Greece starts bailing out Germany on refugees

19 July 2018
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Greece will process 1,500 asylum applications from Germany as part of a deal signed between the two countries, Greece’s migration minister said yesterday (18 July).

“In the first half of 2018 there were 1,500 requests for processing by Germany, and they will be accepted,” Dimitris Vitsas told reporters.

Berlin and Athens signed a deal at a recent EU migrant summit aimed at stemming arrivals to Germany and Austria — with some asylum seekers likely to be returned to the first EU country they reached, often southern Mediterranean states such as Greece and Spain.

Vitsas said the deal sought “to find a uniquely European solution to regulate the migrant influx and limit unilateral actions.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has marketed the Greek accord and another with Spain as a way to placate hardline rebels within her government.

In return for processing the asylum applications of migrants who reached Germany, Berlin has promised to accept 2,900 migrants from Greece for family reunification, Vitsas said.

The minister said that arrivals from Turkey had fallen by 96% since their peak in the summer of 2015, but Greece is still struggling to look after some 60,000 migrants already on its territory.

He said Greece was dealing with “problems with integration and housing” for migrants, especially in overcrowded camps on the Dodecanese islands, just a short boat ride from Turkey.

The International Organization for Migration says more than 50,000 migrants and asylum seekers have reached Europe by boat since the start of 2018, with more than 1,400 dying en route.

Seeking EU help

“Frontline countries must get financial support… In Greece, we are particularly interested in our five islands being financially supported”, Vitsas said.

Vitsas said Athens also wanted more staff from EU asylum agency EASO and more interpreters, saying 38 languages and dialects were being spoken at the Moria camp on Lesbos, the main island gateway for nearly a million people in 2015.

Greece passed a bill in May aimed at easing the overcrowding and making asylum procedures simpler. Vitsas said that, of 30,000 asylum requests made in the first half of this year, 70% had been dealt with.

He said processing would be speeded up further and the capacity of mainland refugees centres would be boosted by 4,000. Another 5,000 places would be found at a later stage for people granted asylum, he said.

While the vast majority of migrants seeking to reach Europe from Africa and the Middle East are now crossing further to the west, the eastern Mediterranean route remains in use.

A boat carrying 150 migrants sank off the coast of northern Cyprus on Wednesday, killing 19 people, and rescuers were searching for 25 others, Turkey’s coast guard said.

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