Overwhelmed by Refugees, Greece Reviews Asylum Hopes

Migrants line up at a detention center on the island of Lesbos

ATHENS – With more than 54,000 migrants and refugees stuck in the country, Greek officials have started a new plan to process asylum applications, which could take up to a year in each case.

A swap deal between the European Union and Turkey has been suspended because Greece – the first destination for most – couldn’t handle the number of claims from people who want to either stay in the country or move on to more prosperous EU countries.

The “recognition documents” issued to migrants to date will have their validity extended to cover a year, said Kathimerini.

Many of the documents held by migrants in camps across the country have expired as they apply for six months for Syrians and just one month for all other nationalities.

Once the migrants have been registered, they will be issued with a yellow bracelet bearing their name and other personal details.

The registration document and bracelet will grant each migrant the right to legal residence in Greece and access to free health care but will not give them permission to work in Greece which must be sought separately.

The applicants will be informed by SMS about their interview, according to an official of Greece’s asylum service who said the interview could take place several months after their application “due to the large population of refugees in the country.”

The process of registrations began on June 8 at a makeshift reception center in the old international airport Elliniko in southern Athens, and Petrino, at the port of Thessaloniki.

Greece’s asylum service, which is overseen by the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, is overseeing the registration process which is being carried out with the support of the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and the European Asylum Support Office.

A total of 260 staff have been employed to work in the project, which aims to accelerate asylum applications while also producing a census of migrants in Greece.