Improved asylum process approved

Parliament approved yesterday the government’s plan to create an independent asylum agency to speed up the process of approving or rejecting applications from thousands of refugees to stay in the country. Greece currently has a backlog of almost 50,000 asylum applications in a process that is handled by the police. But the legislation passed through the House yesterday would hand the authority to a separate body, which would be able to be much more efficient. The change would result in more asylum applications being approved, Citizens’ Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis said. «If someone comes to request [asylum], if he says he comes from a country which according to the UN’s Geneva Convention gives him the right to receive political asylum, he will get it,» he told Reuters. «This is the big change we are making.» The law also contained an amendment that allows Greece to use former army bases to house undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. Papoutsis insisted that PASOK would also seek approval for its plan to build a 12.5-kilometer fence at Greece’s border with Turkey to deter illegal immigrants. «When we have about 200 people entering through the Evros border every day, it’s like adding one or two villages to the country and we can’t cope with that,» he said. «Each country has the obligation to protect its citizens’ interest. Neither humanitarianism, nor solidarity, nor anyone’s good intentions can abolish borders.» The idea of erecting a fence had been criticized by human rights groups and immigrants’ organizations. Yesterday, Bishop Anthimos of Alexandroupoli added his voice to those who opposed the project, describing it as «inhuman.» «This is not a solution, at least not a civilized one,» he said.