ATHENS (Reuters) - A revamped Greek asylum appeal board will begin work next week in a government effort to speed up the return of migrants and refugees to Turkey under a European Union deal with Ankara, the Greek migration minister said on Tuesday.
Greece has said it wants to dramatically escalate returns of migrants amid criticism by the EU it has been too slow to process them.
Parliament voted in June to replace two members of the three-member appeal board with judges. It was previously made up of one civil servant, one member appointed by the national human rights committee, and a representative of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.
“The appeal committees, with their new composition, will begin work next week. In this way, the number of final rulings (on asylum) will increase,” a statement from migration minister Yannis Mouzalas’s office quoted him as saying after he met Germany’s interior minister in Berlin earlier on Tuesday.
The EU-Turkey deal, which has drawn fire from rights groups and aid agencies, was designed to close off the main route into Europe, used by around a million refugees and migrants last year. It obliges Greece to return those who either do not apply for asylum or have their claims rejected.
Officials say more than 8,000 migrants are currently on Greek islands, nearly all of whom have expressed interest in applying for asylum, overwhelming the system. Just two Syrian refugees have been ordered back from Greece to Turkey and they are appealing against the decision in the Greek courts.
Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Richard Balmforth