Greece changes asylum rules to fight camp overcrowding

In this Tuesday, May 2, 2018 photo a Syrian woman cooks food on an open fire at a makeshift camp outside Moria on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece. Asylum applications are backed up by nearly three years, according to Lesbos’ regional governor. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Greece's parliament approved legislation Tuesday that is designed to speed up the asylum process for migrants, ease the overcrowding at Greek island refugee camps and to deport more people back to Turkey

ATHENS, Greece — Greece's parliament approved legislation Tuesday that is designed to speed up the asylum process for migrants, ease the overcrowding at Greek island refugee camps and to deport more people back to Turkey.

Under the new law, staff will be added at the office that handles asylum requests, the appeals process for rejected applications will be shortened and travel restrictions can be imposed on asylum-seekers who are moved from the Greek islands to the mainland.

Currently, restrictions on asylum-seekers are mostly limited to five islands near the coast of Turkey, where strained refugee camps are trying to cope with up to three times more residents than planned. More than 16,000 people are stuck there.

A group of 13 Greek human rights organizations, however, has accused the government of ignoring refugee rights.

The number of newly arriving migrants and refugees has risen sharply this year at the islands and Greece's land border with Turkey, prompting the change in policy.

Police cleared out two abandoned factory buildings used by migrants in the city of Patras in western Greece early Tuesday. More than 600 people will be moved from there to refugee camps on the mainland, police said.

Also Tuesday, nine people were injured outside the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki after police pursued a car with an alleged smuggler and 12 suspected migrants crammed inside. The car crashed during the chase, and rescuers had to use hydraulic tools to free the passengers.

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