Friday

22nd Mar 2019

Greece relocates first asylum seekers

Thirty asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq boarded a plane from Athens to Luxembourg on Wednesday (4 November).

The move is part of a broader EU scheme adopted in September to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other member states over a two-year period.

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The total relocated from both is now 116 while the number of people denied asylum and sent back to their home countries is 569.

Wednesday's flight from Athens International Airport marks a first for Greece, which has been struggling to set up so-called hotspots where arrivals are screened and tagged before being separated into groups.

"It is now time to step up a gear, to have all hotspots fully functioning, and to make relocation a regular occurrence", said EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Tuesday (3 November).

Greece has the centres set up in Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos, but still lack a significant number of EU experts promised from EU member states.

The experts are needed in the EU's border agency Frontex and the European asylum support office (EASO).

Both agencies are helping in the screening and debriefing process and are seen as essential in getting the bigger relocation scheme up and running.

EASO had requested 374 experts but has only received 157 and Frontex requested 743 but only received 353 as of Tuesday (2 November).

Most are nowhere to be found in the Greek hotspots.

EASO still has no staff at the hotspots in Chios, Samos, Leros, Kos, and only two officers in Lesbos. Frontex has 65 agents, with more than half based in Lesbos.

Some 300,000 people have arrived in Lesbos, with authorities there now experimenting with a new fast-track registration process for migrants.

Around 600,000 people seeking refuge, mainly crossing in from Turkey, have arrived in Greece since the start of the year.

Avramopoulos, for his part, was in Athens along with Luxembourg's foreign minister Jean Asselborn and European Parliament president Martin Schulz to meet the batch of asylum seekers before the maiden flight.

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Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

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