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Greece tightens its policy towards immigrants under pressure from islanders

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Under pressure from the angry and suffocating Aegean Islands, the conservative Greek government tightened its asylum policy seven months after taking over, and laid plans to build a floating wall that would block migrant boats and detention centers and carry out border transfers.

In an effort to calm the islanders who have escalated their protests, Immigration Minister Nutis Mitarashi told AFP that “relieving overcrowding in our islands is our top priority.”

Five years after the massive immigration crisis in 2015, Greece, the first gateway for migrants to Europe, managed to manage the procedures of about 90,000 asylum applications whose owners are still suffering today in a country of 112,000 refugees, according to the latest official figures.

The five Aegean islands are the most affected, with migrants continuing to flow daily from neighboring Turkey.

38,000 people live in overcrowded camps and lack health conditions, which were supposed to receive only 6,200 people. Tents and makeshift shelters multiply on the outskirts of camps, becoming more like random slums, exacerbating anger and anti-immigrant reactions.

In a statement to Agence France-Presse, the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Greece, Philip Lockerick, said that “it is necessary for the largest possible number of asylum seekers to be transferred to the mainland in the coming weeks where they can follow the asylum application procedures.” Locklear called for “improved reception conditions” on the Greek mainland.

After 9,000 asylum-seekers were transferred to the mainland (out of 25,000 expected) due to the resentment of the population, the focus of the Kyriakos Mitsotakis government elected in July was on deportations at the border for those without asylum.

Notice Mitarashi stressed that the return procedures will be “accelerated” to Turkey and the countries of origin.

Acceleration of procedures

An indispensable condition: the Greek administration must expedite the processing of asylum applications. The new law, passed in January and put into effect despite criticism from NGOs, allows her to do so.

“I think it makes sense to resolve the files within three months,” said Mitarakhy. Priority will be given to new arrivals: 25 days, at the latest, for the decision on the first asylum application, and 60 days in case of appeal, after which the application will be rejected.

In addition, it will be possible to withdraw the right of asylum in Greece every three years, according to the situation of the country of origin, based on the decision of the government, which was forced to return the Ministry of Immigration after it was deleted upon its coming to power.

The government plans to put a floating wall spanning 2.7 km and a height of 1.10 meters to urge the refugees not to cross the Aegean Sea.

This controversial project sparked anger among NGOs, as Human Rights Watch considered it “illogical and potentially dangerous” for shabby migrant boats that fly at night.

Amnesty International has warned of this plan, which “raises serious concerns about the ability of paramedics to continue rescue operations for people trying to cut the dangerous sea route to Lesbos.”

The new majority-majority party, the Parliament, included an attack in the new law on what it considered smugglers and accomplices, as it compiled a list of humanitarian organizations authorized to work with migrants.

Prison camps

The government hopes to at least alleviate the anger of the islanders by closing the squalid camps in the islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios, and by summer, compensate them with “closed” centers.

But lawmakers and residents are demanding “an immediate and speedy end to the overcrowding on the islands”, and reject a project they consider intended to house more migrants in “prison camps”.

“We have accepted a new camp with a capacity of 7,000 people,” said mayor of Samos Georgios Stantzos. “It can eventually house between 20 and 25,000 people.” It is expected that the capacity of the five new camps will be 20,000 immigrants.

NGOs criticized the project, which it considered “a violation of international asylum law.”

“Requesting asylum is not a crime, even after crossing the border in an irregular manner. We demand (…) that detention be an absolute exception,” said Philip Lockark of Human Rights Watch.

For his part, the Minister of Immigration said that “any violation of the rules of procedure (for future camps) will negatively affect the asylum application and speed up the procedures for returning the perpetrator.”

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