The numbers of migrants crossing from Turkey to the eastern Aegean islands are on the rise, but the percentage of those who merit international protection is on the wane, say authorities, who are looking for ways to speed up asylum procedures.
Speaking to Kathimerini on condition of anonymity, local officials told the newspaper that refugee families currently stranded on the islands are reluctant to share a roof with economic migrants, mostly young men from the Maghreb region (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria) who allegedly often display delinquent behavior and are on the front lines of riots at reception centers.
Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas recently admitted that between 70 and 80 percent of arrivals were now migrants while before it was refugees escaping conflict and war.
Whereas the latter appear aware that the Balkan route to Western Europe is officially closed, the groups of young male economic migrants appear more willing to take the risks of reaching Europe.
A total 324 undocumented migrants crossed from Turkey on Friday, most of them from Africa and Pakistan. Another 330 reached Greece on Saturday.
Rising numbers are putting a big strain on Greece’s asylum system as virtually all newcomers make a claim for asylum despite knowing that they do not fulfill the necessary criteria for international protection.
“Even so, we are still obliged to follow the formal procedure and fulfill the European directives,” Maria Stavropoulou, director of the Greek Asylum Service, told Kathimerini.
Asylum screenings can take up to four hours. Efforts to accelerate the procedure are compromised by staff shortages. The service currently has 65 officials stationed on the islands. Of these, 25 have been dispatched by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). Greek authorities have requested a total of 100 officials.
Adding to the strain, most applicants appeal a negative decision, prolonging the procedure.
“Hence they end up staying on the islands for months, creating big problems,” an unidentified official from the Citizens’ Protection Ministry said. “In the meantime, they organize their escape.”