Europe’s asylum agency has signed a deal with Greece that will help expand its operations in the country, which is struggling to process asylum requests amid high migrant arrivals and overcrowding in island camps.

Greek Alternate Minister of Migration and Asylum, Giorgos Koumoutsakos and Executive Director of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) Nina Gregori signed the deal on Tuesday in Athens.

Under the agreement the agency’s deployed personnel will double in size from approximately 500 to over 1,000 in 2020 in dozens of sites nationwide, Gregori said during a press briefing in Athens.

The European Asylum Support Office said in a statement that the agreement signed in Athens “gives legal and administrative clarity to the status of EASO in the country.”

EASO funding for its Greek operations will also increase by 30%, from 27 million euros ($30 million) last year to 35 million euros in 2020, he said.

Koumoutsakos said the signing of the agreement Tuesday was an “important day in Greece’s efforts to tackle … the great challenge of migration.”

“The challenge is very big, difficult and hard to solve. (EU) member-states must not and cannot stand alone in the face of a challenge of such magnitude,” Koumoutsakos added. “European cooperation, solidarity and coordination are essential.”

“We are here to assist the Greek asylum authorities and reception authorities with a common goal, as the minister said, to assure fast and efficient asylum procedures so that people in need of protection will get one as soon as possible,” Gregori stressed.

“States should not and cannot be left on their own faced with such an enormous challenge. European cooperation, solidarity, and coordination is a must,” Koumoutsakos said on his part.


*Main source: AP