It was unfortunate, although predictable, that the migration problem had to reach crisis point for action to be taken by the government. The surge of arrivals in the last few weeks, combined with the gathering of thousands of the refugees at the Greece-Turkey border, finally persuaded the government that it could no longer ignore the problem, about which a former interior minister had been warning for the last year, and that it was time for action.
On Tuesday the government unveiled its action plan, based on a proposal prepared by a ministerial committee and vetted by the attorney-general. There is nothing radical or ground-breaking in the action plan, which primarily envisages speeding up of the processing of asylum applications. As interior minister Nicos Nouris said, in presenting the plan, the top priority was a drive to drastically reduce the time it took to process applications. This would include the setting of deadlines for filing recourses in the court and the classification of countries that applicants are from. Applications from ‘safe countries’ would be dealt with much faster.
As the objective is to drastically reduce the processing time, the number of employees processing applications will be doubled, going up from the current 32 to 69. Employee numbers probably should have been tripled. Once the backlog of applications was cleared and there was a manageable number of cases left staff numbers could be reduced again. We know this easier said than done in an inflexible public service operating under union imposed restrictions on staff transfers.
It is a relief the government has finally realized that it must speed up bureaucratic procedures, the slowness of which suited asylum seekers, by increasing personnel although more staff will not necessarily tackle the problem. Employees must be set targets that would have to be met every month in order to improve efficiency. Keeping more applicants in compounds like Menoyia than at present is also a good move, assuming it can be done, because the authorities can keep track of where they are.
The other important measure that the government had unveiled a couple of months ago was the introduction of tougher criteria for the registration of non-EU national by private colleges. For years, has been the lawful way for foreign workers that become asylum seekers to arrive on the island, some private colleges operating as employment agencies rather then educational institutions. There has already been a strong reaction from these colleges, which claimed at the House education committee the tougher criteria would cause major economic problems, but the government should stand firm. One third of asylum seekers arrive legally on the island as students or workers.
The government measures are the right ones. All that remains to be seen now, is how soon and how effectively they would enforced.