In a bid to avert a rerun of the refugee crisis of 2015, when Greece was overwhelmed by a deluge of migrants from Turkey, the government is planning to amend a law governing the process of granting asylum to refugees with a bill expected to go to Parliament next week.
The aim is to accelerate the process of returning migrants to Turkey, which had been one of the goals of a deal that was struck last year between Ankara and the European Union but which is being inadequately enforced.
On Wednesday, Greece’s asylum service said its staff have processed 33,021 applications for asylum since March 2016, when the Turkey-EU deal was signed.
The fact that rejected asylum claims are often appealed, and that reviews of those appeals take months, appears to be the main reason that thousands of applications remain pending, and thousands of migrants remain cooped up in state camps.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due in Brussels on Thursday to join his European counterparts for a talks on the refugee crisis. He is to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. It is expected that Bulgarian President Boyko Borisov will also attend the meeting, partly because Greece’s northern neighbor is to assume the EU’s rotating presidency in January but also because the country is on the so-called Balkan route followed by migrants heading to Western and Northern Europe.
Tsipras is expected to tell his interlocutors that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed, during a visit to Athens last week, on Turkey taking back migrants from the Greek mainland.
There are concerns meanwhile that a decision by the government to move migrants from cramped island camps to the mainland could encourage smugglers to bring more migrants to Greece.
New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is also due in Brussels on Thursday in order to express his opposition to calls by European Council President Donald Tusk for the abolition of mandatory quotas on relocating refugees across the EU. On Tuesday European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos slammed Tusk’s proposals as “unacceptable” and “anti-European.”