How can the crisis on Lesbos after the fire in the asylum seekers camp Moria be resolved? Athens and Brussels are looking for answers to this question. At the moment they are like this:
Greece wants camps that are as closed as possible
The Greek Minister for Civil Protection, Michalis Chrysochoidis, said on Monday that asylum seekers or refugees are not allowed to leave the island of Lesbos. First of all, they would have to register in the newly built Kara Tepe camp and be tested for Corona. Then a decision will be made on their asylum application and the need for protection, as well as on deportation or onward travel to mainland Greece.
According to other government ministers, the Greek state should not allow itself to be blackmailed. It is believed that asylum seekers themselves set the Moria camp on fire to force them to continue their journey. Investigations into the cause of the fire are still ongoing. The Greek government also apparently fears that other camps in Greece could burn if the evacuation of Lesbos were approved.
Germany wants to take in some refugees
According to media reports, Germany is ready to take in up to 150 unaccompanied minors and 1,500 other asylum seekers from Lesbos and other Greek islands. However, according to the statements of the Greek government, this could only happen once the new registration and an initial test procedure have been completed. Officially, the Greek government has probably not sought help in Berlin. The total of 400 minors scheduled for distribution are already on the Greek mainland.
How big will the new Kara Tepe camp be?
The information about the construction of the new camp on Lesbos is difficult to understand. The Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi said that in one week all homeless asylum seekers on the island, i.e. 12,000, should be housed in the new tent city. The capacity of the new warehouse was previously given as 5,000.
By Monday evening, 800 places should have been set up, of which 600 were occupied. Migrants report in various media that the supply in the new Kara Tepe camp is rather poor. It should take weeks or months until all 12,000 asylum seekers are actually accommodated, tested for Corona and registered.
Serious defects for years
The inadequate organization of procedures on Lesbos was a huge problem even before the fires on Moria, which, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR and many aid organizations, has led to "inhumane" conditions. In the burned down Moria camp, with a planned capacity of 3,000, 12,000 people were gathered in emergency shelters.
According to announcements by the EU and Greece in April 2016, the asylum procedures in Moria should only take "a few weeks", including a judicial appeal. After that, the Syrian refugees should all be pushed back to Turkey, as agreed in the "refugee deal" with Turkey. Refugees from other nations without a reason for asylum should be deported to their home countries. Neither of these worked, which is why up to 40,000 asylum seekers are "piling up" on the Greek islands.
Of the Syrian refugees who arrived on the Greek islands after the "refugee deal" was agreed, only around 2,000 people were pushed back to Turkey between 2016 and 2019, according to the EU Commission.
The EU advises but does not decide
Asylum procedures in Greece often take many months, if not years. The procedures on Lesbos and other Greek islands are dragging on, although the European border protection agency "Frontex" and the European asylum authority "EASO" are on site with advisers and officials on site. The European officials posted from the other member states, however, have no decision-making authority in the camps known as "hot spots". The sovereign tasks such as recognition of asylum or deportation may only be carried out by Greek officials.
What's new about Merkel's proposal?
Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer admitted the concept of "hot spots" just last Thursday. The "disembarkation platforms" in third countries or "asylum centers" in European coastal states that have been proposed in the meantime do not exist either.
It is unclear what Chancellor Angela Merkel has in mind when it comes to camps that the EU and Greece are now to operate jointly on Lesvos. Merkel and the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday that they had camps in mind that would be run by the EU agencies Frontex and EASO. EU diplomats in Brussels point out that this is exactly what did not work on Moria in the "hot spots".
The EU Commission now wants to present its long-announced proposals for reforming the asylum procedure in Europe before the summit of the heads of state and government next Wednesday. This was actually only planned for the week after. The proposals provide for a further streamlining of the asylum procedure. A regulation for the distribution of recognized asylum seekers from Greece or Italy is only provided on a voluntary basis. Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer wants to better seal off the EU's external borders, have asylum procedures carried out directly in camps at the borders and deportations from these camps.
Permanent detention of asylum seekers illegally
In a ruling against Hungary in May 2020, the European Court of Justice ruled that asylum seekers may only be detained in transit camps at the EU's external border for four weeks. Thereafter, placement in closed camps is considered illegal detention. How this judgment will be applied to future camps and the new camp on Lesbos is uncertain.
So far, asylum procedures in the EU have been allowed to last a maximum of six months according to the common asylum procedure directive that has been in force for seven years. Not only Greece violates this regulation, but also many other member states.
The member states also argue about which country should be responsible for asylum seekers. According to the current Dublin III rules, Greece alone is responsible for the people on Lesbos and the other Greek islands. Greece wanted to modernize its asylum procedures again in January before the Corona crisis and passed corresponding laws in January. So far, no effect has been observed in the camps.