THE GREEK GOVERNMENT IS OPERATING “a two-tier refugee response”: one for Ukrainians and one for all other refugees according to a new briefing by the Greek Council for Refugees, Oxfam and Save the Children. 

The briefing details how, in the last two months, people fleeing Ukraine who are seeking protection in Greece were given swift access to protection, health care and the labour market. The Greek government has also started providing accommodation and support to buy food, the organisations said.

In the same period, there were multiple incidents of violent “pushbacks” of asylum seekers from elsewhere – including cases of children and pregnant women who were detained and transferred by boat to islets in a river at the border. In mid-March, asylum seekers reported that a -four-year-old Syrian child tragically drowned after falling from a boat in one of these operations.

The Greek government has also set up an easy-to-use online registration process for Ukrainians seeking protection. In contrast, the registration of asylum applications in mainland Greece is almost completely dysfunctional and inaccessible for other nationalities, and for Ukrainians who had arrived in Greece prior to 26 November, the report says.

The report details other instances of discrimination and differential treatment, with Ukrainians called “real refugees” and other people seeking protection labelled “illegal immigrants” by government officials. There were also reports that Afghan refugees in camps in Serres Camp in northern Greece are being forced to leave the containers in which they have been staying and move to a dilapidated part of the camp, to make space for newly arrived Ukrainians.

The research in Greece was conducted by the Greek Council for Refugees, supported by Save the Children and Oxfam. The findings and recommendations in Greece could be relevant to other European countries that are hosting people who have fled Ukraine as well as refugees from other countries.

Kleio Nikolopoulou, Lawyer at the Greek Council for Refugees said: “The asylum system is broken, even the most vulnerable people struggle to access it.  Recently our legal team intervened in a case where the person required surgery. As he cannot access the asylum system to submit his asylum request, he has no papers. As a result, he can’t get medical treatment or claim his other rights as an asylum seeker.”

Stephanie Pope, Oxfam EU migration expert said: “We are now witnessing a new trend amid continued pushbacks in the Evros region of abandoning people on islets without food or water. During the last month alone, there have been six such cases. Despite the clear evidence, the Greek government recently denied any allegations of pushbacks following a dubious three-month investigation by an authority that is not fit for purpose, and the EU continues to turn a blind eye to Frontex’s involvement in human rights violations at the Greek borders.”

The EU’s response to those fleeing Ukraine shows that providing humane conditions and protection for people seeking safety is a matter of political will, something that has been missing for the last few years, says Oxfam.

Daniel Gorevan, Advocacy Advisor at Save the Children said: “About 6,000 children from Ukraine have now fled to Greece. The swift action by the EU and the Greek government to protect children fleeing violence in Ukraine should be the norm, not the exception. Instead, the positive reception of people fleeing Ukraine has created a two-tier refugee response: children from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia or elsewhere face violent pushbacks, limited or no services, and are stigmatised as ‘illegal’ by the government.”

The humanitarian organisations called for urgent action by the EU and Greece to address the gulf between how those fleeing the war in Ukraine and those fleeing other conflicts are treated. This should include:

  • Refraining from discriminatory rhetoric and practices that wrongfully distinguish between ‘real refugees’ from Ukraine and other nationalities.
  • Respecting the international principle of non-refoulment, allowing access to Greek territory for all asylum seekers.
  • Replacing the current system for registration of asylum applications with an alternative modelled on the online platform established for Ukrainian refugees.
  • Guaranteeing that there are effective investigations into all the allegations of pushbacks perpetrated by the Greek authorities, as well as Frontex’s complicity in such operations.

* Read Greece: a two-tier refugee system here.

* Source: Oxfam International