January 28, 2020 / 12:28 PM / a month ago

EU refugee agency EASO to double staff in Greece to speed up asylum process

ATHENS (Reuters) - The EU agency for refugees, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) said on Tuesday it will double its staff to 1,000 in Greece in the coming months to help it cope with thousands of migrants and refugees stranded on five islands.

Greece has promised faster processing of asylum requests of more than 70,000 pending from previous years, to shut five overcrowded refugee camps on its islands and replace them with more restrictive holding centers.

“(We want) to assure fast and efficient asylum procedures so that people in need of protection they will get one as soon as possible,” Nina Gregori, executive director of EASO, told reporters.

Human rights groups have criticized the conservative government over its new framework to speed up the processing of asylum requests as a “rushed” attempt that would impede access to a fair asylum process for refugees.

Deputy Migration Minister George Koumoutsakos said speeding up the processing of asylum requests would help the state ease overcrowding in camps.

Greece, via neighboring Turkey, was the main gateway into the European Union for more than a million mainly Middle East and Asian migrants fleeing conflict in 2015-16.

Last year, 59,726 migrants and refugees reached Greek shores, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, most of them arriving on Lesbos, Chios or Samos island near Turkey’s coasts.

Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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