The United Nations refugee agency says it is concerned about the fate of hundreds of irregular migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees, following the closure of a makeshift camp in the Greek city of Patras. The UNHCR says it fears many of the former inhabitants now are homeless.
Greek authorities swept in to clear the makeshift camp early Sunday morning. The UN refugee agency says 44 unaccompanied minors were found during the operation. They were transferred to a special reception center in Konitsa, northern Greece.
The UNHCR says 20 to 25 registered asylum seekers were moved to accommodations in Patras, while an unknown number of undocumented camp residents were arrested and taken to Patras police station.
UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, says a fire ripped through the camp after all the residents were moved. He says the source of the fire is unknown.
"UNHCR has long maintained that the makeshift camp at Patras did not provide appropriate accommodation for the people sheltering there," he said. "However, UNHCR is concerned that no alternative has been provided for many of the people who had been living at the site. We understand that many former residents-including registered asylum seekers-abandoned the site before the clearance operation. Their whereabouts are unknown. It is feared that many are homeless."
The UNHCR has frequently criticized the quality of Greece's reception facilities for asylum seekers. For example, it says the lack of interpretation and legal aid services at the Patras police station limit the processing of asylum claims.
Redmond says the majority of asylum seekers in Greece are young Afghan males. Indeed, he says a significant number of the asylum seekers recently identified are minors.
"The recognition rates in Greece are just an indication of the discrepancies between countries within the European Union where we want to see a common asylum space develop, he said. "The recognition rates in Greece for certain groups are extremely low. A very small percentage of asylum applications are actually recognized as refugees."
Last year, the UNHCR reports nearly 20,000 people applied for asylum in Greece. Of these, just 379 were recognized as refugees, as people in need of international protection.