In the picture children play football in the refugee camp of the former Olympic Complex in Athens Credit: EPA/SIMELA PATZARTZI
In the picture children play football in the refugee camp of the former Olympic Complex in Athens Credit: EPA/SIMELA PATZARTZI

Greece is betting on the quality of its asylum service processes at the first step as it continues to try to deal with a huge backlog of applications from thousands of migrants and refugees stranded on the mainland and the North Eastern Aegean island. The Greek authorities have come under increased pressure from human rights groups and the EU to speed up often lengthy bureaucratic processes which mean asylum applications can take months to complete.

 Over the weekend, Gerald Knaus, the head of the European Stability Initiative, which has been in charge of promoting policies based on the Euro-Turkish agreement, added to the chorus of opinion suggesting that Greece should implement a fast-track asylum system this year, such as the system operated by the Netherlands. Knaus stepped up contacts with Athens in an effort to convince officials, since although there has been a fall in the overall number of asylum applications in the EU during 2017, Greece experienced a rise of 15%, according to a report released by the asylum service. 

"This disproportionate responsibility of the amount of applications results in unavoidable delays in all stages of the asylum process," said the report. "It is noted that maintaining the quality of the procedures does not impose any extra burden on asylum seekers, and if this quality is not maintained, it will result in even lengthier appeals, administrative and judicial proceedings." The release of the report is an indirect response to the aforementioned pressures from European circles to speed up the asylum process in Greece in order to fast-track the expulsion of refugees to Turkey on the basis of the Euro-Turkish agreement. 

Half of asylum application on islands

 According to the report, around half of the asylum applications, which amount to 26,668 people, were submitted at the reception centers and identification centers on the Aegean islands. Initially, international protection was granted in the first instance to 10,364 of these refugees, while another 12,323 took part in the relocation program, and 8,330 in the family reunification program in other European countries. A total 12,149 applications were considered unfounded and 9,199 were rejected, while another 919 were unacceptable on the grounds that Turkey is a safe third country for those specific refugees. Finally, 6,989 cases were not concluded, due to the fact that the refugees in question did not turn up for appointments, which is considered a tacit waiving of the request. Majority of migrants to stay in Greece The report also revealed that the majority of migrants and refugees who have landed on the Aegean islands since the March 2016 deal signed between the European Union and Ankara will remain in Greece as conditions for their return to Turkey are considered "not safe." A total of 20,337 people have received permission to move to the Greek mainland. They will move to the next stage of their asylum process, provided that they are not enlisted in any other European relocation schemes. Throughout 2017, a total of 21,726 mostly Syrian refugees were relocated from Greece to other EU member-states under a program which was completed in 2017. 

Chaos over Chios rumbles on

 In related developments on Chios, local municipality officials have stepped up their row with the Syriza-lead government over plans to expand the controversial Vial migrant reception facility. Local authorities on Chios have appealed to the Council of State (CoS), Greece's highest administrative court, in a bid to block the project after having staged various blockades and protests in recent weeks.The Municipality of Chios has labelled the government's plans as "unconstitutional and illegal," citing a lack of feasibility and environmental impact studies, among other objections.Approximately 1,600 migrants live at the state-run camp, which was built to house just half of that number - resulting in many people sleeping outside in tents due to a lack of space.

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