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19th Aug 2018

EU pushes Greece to set up new asylum committees

  • Migration commissioner Avramopoulos hopes the new appeals committees will speed up Greek asylum procedures (Photo: European Commission)

The EU wants Greece to quickly set up new appeals committees to better cope with the large number of asylum requests.

"New appeals committees under the new law will be set up in the next 10 days, I am confident that procedures will be accelerated soon," EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told journalist on Wednesday (15 June).

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The Greek commissioner said the government in Athens decided on Tuesday to "upgrade and enhance" the appeals committees.

"We salute that the Greek government took that initiative," he said.

The aim was "to speed up judicial procedures to assess all the requests and give prompt answers".

The committees are an essential part of an agreement reached in March between Turkey and the EU for sending back migrants.

So far, dealing with appeals regarding asylum requests has been the job of the so-called backlog committees, created in 2010 to deal with the large number of pending asylum cases in Greece.

But these committees were not designed to deal with massive influx, as more than 8,000 migrants are still stranded on the Greek islands.

EU officials claim it was always the goal of Brussels and Athens to create new committees to take this burden off the backlog committees.

A Greek source told EUobserver however that an amendment to the existing law on appeals committees is still being debated in the Greek parliament, and there is no guarantee that the new committees will be set up the next 10 days.

Upsetting Brussels

But the issue has become especially important for EU member states after it emerged that the committees had ruled in 55 cases involving Syrians that the claimant could not be returned back to Turkey. In effect ruling that Turkey is not a safe country.

Only in two cases did they agree to send those Syrians back to Turkey.

According to an EU source, the first decision by the backlog committees that said Turkey is not a safe country created a major upset in Brussels and in other EU capitals, prompting fears that the EU-Turkey deal could unravel. "They are seen as the enemy of the deal," the source added.

Officially the EU Commission hailed the decisions, saying it proves there is no blanket return of Syrian asylum seekers to Turkey as many critics of the deal claimed.

Under the March EU-Turkey deal Ankara takes back migrants from Greece whose asylum applications are rejected in an effort to stop the flow of people into Europe.

Composition

At a home affairs ministers meeting in Luxembourg last week, Greece was told that the vast majority of member states consider Turkey a safe country for aslyum seekers.

There are "some concerns by other member states, as they would like to see more asylum seekers returned to Turkey", a Greek diplomatic source told EUobserver.

The composition of the committee was also raised, as Greece's partners argued that the highest legal body on asylum matters should not include members from the civil society.

Other Greek sources rebuffed the notion that civil society was represented in the existing committees.

They told this website that the committees consist of a civil servant from the interior or justice ministry, an independent expert suggested by the UN's refugee agency, and an expert from the National Committee for the Human Rights, a Greek human rights advisory body to authorities.

The appeals committees take into account what is set in European and international law, and "they do not judge on the basis of changing circumstances", one of the sources said.

Avramopoulos said on Wednesday that the composition of the new committees was up to the Greek authorities to decide.

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