Monday

23rd Sep 2019

Greek asylum claims spike due to backlogs

Greek asylum applications registered a massive jump late last year, but experts pin it mainly to a backlog.

The Greek Asylum Service noted a 593 percent increase of asylum applications in November alone, or around 7,600 claims, compared to 2015's monthly average of 1,100.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The spike appears to be broadly linked to a large-scale pre-registration programme launched over the summer and a doubling of staff at the Greek Asylum Service.

"We are now seeing the process of all those people trying to get a foothold in the asylum system actually formally being registered", Minos Mouzourakis, a migration expert at the Brussels-based European council on refugees and exiles (Ecre), told EUobserver on Thursday (5 January).

Tens of thousands were stranded in Greece after Western Balkan borders were closed early last year.

With people no longer able to get further north, many ended up in ad-hoc camps on the mainland, with luckier ones finding accommodation in hotels or in apartments.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) set up some 21,000 accommodation places in apartments, with host families, or in other buildings. Government built camps were also established around the country.

Greek authorities, along with the EU asylum agency EASO and the UNHCR, had also carried out a pre-registration exercise in June, with those claims now being processed.

"Since people were pre-registered around June and July, it was expected that the first claims register would not start until October and November because people had to be given an appointment. This is kind of a slow process until its full completion", said Mouzourakis.

The Malta-based EASO agency drew similar conclusions.

"The applications lodged in Greece indeed increased during the course of the year," said EASO spokesperson Jean-Pierre Schembri.

Schembri linked the increase to both the large group of candidate-applicants after the June pre-registration campaign and the work of the Greek authorities, along with its various partners.

Double the staff

An increase in staffing at the Greek Asylum Service also likely played a part in the November spike.

The service had around 300 staff at the end of 2015, now up to 617. It is also now present on the Greek islands, where people continue landing after crossing from Turkey.

Fewer people are arriving following last year's EU-Turkey migrant swap deal, but the islands remain overcrowded and in poor conditions.

Frontex, the EU border agency, on Thursday reported a 79 percent drop in arrivals to Greece, when compared to 2015.

But around 182,500 migrants, mostly Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis, still arrived on the Aegean islands and mainland last year.

Some 15,687 people seeking asylum are now on the islands, with Greek government structures only able to accommodate just over half.

Winter cold

"Even with recent efforts to improve matters, conditions at many sites on the islands remain very poor", UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said in a statement.

Edwards said conditions on Samos, Chios and Lesvos islands are particularly bad given the cold weather. In Samos, many have no heating.

Authorities are still struggling to transfer those on the islands to the mainland. Greek asylum minister Yiannis Mouzalas in December vowed to improve living conditions in the camps on the islands.

On Thursday, he told reporters that the government had completed processes to keep migrants and refugees out of the cold.

“There are no refugees or migrants living in the cold anymore. We successfully completed the procedures for overwintering”, he said.

Mouzalas also reportedly said the vast majority of people now arriving from Turkey to the islands are economic migrants, not from war-torn places like Syria or Iraq. He also said NGOs that don't register with the government ministry by March will be banned from working on the islands.

Austria proposes to offshore EU asylum

Austria's defence minister is proposing a radical overhaul of the EU asylum rules, including offshoring the asylum process and imposing limits on EU state intakes.

Asylum conditions on Greek islands 'untenable'

Germany is preparing to send people back to Greece with the EU's blessing, even though the EU commission has described snow-covered migrant camps on Greek islands as "untenable".

Four EU states want 'automatic' refugee relocation

The interior ministers from France, Germany, Italy, and Malta are meeting on Monday to discuss a new temporary and voluntary agreement for the relocation of asylum seekers, that will prevent EU countries from negotiating case-by-case.

France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants

French president Emmanuel Macron is pressing for an automated distribution of rescued migrants at sea - but also stands accused of tightening asylum rules in his own country as a response to the far-right.

News in Brief

  1. Barnier: Johnson's plan for Irish backstop unacceptable
  2. Google will only listen to audio if users give consent
  3. German bank fined for cheating Danish tax system
  4. Supreme Court ruling on Johnson on Tuesday
  5. 10 arrests over possible Catalonia anniversary attacks
  6. 53% of Europeans think LGTBI discrimination is widespread
  7. Doubt cast on new Maltese inquiry into slain reporter
  8. March by Slovak Catholics seeks abortion ban

Opinion

Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  2. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  4. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  8. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  10. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  11. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  12. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  6. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  7. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  10. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us