GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 15,500 asylum seekers have gone through a so-called pre-registration process on mainland Greece.
The UNHCR said these people will be able to lodge future claims for asylum in Greece or in other European Union countries where they may be sent under a relocation scheme.
The U.N. refugee agency said this pre-registration process is only open to those who entered Greece between January 2015 and March 20, 2016. This is just before the European Union and Turkey signed an agreement aimed at stopping irregular migration from Turkey to the EU.
UNHCR spokesman, William Spindler, said more than 15,500 of an estimated 49,000 people currently on mainland Greece have been pre-registered. He said they have received asylum seeker cards, valid for one year. This allows them to live legally in Greece and access basic services.
“The exercise will help to identify those eligible for family reunification or relocation to another EU country," said Spindler. "It will also identify persons with specific needs so that they may be referred to the appropriate organizations and receive assistance and support.”
Spindler said faster implementation and an increased number of places for relocation are needed as more people eligible for relocation are identified. He acknowledges this may be difficult to do.
He noted 24 EU countries so far have made only 8,090 places available to asylum seekers. This is out of 160,000 people the European Union agreed to relocate in September 2015.
Speaking with VOA, Spindler said this scheme needs to be speeded up. “It is crucial that more countries come forward with places because otherwise the danger is that the people will continue to be stuck there. We are talking about relatively small numbers of people … and, we are talking about the EU with a combined population of over 500 million people."
Spindler said the 15,500 pre-registered people include some 680 unaccompanied and separated children who are in need of special protection.