The Greek Parliament on Friday night approved a bill that introduces the necessary legal and administrative changes for the government to be in a position to start implementing the recent agreement between the European Union and Turkey on the return and resettlement of refugees from next week.
The legislation was backed by PASOK and To Potami, as well as coalition partners SYRIZA and Independent Greeks when the “in principle” vote was held, giving the bill 169 “yes” votes against 107 “no” votes. New Democracy voted in favor of some of the draft law’s articles when MPs were asked to vote on each component of the bill.
However, during the second round of voting, two SYRIZA MPs opted not to support Article 60, which allows authorities to limit the length of appeal against the rejection of asylum applications to two weeks. Lawmaker Vassiliki Katrivanou voted against the provision, while former migration policy minister Tasia Christodoulopoulou abstained. One Independent Greeks MP was absent from the vote.
The passing of the legislation means that there is now a legal framework for the fast-track processing of asylum applications and appeals so refugees who have arrived in Greece by boat from Turkey can be returned to the neighboring country. The EU has committed to resettling one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every one that Greece sends back.
The bill also paves the way for authorities to boost the number of personnel at their disposal to enforce the agreement and to improve facilities for holding refugees while they are processed.
The severe pressure that the buildup of refugees and migrants at Aegean island hot spots is creating was underlined on Friday when several hundred refugees broke out of a center on Chios that was built to hold 1,100 people but was housing 1,529.
Of the 52,046 refugees and migrants recorded by Greek authorities around the country, 5,571 were at island hot spots.
Efforts to convince some of around 6,000 refugees at the camp in Piraeus to board buses for other centers failed on Friday. Despite the presence of official translators, the migrants were unwilling to leave for the Katsika camp in Ioannina, northwestern Greece, where problems with the facilities have been reported.
However, authorities arrested two Greeks aged 21 and 23 at Piraeus for allegedly trying to convince refugees that they could take them to a point where they could cross Greece’s northern border. The men were asking for money in return for transporting the refugees.