Authorities on the Greek islands began allowing migrants out of the detention camps where they are being held while their asylum requests are processed, a migration official said Tuesday.
Since an EU-Turkey deal for stemming the huge influx of people to Europe went into force on March 20, around 7,500 people have landed on the Greek islands where they have been kept in holding centers while waiting to be processed to determine whether they can legitimately claim asylum.
But on Tuesday, a spokesman for the SOMP agency which is coordinating the Greek response to the crisis said those who had spent 25 days inside the holding centers and who had filed an asylum claim would be “allowed to leave” the camps.
He said the “the vast majority” of new arrivals had submitted an asylum claim, but it was not immediately clear how many were let out on Tuesday.
They were not permitted to leave the islands and must remain available to the authorities, he said.
The move aims to ease pressure on registration centers, such as Moria on the island of Lesvos which was visited by Pope Francis on Saturday, where conditions have been denounced by rights groups as degrading.
With the help of around around 100 European experts – a quarter of the overall number promised by the EU – the Greek authorities have since last week begun examining “several hundreds” of requests, SOMP said.
Those who fail to make a claim, or whose application for asylum is rejected under a new fast-track procedure which takes 15 days, face being sent back to Turkey in line with the controversial Brussels-Ankara agreement.
Greece began sending back irregular migrants from the islands on April 4, with more than 320 people expelled in the first week, most of them Pakistanis.
A new round of deportations would take place “when a sufficient number of people who have not applied for asylum or whose demands have been rejected have been identified,” the spokesman said.
The expulsions are aimed at easing the pressure on the European Union which is straining to cope with its worst migration crisis since World War II.
Since the deal went into effect, the number of new arrivals on the Greek Islands have stabilized at around 100 people a day – around a tenth of the numbers arriving last summer.
Despite the reduction, the arrivals would amount to “more than 3,000 a month” which would be difficult for Greece to manage “if, in parallel, the European plan for redistributing refugees who have arrived since March 20 doesn't pick up pace,” the spokesman said.
Some 50,000 people, many of them fleeing the war in Syria, have been stranded in Greece since the closure of the migrant route through the Balkans in February.
More than 10,000 of them are stuck in a slum-like camp at Idomeni on the border with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), which has seen a growing number of violent incidents sparked by desperate attempts to break through the frontier.