Gov’t searches for ways to decongest islands

30 September 2016
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In the bid to ease pressure on the eastern Aegean islands, Athens is reportedly examining ways to allow the transfer of refugees and migrants to enclosed camps on the mainland without infringing on the deal signed between the European Union and Turkey in March aimed at containing flows.

Refugees and migrants on the islands who arrived after March 20 are not included in the so-called relocation scheme and thus cannot legally travel to another EU state, and as such are stranded.

“They can’t be included in the relocation program according to the decision made in June by the Home Affairs Council,” the head of the Greek Asylum Service, Maria Stavropoulou, told Kathimerini.

The exclusion of newcomers from the relocation scheme was introduced in order to discourage migrants from coming to Greece.

However, the crux of the problem is that refugees arriving before March 20 found their way to the mainland, while those who came after are stranded on the islands until their asylum application is processed.

Migrant numbers on the islands have risen to 14,003, with 151 arrivals in the last 24 hours, and under the March deal they are not allowed to move to the Greek mainland before their initial asylum claim is processed.

Those whose claims are approved are allowed to travel to the mainland, but migrants whose claims have been rejected must be returned to Turkey.

Since April, though, just 587 have been returned to Turkey under the deal, while during the same period there have been more than 15,000 arrivals.

On the mainland, there are up to 46,437 migrants, of whom 6,224 have been granted the right to relocate to another member-state.

In total, member-states have committed to relocate 8,000 people, but only 3,407 migrants have been relocated so far.

With discontent growing among island residents and authorities, the government is anxiously looking for a solution within the framework of the March deal, and the issue was raised by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his recent visit to Ankara.

Meanwhile, the Greek government was reportedly angered by an article published on Wednesday in the Financial Times in which Tsipras is blamed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel for Greece’s delays in fulfilling its commitment with regard to the refugee crisis and for the slow pace of the asylum processing procedures.

Government aides have attributed her remarks to her attempt to appease German public opinion, increasingly jittery over the influx of migrants into the country.

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