Authorities in Greece have paused deportations to Turkey and acknowledged that most migrants and refugees detained on Greek islands have applied for asylum.
The European Union began sending back migrants Monday under an agreement with Turkey, but no transfers were planned Tuesday.
Maria Stavropoulou, director of Greece’s Asylum Service, told state media that some 3,000 people held in deportation camps on the islands are seeking asylum, with the application process to formally start by the end of the week.
She says asylum applications typically take about three months to process, but would be “considerably faster” for those held in detention.
“There will be a difficult few months ahead,” Stavropoulou said. “We are dealing with people who speak 70 different languages and many have traveled to Greece without papers because they are escaping war.”
Under the EU-Turkey agreement migrants must be screened by asylum services before they are deported. Returns are starting with migrants who have not applied for asylum or whose claims are considered inadmissable.
Only 30 of 400 migration officers from other EU countries have arrived in Greece so far, Stavropoulou said, while additional locally hired staff would take “several months” to train and integrate into the Asylum Service, Stavropoulou said.
On Monday some 202 migrants from 11 countries were sent back to Turkey, on boats from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios.
It was unclear when the send-backs would resume. Local officials on the island Chios said more migrants could be sent back from there Wednesday.