Newly arriving refugees and migrants can move freely across the country without being restricted to the hot spots on the Greek islands, the country’s highest administrative court, the Council of State ruled on Tuesday. The ruling is considered as “landmark” as it ends the geographical restrictions for new arrivals according to EU-Turkey deal and the Greek Asylum Service. The ruling affects new arrivals of asylum seekers and not those already in the hotspots on the islands.
The geographical restrictions have been one of the most controversial provisions of the EU-Turkey deal of 2016 as they led to the piling up of more than 15,000 people in the islands of the East Aegean Sea. The restrictions went into effect as of end March 2016.
Asylum seeks arriving to Greece from Turkey shall no longer be confined to the so-called hot spots on the islands, the CoE ruled.
According to the CoE decision leaked to the press, there are no reasons of public interest or migration policy to justify the restrictions of new arrivals to the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kos and Rhodes.
Migration Minister, Dimitris Vitsas, refrained from commenting on the ruling “before he is officially informed,” as he said.
- Once the ruling is officially published, new asylum seekers will be able to reside at any part of the country they want.
According to the CoE ruling, the geographical restrictions on movement block the distribution of people throughout the country, lead to unequal concentration in specific regions and the significant decline of those regions.
NGO “Greek Council for Refugees” had legally challenged the Greek Asylum Service in May 2016.
Meanwhile, Migrations Minister, Dimitris Vitsas, said that Greece has seen conditions reverse with respect to the increased flow of refugees and migrants in 2018.
“We have 33 percent more flows in April in comparison with 2017. The new element is that the flows have increased on the border along the Evros river [natural border between Greece & Turkey].
“Our aim is to relieve pressure on the islands and improve living conditions for both refugees and locals, offer due compensation and carry out some infrastructure works in the hotspots and in the area. Many of these measures are included in the draft law that will be submitted for voting in the following days in parliament and others are included in the development programme for Northern and Southern Aegean” said Vitsas.
He added that asylum processes must be carried out swiftly in order to achieve relief in the overcrowded hot spots on the islands.