The UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) recently posted this report from Petrou Ralli – the street name of the police station where asylum-seekers are given an opportunity to apply for refugee protection once a week. Unfortunately, of the hundreds who must wait outside overnight, the police select just twenty to make an application – forcing dozens of others to fend for themselves in the city of Athens without documents, without support, without hope. We know countless refugees who have spent months trying to be selected (it’s often a matter of who can push their way through the crowd) so that their asylum-case can even be heard. The system is broken. Many are truly desperate. Many of our refugee friends risk their lives to leave Greece (e.g. by stowing away under semi-trucks headed for Italy) because they do not believe that they will be given a fair chance here. Please pray for Greece (truly overwhelmed by economic crisis, political corruption, and these new arrivals); pray for the many refugees here (desperate, alone, hopeless); pray for our ministry center and team. Here’s a clipping from the UNHCR report:
Every week more than 100 people, including a few women and children, wait for hours overnight outside a police building in Athens, hoping to apply for asylum.
The moment they have been waiting for comes at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, when staff at the Aliens Police Directorate in the Greek capital’s Petrou Ralli Street allow just 20 people into the building, where they can register their asylum application. Sometimes there are fights to get to the front, but the whole process is over in minutes.
The chosen 20 are given an interview date and issued with a pink card that identifies them as asylum-seekers with the right to remain in the country, seek employment and receive minimal assistance while their application is processed and considered.
The unlucky ones are dispersed, though many return the following week. Some have been trying for months, despite the risks of being deported if they are caught without a pink card…
The ritual on Petrou Ralli Street has been taking place every week for several years, but UNHCR and other humanitarian groups have been raising their concerns about the treatment of the asylum-seekers, believing they should all have unhindered access to the asylum procedure. They also worry about the conditions that the asylum-seekers must endure, including having to wait in line for many hours without access to toilets and other basic facilities. Many sleep surrounded by piles of litter.