The European Commission strongly recommended Greece to take urgent measures to improve conditions for asylum seekers upon their arrival in Europe. Athens has one month to react, given that the European Union hopes to send more refugees back to Greece.
For the moment only 1 out of the 5 foreseen Greek hotspots is operational, offering 12,342 reception places instead of the 50,000 places promised last October. Nevertheless, the EU said it hopes registration centres could be running in about 10 days.
The EU plans to reintroduce Greece into the ‘Dublin system’, which allows governments send asylum seekers back to the first EU country they arrived in. This procedure was suspended for Greece in 2011 because of the enormous influx of migrants reaching the country. At that time, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that refugees were given a “degrading treatment”.
The list of recommendations issued on 10 February includes improving living conditions for asylum seekers, especially vulnerable applicants such as unaccompanied minors, and overhauling judicial procedures so people have access to legal aid as well as appeal procedures against any decision. Reception centres and asylum offices must ensure adequate staffing, so Greek authorities can deal with more asylum cases, the EU commission said.
Improvements have been made in Greece since the proportion of fingerprinted migrants has risen markedly from 8% in September 2015 to 78% in January 2016. However, only 3% of the more than a million migrants arriving in Italy and Greece in 2015 were sent back to their countries of origin or relocated across the EU as refugees.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner in charge of migration policy said:“It must be clear for people arriving in the Union that if they need protection they will receive it, but it is not up to them to decide where; and if they do not qualify for protection, they will be returned.”
Greece is under huge pressure as EU members doubt about the country’s capacity to control its own border and have thus suggested to temporarily exclude the country from the free-movement Schengen area for a period up to 2 years.
However, Commissioner Avramopoulos said: “Migratory pressures on Greece needed to be taken into account not to put more burden on the country” and added “transfers under the Dublin agreement will not start yet because Greece is not ready for it”.
When asked about the lack of implementation of EU recommendations to face the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war, Avramopoulos said: “The implementation is not only in the hands of the European Commission but it’s in the hands of the member states. If all member states had done what they were supposed to do, the situation would be very different today.”
Moreover, he called for more solidarity in order to avoid returning “back to the dark days of our history”.
The recommendations to Greece published on Wednesday concerning the migration crisis will be a topic of discussion by EU leaders in Brussels on 18 and 19 February at the European Council summit.