Greece Speeds Transfers of Island Refugees, Migrants to Mainland

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, FILE)

Overwhelmed with a surge of refugees and migrants to islands holding more than 28,000 of them, the new New Democracy government is moving more to the mainland where detention centers and camps are holding another 50,000.

That came as the government said it would also get tougher on those who aren’t eligible for asylum and keep appealing after saying it wanted to return to Turkey – from where they had come after fleeing war and strife in their homelands – of 10,000 and speed sanctuary reviews.

Some 700 migrants and refugees arrived in the port of Elefsina near Athens from the island of Samos, officials said after another 120 people arrived from Lesbos at Greece’s main port, Pireaus.

After a now essentially-suspended swap deal between Turkey and the European Union, which closed its borders to refugees and migrants, had cut down on the arrivals there was another jump after New Democracy won July 7 snap elections, ousting the Radical Left SYRIZA.

Refugees and migrants disembark from a ferry at the port of Elefsina, near Athens, on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Frustration over asylum review delays has led to frequent violence and tension in the centers and camps between ethnic groups and with riot police called in to quell the trouble, with island officials pleading again for aid.

In late September, a woman died in a fire in a tent in a camp on Lesvos, while a fire in an overcrowded camp in Samos forced hundreds of people into the streets this month.

“Our focus was mainly on Samos because we want things there to calm down,” Migration Ministry Secretary Manos Logothetis told Reuters with new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis taking a hard line to deal with a flareup in the crisis.

Mitsotakis told his EU counterparts last week that the asylum law requiring refugees and migrants to seek sanctuary only in the country in which they land – mostly Greece as they can’t go to Germany first – should be reviewed.

Economic migrants that they will be returned to Turkey if they are not entitled to asylum, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said, with the government giving preference to those fearing for their lives after running away from wars in Syria and Afghanistan.

“If they give their money to traffickers hoping to permanently cross into Europe, they will only lose it,” Petsas told reporters. “Even if they reach Greece, since they are not entitled to asylum, they will return to Turkey,” he said.

“They can no longer come to Greece and apply for asylum hoping that they stay here forever, as it was the case with the previous government,” Petsas said, referring to former prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ administration, the report also said.

Refugees and migrants wait for buses after their arrival to the port of Elefsina, near Athens, on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

More than 12,000 people arrived in Greece in September, the highest level in the three-and-a-half years since the EU agreed a deal with Turkey to seal the Aegean corridor to Europe, which includes a land border crossing at the Evros River as well.

Meanwhile, Greek lawmakers were giving a draft bill aimed at reducing the number of refugees and migrants trapped in the country by lengthy bureaucratic procedures, said Kathimerini in a report on the worsening dilemma.

If passed, the new system would prevent appeals against negative asylum decisions that are not shown in an official brief to have legal merit, while end Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a valid basis for an asylum claim, unless it is backed by ample medical evidence.

It would also allow asylum boards’ rulings and decisions to be delivered to a legal representative of the claimant in the event that he or she cannot be located, thus allowing decisions to come into effect faster, while abolishing the right to temporary residence and work permits if a claim is rejected at the first degree, the report said, adding that movement of refugees and migrants would also be restricted.

Anyone protesting their transfer to another facility from a reception center or objecting to any other part of the system, for example, would be treated as reneging on their right to apply for asylum and claimants must stay at camps and centers.

Six organizations (Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, the Hellenic League for Human Rights, the Greek Council for Refugees, the Greek Forum of Migrants and HumanRights360) criticized the legislation, particularly Article 46, which enables authorities to detain asylum seekers.

In a statement, they warned of “serious human rights violations… that will push a large number of people into a gray zone with no documents or rights,” to protect people.

Refugees and migrants disembark from a ferry at the port of Elefsina, near Athens, on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. About 700 refugees and migrants arrived from Samos island to the port of Elefsina as authorities have been moving hundreds of migrants deemed to be vulnerable from the overcrowded Samos camp to camps on the Greek mainland. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Children play with thermal blankets as they and their families wait for buses after their arrival at the port of Elefsina, near Athens, on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. About 700 refugees and migrants arrived from Samos island to the port of Elefsina as authorities have been moving hundreds of migrants deemed to be vulnerable from the overcrowded Samos camp to camps on the mainland. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
A child from Syria looks out of the window of a bus after refugees and migrants arrived at the port of Elefsina, near Athens, on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. About 700 refugees and migrants arrived from Samos island to the port of Elefsina as authorities have been moving hundreds of migrants deemed to be vulnerable from the overcrowded Samos camp to camps on the mainland. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Refugees and migrants wait for buses after their arrival to the port of Elefsina, near Athens, on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. About 700 refugees and migrants arrived from Samos island to the port of Elefsina as authorities have been moving hundreds of migrants deemed to be vulnerable from the overcrowded Samos camp to camps on the mainland. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

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