October 26, 2010 / 5:01 PM / 9 years ago

CORRECTED - U.N. criticises "dysfunctional" Greek asylum system

(Corrects acceptance of refugee applications to 0.3 percent)

* Greece is main entry point into EU bloc, mostly via Turkey * UN urges EU team to identify those fleeing war, abuse

* Country accepts just 0.3 percent of refugee applications

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Greece’s asylum system is largely dysfunctional and EU border officials deployed there to confront an influx via Turkey must ensure that those fleeing war and abuse are protected, the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday.

A team from the European Union border agency FRONTEX is being sent to the Greek border with Turkey to cope with a human tide that EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said Greece could not face alone.

The border between the two countries has become the main entry point into the EU bloc for irregular migrants and asylum seekers, with several hundred people crossing into Greece each day, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

“While recognising the imperative of controlling the EU’s external border, UNHCR cautions that asylum needs must not be overlooked,” spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a news briefing.

“UNHCR urges the FRONTEX teams to make sure that any persons who are seeking international protection are identified and referred to the competent authorities.”

However, this was a particular challenge in Greece, “as the asylum system does not function properly,” Mahecic added.

Access to asylum procedures in Greece is “difficult at best” and the system often fails to identify people needing protection from violence or persecution, according to the UNHCR.

Greece has an extremely low rate of recognising refugees, some 0.3 percent compared with an average of 31 percent in EU members France, Britain, Germany and Sweden, the agency says.

Most people lodging asylum requests in Greece so far in 2010 came from conflict zones including Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia as well as Iran, Bangladesh and Georgia. And many more potential applicants have not sought the protection.

At least 44 would-be migrants have drowned so far this year in the Evros River trying to cross into Greece and the EU from Turkey, according to the Geneva-based agency.

The humanitarian situation on the Greek side of the border is also critical, with large numbers of migrants detained in extremely difficult conditions, the UNHCR said.

Improved shelter, medical care and psycho-social support are needed, it said, echoing concerns voiced last week by U.N. torture investigator Manfred Nowak after a 10-day visit to detention centres where he found conditions “appalling.”

The so-called Dublin II rules require asylum applications to be processed in the first EU state in which the asylum seekers lodge an application. The underlying aim is that they will receive roughly equal treatment throughout the bloc.

Nowak, an independent investigator who reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council, said EU states must stop sending illegal migrants back to Greece and share the burden of migration more evenly. The UNHCR has made a similar appeal. (Editing by Laura MacInnis and Jon Boyle)

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