NEWS

Red tape, poor coordination exacerbate Greece’s migration woes, experts say

Complex bureaucracy and poor coordination are dooming Greece?s efforts to cope with a relentless migration wave that is stretching its capacity to breaking point, experts told a European Union conference on Thursday.

?Police are making an enormous effort at the [Greek-Turkish border] region despite being understaffed and under-resourced,? Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos from the EU?s fact-finding Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) told the conference.

?However there is no local operational coordinating mechanism. Local authorities are not involved. Other actors are not involved,? he said.

The EU official, who headed an exploratory mission to the Greek-Turkish border in January, noted that undocumented migrants were still held under ?inhuman? conditions often due to local organizational chaos.

In one case, the team found that an entire hospital wing in the town of Alexandroupoli was under lock and key, though operational, because officials had not been asked to house migrant families to relieve pressure elsewhere.

?The bureaucratic procedures are extremely lengthy,? Dimitrakopoulos said.

?We are trying to understand why it takes two months to replace the windows in one police facility… [and] why in many cases police officers are paying out of their own salaries for renovations that needed to be made,? he added.

Authorities have said that 132,000 migrants were arrested in Greece last year, many of them trying to travel to other EU states.

Arrangements have been put in place to repatriate those willing to return, but a program jointly funded by Athens and the EU ends this week after returning nearly 600 people, an organizer said.

?Unfortunately the program is ending [on Friday], we cannot do anything to change that,? said Sofia Skanavi, an Athens-based member of the International Organization for Migration which had overseen the returns so far.

?We are expecting the new call for proposals and we hope it will not delay, but it is not up to us,? she said.

?We have 3,300 people registered to return. They are mainly Afghans, followed by Pakistanis, Iraqis, Somalis and other nationalities. The great majority are men without papers,? Skanavi added.

Greece is obliged under EU rules to keep undocumented migrants and asylum seekers from moving on to other parts of the bloc.

It has warned its European partners that it has difficulty coping with the pressure, particularly given its current economic difficulties.

Athens avoided bankruptcy last year thanks to a 110-billion-euro ($161-billion) loan from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The Greek government has announced plans to erect a 12.5-kilometer (8-mile) fence on its border with Turkey, a common overland entry point but the project has yet to be launched. [AFP]