Author: Jacopo Barigazzi
The European Commission on Thursday presented a plan to help Greece reduce the number of migrants still living on the country’s islands, often in very poor conditions.
The so-called Dublin regulation states that an asylum seeker has to claim asylum in the first country of arrival. If the person subsequently moves to another EU country, he or she can be turned back. However, deportations to Greece have effectively been halted since 2011 when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the country’s asylum system was “degrading.”
With its proposal, the Commission is recommending that countries begin upholding the Dublin regulations again with regards to Greece, as the situation for migrants in the country has improved.
The new plan, negotiated with Greek authorities, proposes increasing the number of EU officials and interpreters to deal with the logjam of asylum applications, and states that “it should be possible to eliminate the backlog in the Greek islands by April 2017.”
With winter looming, the situation on the islands is not easy. According to the Greek government, more than 16,000 people are sleeping in overcrowded facilities on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos, which have the collective capacity to accommodate just 7,450.
The Commission also said that with 1,406 relocations, November was a record month since the relocation program started last fall.
In total, 8,162 refugees have been relocated since the launch of the program – 6,212 from Greece and 1,950 from Italy, the two frontline countries with the highest number of arriving migrants and refugees.
“For Greece, we have reached a stable relocation trend at 1,000 per month and for Italy last month relocation basically doubled,” Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said at a press conference Thursday.
The relocation plan agreed by the EU countries aims to relocate 160,000 refugees by next September. But the reluctance of some countries to take in refugees has slowed the process down, making it difficult to reach the stated target.
The Commission also decided to close the so-called infringement procedures — opened when a EU member is accused of not respecting rules — against Italy and Greece for non-implementation of the Eurodac regulation on fingerprinting migrants who arrive irregularly in Europe. The procedures have been closed, which means that the Commission will not take further steps, because in both countries “there is now a fingerprinting rate of close to 100 percent.”