According to Greek authorities the accelerated asylum procedure reduced the decision process for new arrivals in 2020 to 24 days, yet leaving out people awaiting decisions for up to two years. The government has been forced to halt expropriation of land to host closed centres for migrants in a showdown with authorities and residents on the Aegean islands and is facing protests from residents on the mainland refusing relocation from the island camps.

On February 15 Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis praised the efficiency of the accelerated asylum procedure introduced in the controversial International Protection Bill in October 2019 and applied from January 1, 2020. The Minster also announced that rejections will lead to return as early as March orApril. The priority of processing cases of new arrivals under the accelerated procedure leaves out people who have awaited decisions for years and comes at the cost of reduced rights and procedural guarantees.

Mitarakis has suspended announced expropriations of land for the creation of new detention camps on five Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos giving local authorities a week to propose alternative locations for the facilities. The temporary halt followed treats of legal action and a suspension of all cooperation with mainland authorities by the council of the North Aegean Region. Local residents have also staged protests including a rally of hundreds of islanders in Athens to demand speedy transfer to the mainland of thousands of people now hosted in camps on the islands. The islands have also been the scene of police crackdowns of recent protests from inhabitants of the overcrowded camps with a capacity of a little more than 6000 and currently hosting 38,000 people under extremely harsh conditions deemed unsafe and unsanitary by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

On the Greek mainland local residents are protesting government plans to receive relocated people from the camps on the islands. A anti-migrant protester told media: “We are determined to defend our homeland. We will do anything to keep them out”.

In the midst of the turmoil surrounding the Greek government, that came into office on a promise of a new tough stand on migration and have introduced a series of controversial measures and legislation, Mitarakis and Alternate Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos are meeting with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer in Berlin to discuss EU’s announced migration and asylum pact expected in the spring.

More than 74,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Greece in 2019, according to UN figures. Most of them arrived on the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios after crossing from Turkey.

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Photo: (CC) 
ChadBriggs, March 2016

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.