Greece announced on Tuesday it will be able to process refugees’ asylum claims within two weeks once the E.U.-Turkey migration deal takes full effect by April 4. The country’s bureaucracy has been overwhelmed by the thousands of refugees arriving, with asylum requests taking months. But this new fast-tracked procedure (with some 4,000 additional personnel and technical help from other E.U. member states) will be formalized as part of a refugee bill to be submitted to Greece’s parliament on Wednesday, said deputy defense minister Dimitris Vitsas.
He added that there are currently 53,000 refugees and migrants in Greece, compared to 30,000 in late February when Balkan states began shutting their borders. All of those who entered the country after the E.U.-Turkey deal began to take effect on March 20 — and whose asylum applications are not accepted — will be returned to Turkey. If all goes according to plan, some 20,000 people are expected to eventually stay in Greece for an unspecified time, a task the country can “easily manage,” Vistas stated.
The fate of the migrants who were already in Greece prior to the deal is still up in the air. However, they are not going to just disappear quietly. Desperate after spending weeks in squalid conditions at a makeshift camp in Idomeni, dozens of migrants and refugees blocked a railway track on Greece’s northern border to demand they be allowed to enter neighboring Macedonia. When police were sent to clear the tracks on Tuesday, a clash with shoving and rock-throwing erupted. For now, there is no good solution to this quandary.
For more insights into Europe’s refugee crisis, see the video of last year’s Blouin Creative Leadership Summit panel, Coping with Syria’s Exodus.