Refugees and their children, holding asylum status, hold a protest outside the EU offices in Athens on May 27, 2020 | Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki /AFP
Refugees and their children, holding asylum status, hold a protest outside the EU offices in Athens on May 27, 2020 | Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki /AFP

Greece's Migration Ministry has announced that the printed cards issued to asylum seekers in the country will be replaced by electronic cards as of October 1, 2020.

The move announced by the ministry comes in response to dangerous overcrowding taking place in recent weeks outside the offices of the Asylum Service in the Katehaki, Alimos and Piraeus areas of Athens, since the offices opened up again on May 18 after the lifting of COVID-19 safety measures.

Hundreds of refugees and migrants crowd the entrances every day and the government has come under heavy criticism from media observers for the unnecessary suffering, especially of vulnerable groups who reportedly wait for hours without even gaining entrance.

Under the government's proposed scheme, the new digital cards will be issued by the newly-appointed governors of the accommodation facilities and identification centers hosting the migrants. The cards will also be used as entry cards for the camps, as well as for other services offered by the ministry.

In parallel, the ministry also announced that it has extended the validity of all asylum cards until October 1 that expired or will expire between June 1 and September 30 this year. At the same time, the temporary social security and healthcare number for refugees will be issued solely via the website of the Social Security Electronic Governance SA (IDIKA).

Digital difficulties

Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis claimed it was the refugees and migrants themselves who were to blame for the dangerous overcrowding at the Asylum Services offices. "It's a bit difficult to explain to all these people that the process is now going digital. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, many people seem to have this personal insecurity issue and they want to come here themselves, just to get information that is already available on the internet," Mitarakis told reporters.

Mitarakis insisted that eight out of ten people did not even need to go to any asylum office because they had already been informed that the residence cards had been extended and that many changes were being made electronically.

This viewpoint is being criticized by many in the local media who suggest that Mitarakis is overlooking the extremely complex and difficult reality that the refugees and migrants are facing, adding that most Greeks would struggle to understand the information provided.

It remains to be seen whether the measures will have an immediate effect, as it will of course take time to inform and familiarize tens of thousands of refugees and migrants with the new digital systems.

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