New refugee and migrant arrivals in Greece will soon be able to move around the country freely without being restricted to the islands of the eastern Aegean where they arrive from neighboring Turkey, according to a Council of State ruling that emerged on Tuesday and upends a 2016 decision by the Greek asylum service that forced them to remain in so-called hotspots until their asylum application was processed.
According to the leaked ruling by the country’s highest administrative court, there are no reasons of public interest or migration policy to justify their geographical restriction to the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kos and Rhodes.
Migration Policy Minister Dimitris Vitsas said he would comment on the ruling once he is informed of it officially. Once the ruling is published, new refugees who apply for asylum will be allowed to reside in any part of the country they choose.
The asylum service’s May 2016 decision restricting migrants to the Aegean islands was challenged by the Greek Council for Refugees, an NGO which filed an appeal for its cancellation.
“The imposition of restrictions on movement blocked the distribution of those people throughout Greek territory and resulted in their unequal concentration in specific regions and the significant burdening and decline of those regions,” the court said in its reasoning.
However, taking into account the large number of arrivals, the court said the ruling does not have a retroactive effect, which means it will not relate to the refugees who are already languishing in reception centers.
The so-called hotspots have been operating beyond capacity and the country is now witnessing a fresh spike in arrivals of often flimsy boats carrying desperate passengers from Turkey.
The agreement reached between the European Union and Turkey in March 2016 significantly curbed the number of arrivals in Greece but local authorities say the recent uptick is due to the loosening of security measures in the neighboring country.