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Greece, flooded by refugees, under fire for asylum policies

The UN refugee agency last week harshly criticized Athens for poor treatment of asylum seekers – a majority of whom are from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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A squalid squatter camp on the outskirts of this port city stands as a stark symbol of Greece's broken asylum system.

Hundreds of young men and boys from Afghanistan – many of whom say they fled violence – huddle in bare shacks and over open cooking fires, waiting to be smuggled deeper into Europe.

If they're caught, they could face deportation back to Greece under a European Union refugee policy known as Dublin II, which requires asylum seekers to apply in the first country they enter. But conditions are so bad that few want to stay.

"If there were good facilities like in other European countries, everyone would stay here," says Ehsan Khatri, who shares a shack with his cousin and several other men in the camp.

Greece is facing mounting criticism for its treatment of people seeking political asylum. Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the country's system was so flawed that other European countries should no longer return asylum seekers to Greece, raising a serious test to Europe-wide cooperation on refugee issues.

UNHCR accuses Athens of turning down asylum applications on first review regardless of merit and of failing to provide adequate facilities for asylum seekers. Greece says it is overwhelmed and needs more support from other European countries. Since 2001, according to numbers provided by the Greek government to UNHCR, the number of asylum seekers has risen from just under 1,200 people to 20,684.

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