 10 facts about refugees in San Marino are important to achieving a deeper understanding the European refugee crisis as a whole.

Leah Potter
Photo: Flickr