Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Greece wants migrants to apply for asylum wherever they want

  • Over 400,000 people arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos this year to seek for asylum (Photo: Stephen Ryan / IFRC)

Greece wants to strip point of entry rules in the EU's crippled Dublin asylum regulation to allow migrants to travel and apply for asylum anywhere they want.

The idea was floated in a letter to EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos.

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Sent over the weekend and signed by both the Greek ministries of migration and of citizen protection, the letter notes "the first entry criterion should be abolished or downgraded."

It says emphasis should be placed on "upgrading the criterions of family reunification and petitioner’s own free will".

Avramopoulos has yet to respond to the letter.

But the controversial idea comes on the heels of a broad European Commission assessment on migration in Italy and Greece to be published on Wednesday (15 December) and ahead of an EU summit on the same issue later this week.

The Dublin regulation is a key EU asylum law that helps determine which member state registers asylum applications on the behalf of everyone else. It also allows member states to transfer applicants to the point-of-entry country for processing.

In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights slapped a transfer ban on Greece because of its poor asylum reception conditions.

Athens is now under pressure to shore up its facilities to allow capitals to return applicants who first entered the EU on Greek territory. The commission wants it back in the Dublin fold by March next year.

Kris Pollet, a senior policy officer at the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles, said Greek reception capacity is under 2,000.

“If you see what the numbers of arrivals have been in 2015, it's very clear that that is not going to work in the very short term”, he said.

The commission, along with the UN refugee agency, are set to create 50,000 spaces. On Monday, they signed off to create 20,000 spaces in Athens.

The country remains mired in an economic slump as it rams through imposed economic reforms to obtain its next one billion euro bailout tranche from international creditors.

Meanwhile, almost 760,000 people arrived by boat to Greece so far this year. More than half ended up in Lesbos, a Greek island near the Turkish border.

Most attempt to continue their journey to the mainland EU by travelling up through Macedonia despite EU efforts to fingerprint and register them on the island as part of its so-called hotspot approach.

A recent border closure on the Macedonian side means only people with a good chance of obtaining asylum, like Syrian and Iraqi nationals, are now allowed through. The rest have been bused back to Athens.

Last week, the European Commission revealed Greece had registered 492,000 of those arrivals and only fingerprinted 121,000. Athens may end up in the European Court of Justice if it doesn't improve.

The threat appears to have rattled Greek PM Alexis Tsipras. On Friday, he said the identification of migrants "should be held at the time they set foot on the Greek territory".

He also linked registration and fingerprinting of asylum seekers in the country to the crack down on terrorism and the passport-free Schengen zone.

“We must all understand that our international obligation regarding the Schengen treaty is to effectively contribute to the battle against terrorism," he said.

France and Germany are insisting Greece get a better grip on its borders but Athens has been slow in accepting offers for help.

Greece had scoffed at earlier plans to accept joint operations between Greece’s and Turkey’s coast guards in the Aegean.

Earlier this month, it capitulated following threats it would be cut off from the Schengen passport-free travel zone.

It then agreed to activate the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to get material support like tents and generators, an operational plan with the EU's border agency Frontex to help clear out migrants stuck on the Macedonian border, and a formal request for the deployment a Rapid Border Intervention Team operation to provide immediate border guard support at its external border in the Aegean islands.

The latter is set to be expanded. The European Commission on Wednesday is rolling out a plan to set up a European border and coast guard system.

The proposal will be published along with reports on Greece and Italy and a plan to introduce systemic checks on EU nationals entering the EU.

A biannual evaluation report on Schengen is also due but a European Commission official said its publication date may be delayed.

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