Only about 16% of asylum seekers who have arrived in Greece from Turkey are likely to be sent back despite the EU-Turkish migrant deal being in place. The former head of Greece’s asylum service, Maria Stavropoulou, said that the small percentage includes migrants “wanting to return to their home country or those who had given up on their asylum claims”, adding that “2,200 Syrians can be returned… but there are those who have appealed and the process is very slow”. This is all happening despite an agreement that promised to take back illegal migrants that had arrived in Greek islands in exchange for financial aid and other incentives.
The controversial deal that was criticized by human rights groups brought down the number of migrants seeking to cross the Aegean Sea. Yet, Greece could not send many migrants to Turkey due to regulations based on EU law. Ms. Stavropoulou said that Greece was obliged to respect the legislation – “it is not a political decision”. “We must be careful not to adopt amendments that would be considered unconstitutional” as it would further slow the process, she added. To help streamline the proceedings, she urged experts from the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) to be involved on the Greek mainland, not just its islands.
The UN refugee agency moreover warned last week that many asylum seekers in Greece are victims of sexual violence and harassment. The Greek overcrowded reception centers are often sub-standard and refugees continue to struggle with unsustainable shelter and inadequate security. The situation is most worrying in the reception and identification centers of Moira on the island of Lesbos, and Vathy on Samos. Athens said that Greece was still carrying a “disproportionate burden” of the EU’s asylum applications in 2017, taking 8.5% of the bloc’s total requests.