ATHENS - Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis has promised anxious island mayors that the government has accelerated asylum applications for some 50,000 refugees and migrants being held in camps.
Asylum reviews have been taking up to two years or longer, causing growing frustration and violence in the camps between ethnic groups and with riot police called in to quell growing trouble.
Mitarakis said the government wants ease pressure on the islands was a key priority of the government which admitted it wasn’t ready to deal with new waves sent by Turkey after taking power in July, 2019.
“Early data show that the decision for those (applicants) who entered the country in 2020 are now being issued within 24 days,” Mitarakis said, adding that the government was stepping up efforts to send rejected applicants back to Turkey.
Island officials and residents are furious the New Democracy government plans to add detention centers to vet those deemed ineligible for sanctuary because they are not fearing for their lives, like those who fled war-torn Syria and Afghanistan, but are economic migrants looking for work.
Most had come to Greek islands from Turkey, where they had gone and as that country is allowing human traffickers to keep sending them in violation of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.
Authorities have organized nine return operations since the beginning of the year, the minister said but didn’t reveal how many were returned after Turkey has taken back only about 2000 since 2016's deal was enacted.
Meanwhile, municipal officials and residents on the island of Lesbos dumped thousands of life jackets and rubber boats – discarded by refugees and migrants who made the crossing from Turkey – as an act of protest on the plot of land where the government plans to build a new closed migrant center..
“They can use them to decorate the new center,” West Lesvos Mayor Taxiarchis Verros said, urging residents to join the protest, reported Kathimerini.