Europe's asylum agency has signed a deal with Greece to help expand its operations in the country. Greece also plans to deploy 1,200 extra border police in an effort to stop migrants arriving from Turkey.
The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the Greek government announced on Tuesday that the number of EASO agency staff in Greece would double from about 500 to more than 1,000 this year. The extra personnel will include caseworkers, research officers for the Appeals Authority, interpreters and administrative staff.
Some personnel will be permanently deployed to eight new locations in Thessaloniki and Ioannina to support the country’s regular asylum procedure, EASO said in a statement. At the same time, it added, the number of caseworkers on the islands will double to about 200 and triple on the mainland from around 30 to 100.
Funding for EASO’s operations in Greece will also increase to at least €36 million in 2020, the agency said.
The signing of the agreement was an "important day in Greece's efforts to tackle ... the great challenge of migration,'' the Greek Alternate Migration and Asylum Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos said.
"The challenge is very big, difficult and hard to solve. (EU) member-states must not and cannot stand alone in the face of a challenge of such magnitude," he said.
Tens of thousands of people continue to arrive in Greece from neighboring Turkey each year, despite a 2016 EU-Turkey deal aimed at ending irregular migration to Europe.
Most of the migrants travel from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands in the eastern Aegean, where they remain until they are granted asylum in Greece or returned to Turkey.
In practice, very few migrants have been sent back to Turkey, and a huge backlog in asylum applications has left thousands of people stranded on the islands in overcrowded camps.
Greece to boost border police
In addition to the extra EASO officers to help clear the asylum backlog, Greece plans to employ 1,200 extra border police in the coming months in an effort to stop migrants making the crossing from Turkey.
According to the ANA-MPA news agency, the government has advertised 400 positions for the first group of border guards who are to be deployed along the land border in northeastern Greece.
A second group of 800 will be sent to the Aegean islands, ANA said, quoting the Civil Protection Ministry.
With dpa, AP