What role for cities in terms of reception and integration of asylum seekers and refugees?
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Greece: a new asylum policy to deal with arrivals by sea
The high number of migrants (67,240) who arrived in Greece via the Mediterranean between 1 January and 6 December 2019 made it extremely difficult to manage and ensure the safety of asylum seekers in the country, particularly in the “hotspots” of the Aegean islands.
In response, the new conservative Greek government has redirected its asylum and immigration policy and established a number of measures. Since the start of September, several thousand people have thus been moved from the Aegean islands to the mainland. To facilitate these transfers, in early December the government indicated that 22 new accommodation centres would be opened across the country, including four in the north and three in Crete – the largest of the Greek islands – with a capacity of between 1,000 and 2,000 people each. A few weeks earlier, in response to criticisms of overpopulation in the camps on the Aegean islands, the authorities had already announced their intention to replace the three main camps, which currently accommodate more than 27,000 people, with closed “pre-departure structures”.
In the same spirit, during the night of 31 October to 1 November, the Greek Parliament adopted a new law on international protection to speed up the asylum procedure and increase returns to Turkey. Among other things, the text made it possible for the police and armed forces to conduct asylum interviews rather than the Greek Asylum Service or the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), in the event of high numbers of arrivals. It also extended the list of safe countries of origin. In addition, border surveillance at sea was strengthened with the transfer of five coastguard vessels to the east of the Aegean Sea, the deployment of 100 additional officers to the islands of Chios and Lesbos, and closer cooperation with the Ministry of National Defence, Frontex and NATO.
These measures gave rise to various reactions from civil society and European institutions. At the end of November, the Greek government issued an ultimatum to NGOs working with migrants or refugees, giving them ten days to register in order to be able to continue their activities. Several NGOs, including Amnesty International, spoke out against the various measures recently adopted by the government, in particular the law to accelerate the asylum procedure. In a speech on 1 December, the new European Commissioner for “Promoting our European Way of Life” and member of the Greek New Democracy Party, Margaritis Schinas, praised the efforts undertaken by the authorities.
This text compiles various articles originally published in French in “Veilles Europe” by France Terre d’Asile in recent months: see the editions of 1–15 September, 16–30 September, 1–15 October, 1–15 November and 16–30 November.