June 29, 2018 / 11:37 AM / 3 months ago

Greece must process asylum claims faster, rights commissioner says

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece must process asylum claims faster and move asylum seekers from its islands, where many live in cramped and dangerous conditions, the Council of Europe’s top human rights official said on Friday.

Women and children sit at the Moria camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, June 27, 2018. Picture taken June 27. REUTERS/Elias Marcou

Greece was until 2016 a frontline country for migrants entering Europe.

But though the number of refugees crossing over from Turkey has slowed to just over 13,000 so far this year from thousands a day in 2015, the country - in economic crisis for a decade - is still struggling to cope.

A migrant boy stands next to a metal fence at the Moria camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, June 27, 2018. Picture taken June 27. REUTERS/Elias Marcou

“The situation remains worrying and much more needs to be done to protect the human rights of those who have had to flee their country,” Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said at the end of a five-day visit to Greece.

European leaders reached a deal on migration on Friday, agreeing to share out refugees arriving in the EU on a voluntary basis and create “controlled centres” inside the bloc to process asylum requests.

But pledges they made to strengthen borders were vague, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said differences remained.

A record 58,645 people sought asylum in Greece last year - more than four times the 2015 figure, government data shows. A huge backlog has fuelled violence over delays in island camps.

FILE PHOTO: Refugees demonstrating against conditions in Moria camp and delays in asylum applications form a human chain against protesting groups of locals in the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, April 22, 2018. REUTERS/Elias Marcou

“The combination of overcrowding, insecurity, poor hygienic conditions, the approaching high summer temperatures, and residents’ uncertainty regarding their future may lead to very serious problems if not addressed immediately,” Mijatovic said, calling camp conditions “substandard”.

Mijatovic, a Bosnian who took up the post in April, said it was too early to assess the potential impact of EU migration agreement.

“We can have more talks, more agreements... but we also need to act and we need to act quickly,” she said.

EU leaders also agreed to share responsibility for migrants rescued at sea, a key demand of Italy. Italy and Malta this month refused to take in a ship that was stranded at sea for days before it was offered safe haven in Spain.

“Calling for other peoples to be pushed away or not being welcomed, or creating any kind of hostile environment by using power is not something that I welcome,” Mijatovic added.

(This version of the story corrects headline and lead to show Mijatovic is Council of Europe commissioner, not EU commissioner)

editing by John Stonestreet

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