Between January and May 2017, a total of 6,142 people arrived on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos | Photo: Picture-alliance/AA/E.Martinena
Between January and May 2017, a total of 6,142 people arrived on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos | Photo: Picture-alliance/AA/E.Martinena

The asylum 'hotspot' system established under the EU-Turkey deal five years ago has failed, according to a German think tank. In a new report, it warns that the EU must not repeat the mistakes of the Greek islands.

New criticism has emerged of the hotspot approach developed by the European Union to deal with the large number of asylum seekers arriving on European Shores. In a paper published Tuesday (March16) by the Expert Council on Integration and Migration, a think tank in Germany, researcher Karoline Popp says the system has largely been a failure because it still does not provide a mechanism to relieve pressure on the hotspot locations.

In 2015, under the approach, systems were set up in Italy and Greece to fast-track asylum procedures and to return migrants who were considered ineligible for protection. On the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Leros and Samos, the result was a number of overcrowded and unsafe migrant camps, the largest of which burned to the ground in September 2020.

Also read: Migrants: 18 associations ask EU to abandon hotspot centers

A fire in a container in the Moria camp on Lesbos in 2019 | Photo: Reuters/Ihab Abassi
A fire in a container in the Moria camp on Lesbos in 2019 | Photo: Reuters/Ihab Abassi

Soon after the destruction of Moria, the EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, declared: "We will have no more camps like Moria, I think that’s very obvious." But in Greece the hotspot approach remains the key strategy in addressing what the EU calls "migratory pressures." Moreover, proposed screening upon arrival at the EU's external borders is a component of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum presented by the European Commission last September.

Karoline Popp says in the case of the Greek islands neither the rapid asylum procedures nor the speedy returns that were part of the hotspot approach have eventuated. The Greek asylum system continues to suffer from staff shortages and inefficiency, she says in the paper entitled "No more Morias?".

As part of the 2016 EU-Turkey Agreement Ankara undertook, among other commitments, to try to prevent irregular migration into the European Union. The deal also provided that Greece would be able to send migrants who arrived on the Aegean Islands back to Turkey.

According to Popp, the EU’s proposal to set up migrant processing camps at its external borders could lead to a repeat of the problems already encountered under the hotspot approach, she says. 

She points to last year’s sharp rise in the number of migrants crossing the Atlantic from Africa to the Canary Islands, which threatened to overload the Spanish territory to show that is not only the Greek islands that are struggling with the problems of how to secure functioning border procedures in the event of a sudden increase in migrant arrivals.

Greece has seen fewer arrivals in the past year. This should be seen as an opportunity to build reception capacity and to take some pressure off the region, according to Popp. "If this doesn’t happen and the numbers of migrants arriving on the islands starts going up again, the problems we have already seen will get worse," she says.

 

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