Under pressure, Greece takes on migration issue head on

Athens (hooly News) – Floating wall to block migrants' canoes, detention centers, deportations at the border: seven months after taking office, the Greek conservative government is tightening its asylum policy, under pressure from the Aegean islands exasperated and on the verge of asphyxiation.

"The decongestion of our islands is our number 1 priority," said Minister of Migration Notis Mitarachi to hooly News, in a gesture of appeasement towards the islanders who are increasing the protest actions sometimes punctuated by incidents.

Five years after the great migration crisis of 2015, Greece, once again the first gateway for migrants to Europe, is struggling to manage asylum procedures, of which almost 90,000 are still pending, in a country that has 112,000 exiles, according to the latest official figures.

First impacted, the five Aegean islands, where migrants continue to flock daily from neighboring Turkey.

Over 38,000 people live in overcrowded and unsanitary camps for 6,200 places. Slum-like tents and shelters grow like mushrooms around these sites, causing exasperation and rejection reactions with xenophobic hints.

"It is essential to transfer as many asylum seekers as possible to the continent in the coming weeks where they can continue their asylum procedure," the representative of the High Commissioner for Refugees told hooly News. UN (UNHCR) in Greece, Philippe Leclerc, who demands "additional reception conditions" in mainland Greece.

After transferring 9,000 asylum seekers to the mainland (instead of the 20,000 expected) against a background of discontent among residents, the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis elected in July is now focusing on renewals at the border of failed asylum seekers.

"The return process will be speeded up" to Turkey and to the countries of origin, said Notis Mitarachi.

– Acceleration of procedures –

A sine qua non condition: the Greek asylum services will have to deliver their verdicts more quickly. The new legislation, which came into force in January and was strongly criticized by NGOs, allows them to do so.

"I think it would be reasonable to deal with the cases in three months," said Notis Mitarachi. Priority will be given to new arrivals: 25 days maximum to manage the first request and up to 60 days in the event of a call, before a sine die renewal at the border for rejected applicants.

In addition, the granting of asylum in Greece will be reversible every three years, depending on the situation in the country of origin, ruled the government, forced to restore a Ministry of Migration abolished when he came to power.

And to further discourage exiles from crossing the Aegean Sea, the government plans to install a floating wall 2.7 kilometers long and 1.10 meters high.

A controversial project that attracts the wrath of non-governmental organizations. Human Rights Watch considers it "senseless and potentially dangerous" for the frail canoes of migrants who would hang on to it at night.

Amnesty International was alarmed by a plan "which raises serious concerns about the ability of rescuers to continue to come to the aid of people attempting the perilous sea crossing to Lesbos".

Under its new law, the majority of the right New Democracy also attacks smugglers and possible accomplices, by providing a register of humanitarian organizations authorized to intervene with migrants.

– "Prison camps" –

The government hoped at least to appease the anger of the islanders with the closure of the sordid camps of Moria (Lesbos), Vathy (Samos) and Vial (Chios), replaced, in summer, by new "closed" centers.

But elected officials and residents demand "the immediate and massive congestion of the islands", hence their unequivocal rejection of a project dedicated, according to them, to accommodate more and more migrants in "prison camps".

"If we accept a new camp for 7,000 people, it can informally accommodate 20 to 25,000 people," said the mayor of Samos, Georgios Stantzos. The capacity of five camps will theoretically be planned for 20,000 people.

The project also attracts criticism from NGOs who see it as a "violation of international asylum law".

"Applying for asylum is not a crime even if you cross an irregular border. We ask (…) that detention be the absolute exception," said Philippe Leclerc of the UNHCR.

"Any violation of the rules of procedure (of future camps) will negatively affect the request for asylum and will speed up the process of returning the offender", however warned the Minister of Migration.