Iranian Refugees Demand Political Asylum in Greece, 2010

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Time Period:  
1 September
18 November
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Location Description: 
Front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees's office (UNHCR) in Greece and university of Athens
The campaigners sought to gain legal asylum in Greece and to speed up the process of refugee determination.

In the 2000s a large number of Iran's educated and political activists fled Iran due to social restrictions, political pressures and economic issues to seek asylum in European countries in hopes of a better life. This emigration spiked after the Iranian presidential election of 2009, which threatened political activists working for democracy. The majority of Iranian refugees, like other asylum seekers who fled from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, chose Greece because its borders were accessible. In the past, Iranian refugees had been able to petition the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Greece and receive asylum. However, most of the Iranian asylum seekers who arrived in 2009 faced difficulty in Greece. The Greek United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees placed thousands of Iranian refugees on waiting lists. In the meantime, many of the refugees lived in camps without sufficient shelter or healthcare.

On 1 September 2010, about 45 Iranian refugees in Greece started a peaceful protest in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office and the University of Athens. Protesters occupied the area, camping in tents. They protested to pressure the Greek government to accept their applications for asylum. All of the protesters had lived between four to twelve years in Greece’s refugee camps without any answer to their requests for refugee status. The protesters sent multiple letters to Greece’s various government ministers. After more than forty-four days of the occupation, the Greek government had not responded.

On 14 October 2010, twenty-five protesters announced a hunger strike after meeting with Greece’s Deputy Minister of Interior. He told them that Greece would not recognize them as refugees and grant them asylum. On 21 October 2010, one woman and six men sewed their lips in protest.

The members of the campaign who were on hunger strike deteriorated, especially the members who had sewed their mouths. At the end of their second week, six protesters were hospitalized. The Greek government denied the protesters use of a public ambulance, and they had to rent one. At this time, the Greek government still did not take any action, and refused to acknowledge the hunger strike or comment upon it. Almost no mainstream Greek media covered the hunger strike.

In frustration, through the online media, the protesters requested support from all international human rights activists since the Greek government was suppressing their efforts. Iranian and Afghani asylum seekers in Greece and Turkey supported them by spreading the story. They started using YouTube to broadcast their message as political asylum seekers forced to flee Iran after facing harassment from the Iranian Islamic government. Particularly the images of refugees sewing their lips drew global attention.

The hunger strike began to gain international and Greek media coverage. Some organizations, such as International Federation of Iranian Refugees (IFIR), Greek Left Party (ADRSYA) and Committee of Immigration Workers in Greece, appealed to the Greek government to act on the refugees’ cases. On 18 November 2010, after seventy-eight days of protest and thirty-five days on hunger strike, the Greek government granted all the protesters legal residence status in Greece.

Research Notes

There were previous examples of hunger strike in 2009 and 2008 by a few Iranian and Afghani refugee seekers that ended up in getting refugee status in Greece.

“Iranian asylum seekers in Greece sew up lips in protests.” Haaretz 18 October2010 : n.pag. Print

Jeffers, A. Refugees, theatre and: performing global identities. Basingstoke: United Kingdom. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.

“Refugees in Greece sew lips.” Iran times International 5 November 2010 : n.pag. Print.

Sadeghi , Mohammad .“A Hellenic hell for refugees.” Gozzar: Iranian advisory Council 15 Sep.2006.Web.25 Aug. 2010.

“In support of Iranian refugees in Greece.” 28 October 2010.Iran solidarity. 13 July. 2009. Web. 28 October 2010.

“Iranian asylum seekers sew mouths shut to protest Greek mistreatment.” French 24 International news,2006, Web. 25 October 2010.

“Short history of hunger Strikes by refugees.” The boarder is the problem.W2eu, 2009.Web.1 December 2010.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Anonymous, 22/11/2013