Thanks for your continued love, prayers and support.  God is changing live and even the future of nations from right here in Athens… all to His glory!  And you are a part of it.  Thank you!

Would you spend a few minutes now and pray? Pray for our family – safety, health, growth.  Pray for the ministry – safety, team life, faithfulness.  Pray for our refugee friends – protection, justice, salvation.

The UNHCR (the UN’s Refugee Agency) compiles local news clippings about refugees and asylum seekers in Greece.  Below is a press review from last week.  There’s so much going on!  But God is our hope.  Please read through – and pray through – the stories below.  Let God break your heart with what breaks His.

UNHCR Greece Press Review 18-20 January 2011

Germany suspends the return of asylum seekers to Greece

A spokesman for German Interior Minister announced on Wednesday (19/1) that Germany has temporarily stopped returning asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation and is now processing asylum applications herself. The decision is effective immediately and for one year, after which Greece is expected to have made significant improvements in procedures for the examination of asylum applications. UNHCR welcomed the German decision to stop sending asylum seekers back to Greece. UNHCR Representative for Germany Michael Lindenbauer commented that the asylum system in Greece had almost collapsed, causing a humanitarian emergency. Meanwhile, Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis also welcomed the suspension of Dublin-Transfers stressing that “we are accelerating procedures for the examination of thousands of asylum claims pending for years”. In 2009 Germany returned 2,458 refugees to other countries, but only 55 of these were returned to Greece.

The Odyssey of migrants rescued from shipwreck off Corfu

It is feared that up to 33 migrants have drowned in the Ionian Sea after the wooden trawler carrying more than 250 people to Italy capsized off Corfu on Saturday (15/1). Some of the 230 survivors have claimed that their boat sank after being struck by a cargo ship. The majority of migrants were Afghans who had been living in Greece for several years and paid smugglers 2,000 -2,500 euros each in order to leave for Italy. Rescued migrants are currently accommodated in a hotel in Corfu. They are to be transferred in Aliens Police Directorates across the country (Athens, Makedonia, Peloponnesus etc.), while forty-eight minors with their families are to stay in Corfu and be released with a note to leave the country within a month. Meanwhile, UNHCR employees visited the migrants on Wednesday (19/1) but did not come in contact with members of the press.

According to the newspaper “Rizospastis” the 230 survivors have gone on hunger strike on Tuesday (18/1) covering their mouths with plastic bags claiming their right to live in safety.

UNHCR welcomes new law on asylum procedure

The UN Refugee Agency in Greece said on Wednesday (19/1) that it welcomed the adoption of the new law on the reform of the asylum system in Greece that foresees the creation of a new asylum service. The independent body will take over from the police the process of assessing asylum applications and screening asylum seekers so that minors or those with health problems are identified. “UNHCR trusts that these envisaged changes will address the current unacceptable conditions in which persons detected after irregular entry into Greece are kept,” the UN Refugee Agency said.

Afghan and Iranian migrants protest outside Citizen Protection Ministry

A group of Afghan and Iranian migrants, including 4 Afghans who have sewn their mouths shut, gathered in front of the Citizen Protection Ministry on Tuesday morning (18/01) protesting of not having received a response to their asylum claims lodged some 8 years ago. A delegation met with two counselors to the Minister and requested that the hunger strikers are granted asylum. According to the counselors the Appeals Committee to examine a backlog of 46,000 pending asylum applications are to be operational at the end of January.

Interpreters in Evros asked migrants for a bribe

Arabic language interpreters cooperating with the police in Evros demanded 500-1,000 euros from migrants in order to identify them as Palestinians or Afghans which would allow them to be set free, according to allegations by four Syrians who were arrested on 5 January at the Greek-Turkish border. The Syrian migrants claim that they were still being detained as they could not afford to bribe the interpreter whereas 10 other migrants were released after having paid him 1,000 euros to register them as Palestinians. To be noted that Afghan and Palestinian migrants are released 2-3 days after their arrest as their deportation is impossible.

Citizen Protection Minister: “Greece can’t take any more migrants”

Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis stated in an interview to the Egyptian newspaper “Al Ahram” that Greece can’t take any more migrants. Papoutsis said that Greece cannot provide to migrants arriving in the country the means to have a decent life, as there are no available jobs even for Greek citizens due to the current economic crisis.  He also reiterated that only those entitled to international protection and asylum as well as those with legal residence and work permits will remain in the country.

7 Afghans arrested at Thessaloniki port seeking to board cargo ship

Seven migrants, including two minors, were located on Wednesday (19/1) at the port of Thessaloniki seeking to hide inside a cargo ship heading to Italy. The seven Afghan migrants had entered Greece through the Evros land border and were given a note to leave the country within three months. They first arrived in Athens and then paid a Turkish truck driver 300 to 500 euros each in order to transfer them to Thessaloniki. According to port authorities, it is the first time that irregular migrants trying to exit the country are arrested at the port of Thessaloniki.

Athens far-right councillor gives Nazi salute

Nikolaos Michaloliakos, a far right member of Athens city council gave a Nazi salute on Monday (17/1) during a heated exchange with a left-wing city councillor at a meeting at Athens City Hall. Michaloliakos is the leader of the far-right group Chryssi Avgi which has been linked to violent attacks against immigrants in Athens downtown. Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis condemned on Tuesday (18/1) the gesture which was made and shown on Greek television and posted on the internet.

Smuggler arrested for transferring 13 migrants

A smuggler carrying 13 irregular migrants in his car was located on Monday (17/01) in northern Greece, near the town of Kavala. 3 of the migrants, mostly Somalis and Palestinians, were found hidden inside the trunk. Migrants had paid 300 – 3,000 euros each so as to be transferred from Evros to Athens.

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