The Greek office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is struggling to handle a barrage of applications from undocumented immigrants who want to be included in its repatriation scheme, with 6,000 requests lodged so far this year -- more than double the total of applications made in the whole of 2011.
The head of the Athens office of IOM, Daniel Esdras, said that around half of the 6,000 applications will have been approved by the end of June, when the program, which is 75 percent subsidized by the EU, is due to end. Esdras proposed that Greek authorities ask Brussels for the cash-strapped country’s financial contribution in future repatriation programs to be reduced.
Meanwhile authorities are struggling with the processing of asylum claims lodged by migrants remaining in Greece. The head of the Citizens’ Protection Ministry’s asylum service, Maria Stavropoulou, said understaffing was a major obstacle. For his part, the head of the Athens office of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, noted that only 30 or 40 of the hundreds of migrants who line up outside the capital’s Aliens Bureau on Petrou Ralli Street every week manage to submit asylum applications.
In a related development, a delegation of 17 European Commission officials, dispatched to Greece to determine whether the country is implementing the terms of the open-border Schengen agreement, completed their mission “satisfied,” police sources told Kathimerini. Ten of the officials were sent to the northern border region of Evros, where they checked border stations and migrant detention centers as well as meeting with local police across the region and at Alexandroupoli airport. Greek police said the visiting inspectors did not express any concerns. “The committee officials left Evros satisfied,” he said.
The second team of European inspectors remained in Attica, where they visited Athens International Airport, the new temporary detention center for undocumented immigrants in Amygdaleza, northwest of the capital, and met with port officials in Piraeus.
Greece’s perceived failure to adequately monitor the EU’s external borders has led to some member states calling for the country to be excluded from the 25-nation Schengen zone in Europe, which allows passport-free travel.