In a bid to ease growing pressure on overcrowded refugee camps on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, the government is drafting a law to accelerate the process of granting asylum to refugees with a bill expected to go to Parliament as early as this week.
Arrivals of migrants from Turkey radically dropped after Ankara signed an agreement with the European Union to crack down on human smuggling over the Aegean. But the influx has picked up in recent months. Also the process of returning migrants to Turkey, as foreseen by the pact, is very slow, partly due to the influence of critics of the deal within leftist SYRIZA.
“The only way to deal with the problem on the Greek islands is for the EU-Turkey agreement to be effectively enforced and for there to be a significant number of returns to Turkey,” an official at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry told Kathimerini.
Since the deal was signed in March 2016, around 48,600 migrants have arrived on the Greek islands, according to the United Nations refugee agency. During that time only some 1, 500 people have been returned to Turkey.
Thousands of asylum applications are pending, chiefly because migrants generally appeal rejected claims.
At a summit of EU leaders last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged to bolster Greek efforts to accelerate the asylum process and to help increase the presence of Frontex, the EU’s border monitoring agency, at the country’s frontiers with Turkey and Bulgaria, Greek officials said.
Meanwhile, there are concerns 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.