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Greece: Legislation Reform and Chaos on the Islands amid Expected Surge in Arrivals

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The Greek authorities have introduced an announced overhaul of the country’s asylum legislation and appeals to NATO as well as the EU over the expected increase of arrivals from northeastern Syria. Fire and violence caused havoc in Samos camp.

Greek authorities are alarmed by the situation in northeastern Syria where 160,000 people have been displaced since the Turkish military operations began on October 9. Athens called for increased NATO naval control of the Aegean and are appealing for EU solidarity during the European Council meeting in Brussels. Greek minister for migration Giorgos Koumoutsakos stated that: “Europe shouldn’t be caught unprepared again nobody can be certain what is going to happen.”

In response to increasing numbers of arrivals, the Greek government has introduced a Draft International Protection Act, according to local media “geared mainly towards accelerating deportations”. The changes in the countries asylum legislation include: New grounds for accelerated procedure, beyond those set out in the Asylum Procedures Directive; lowering of duration of residence permits for subsidiary protection beneficiaries to minimum standard set by the Qualification Directive (1 year); new mandatory waiting period of 6 months for asylum seekers’ access to the labour market, which was currently granted upon lodging of the application; procedure for establishing a list of safe third countries and additional detail on the requirement of a connection between the applicant and the third country; new modification of the composition of the Appeals Committees, now to be made up by three administrative judges (UNHCR no longer nominating a member). The bill also establishes a single-judge composition to deal with inadmissible and accelerated procedure cases; shorter deadlines in the fast-track border procedures, namely three days to appeal a negative decision; no suspensive effect of appeals against certain inadmissibility and accelerated procedure decisions; substantial lowering of procedural safeguards and prolongation of duration of detention of asylum seekers, and immediate provisions bringing about automatic rejection of all asylum applications and appeals lodged before 31 December 2016, and an obligation on all beneficiaries of international protection to leave the camps within two months.

In the latest illustration of the critical situation in the overcrowded camps on the Greek islands fires in the Samos camp destroyed tents and housing containers forcing 600 people to seek emergency shelter from NGOs. Clashes in the camp left six people hospitalised. Despite a capacity for 650 people, the camp in Samos is currently housing 5,700. The Moria camp in Lesvos now has a record 13,800 inhabitants.

Greece has had 50,720 arrivals as of October 13 this year, and in one week Lesvos, Chios and Samos has seen 1,563 arrivals. .

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