Greece

Under strain, Greece plans tougher asylum rules

Greece's government is promising to toughen the asylum application procedure for migrants, speed up deportations, and expand detention powers, as authorities struggle to cope with a surge in new arrivals

Greece's government promised Tuesday to toughen the asylum application procedure for migrants, expand detention powers, and speed up deportations as authorities struggle to cope with a surge in new arrivals.

The 250-page draft legislation submitted to parliament also calls for tougher criteria in assessing asylum claims.

"People should know that they cannot come to Greece, apply for asylum and stay in the country forever," government spokesman Stelios Petsas said.

A surge in arrivals of migrants and refugees over the summer has put severe strain on Greek islands near the Turkish coast where more than 25,000 asylum seekers and migrants remain, mostly in overcrowded camps.

Restrictions on movement on the islands were imposed under a 2016 agreement between the European Union and Turkey, under which Turkey would stop migrants from reaching Europe in return for financial assistance worth 6 billion euros ($6.67 billion) and would accept the return of migrants deported from Greece.

But returns have come to a standstill while the number of daily arrivals on Greek islands has risen to its highest level since the deal was reached three years ago.

Greece's three-month-old conservative has vowed to expand a network of camps on the Greek mainland but argues that tougher policing is needed to make the new system to work.

Human rights groups say the proposed new rules are too restrictive.

"This draft law includes a series of crucial changes that will lead to potentially serious violations of the human rights of refugees and migrants. It will drive a multitude of people into a gray area without papers and proper documentation," said a joint statement from six human rights groups including the Greek offices of Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders.

On Tuesday, some 700 refugees and migrants arrived from the island of Samos at the port of Elefsina, west of Athens, and were to be taken to mainland camps.

But authorities on Samos said that didn't ease the pressure enough. They said another 200 arrivals had been recorded Monday and organized a protest to demand more decisive government action.

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Gatopoulos reported from Athens. Stefania Vourazeri in Athens contributed.

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