Greece’s Asylum Service Under Tidal Wave of Applications

FILE - Migrants from Syria and Iraq wanting to register for asylum, sit on a pavement in Orestiada town, northeastern Greece, Monday, April 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Antonis Pasvantis)

ATHENS – Overrun with more than 70,000 refugees and migrants – including some 15,000 on Aegean islands near Turkey, Greece is struggling to deal with an overwhelming number asylum applications, the only chance those in detention camps and centers have to prevent being sent back to Turkey and even the homelands they fled.

There’s a backlog of more than 62,000 cases pending, with another 5500 joining the pile annually as Greece is more than four years into trying to deal with the numbers that Turkey let human traffickers send to Greek islands, said Kathimerini.

The refugees and migrants had gone to Turkey to escape war and strife and economic problems in their own country but were trapped in Greece after the European Union closed its doors to them.

A swap deal the EU made with Turkey has seen only a relative handful returned, leaving the problem largely on Greece as it struggles to recover from a nine-year-long economic crisis and with human rights groups screaming people are being kept in inhumane conditions in the detention centers and groups.

Between 2015 and 2019, a total of 36,683 people were granted asylum (or subsidiary protection status). The exact number of applications pending is currently 62,418, but asylum-seekers have the right to appeal against a denial if they want.

Most of the applications are being filed on the eastern Aegean islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios, the closest to Turkey, as well as in Attica and also Thessaloniki, where refugees and migrants cross the Turkish border at the Evros River. One asylum-seeker who recently turned up at the Thessaloniki bureau was given an interview date December 2023.

Authorities say that despite the backlog, the Greek Asylum Service’s processing rate is very high compared with the EU average. “But demands are simply too big,” an official told the newspaper.