"The rules have changed. We're no longer open to people who don't have a refugee profile," the Minister for Immigration and Asylum Notis Mitarakis said Friday, adding that they are "now taking at least first instance [asylum] decisions within four weeks.”
Greece has long been urged by its European partners to speed up the asylum procedures.
Since a new asylum law became operative on Jan. 1, asylum applications on the five islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros, and Kos are to be adjudicated within 28 days, including appeals.
The normal procedure that is enforced in the rest of the country grants six months for first instance decisions and three months for appeals.
Aid organizations have voiced concern that authorities may rush the applications of the migrants and take illegal shortcuts to meet tighter deadlines.
"We are already receiving reports of difficulties rejected asylum seekers on the islands [are having] to prepare the needed document of appeal and application to remain [on Greek soil], without legal aid and in such a short time frame," the spokesperson for the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Greece Boris Cheshirkov said.
The new timeframe allows up to 10 days for appeal, and applicants have to state their reasons in legal terms and in Greek.
Human rights activists say that is impossible without a lawyer, and authorities cannot always provide one as required by law.
The new asylum law, aimed at curbing migrant arrivals, was passed in late 2019. It allows Greece’s conservative New Democracy government to reject applications if asylum seekers refuse to move to a camp, fail to report a change of address or miss a deadline.
Greece served as the gateway to the European Union (EU) for more than one million Syrian refugees and other migrants in recent years. While an agreement with Turkey sharply reduced the number attempting the voyage since 2016, Greek islands still struggle with overcrowded camps operating far beyond their capacity, and where conditions are appalling according to aid groups.