Afghans, Palestinians on hunger strike in Greece

21 January 2011,
ATHENS — Nine Afghan and Palestinian refugees have gone on hunger strike in Greece in a bid for asylum after Iranian migrants achieved their goal with a similar campaign last year, their support group said Friday.

The two Palestinian asylum-seekers are already in hospital after beginning their protest in mid-December while the seven Afghans, which include a woman, have sewn their mouths shut, the organisation said.

The protest is part of a broader mobilisation by Iranians, Afghans and Palestinians who claim refugee status.

In recent months they have separately camped outside two Greek university buildings to raise public awareness on their plight.

One of the protesters, Iranian Sahab Khosyavi, on Friday told reporters he has spent eight years waiting for his asylum request to be granted.

Rights groups have repeatedly criticised Greece for failing to support people fleeing conflict in Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

Greek authorities last year granted asylum to some 50 Iranians who had gone on hunger strike for refugee recognition.

Some 300 migrants this week said they would begin a similar campaign and stage outdoor protests in Athens and Thessaloniki.

Athens has pledged to step up asylum examinations to clear a backlog of some 47,000 applicants, many of them awaiting approval for years.

But it has warned that many will be sent home.

Would-be migrants and asylum seekers are currently kept in squalid and congested detention centres and police cells for months.

Most are then released with an administrative order to leave the country. Some try to book illegal passage to other European countries but the majority end up on the street, destitute and at risk from criminal gangs.

Greece says a surge in arrivals by thousands of would-be migrants and asylum seekers has stretched its capacity to breaking point.

Athens recently announced plans to erect a 12.5-kilometre (eight-mile) wire fence along a stretch of its northeastern border with Turkey that is commonly used by traffickers to deposit their human cargo.

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