The ruling by the Greek Council of State (Cos) to allow free and unrestricted movement of refugees and immigrants arriving in the country from April 17 onwards across the country has raised alarm in Brussels.
An EU official told Reuters the decision was “a big worry”, as Europeans feared the ruling by the Greek higher court would undermine the efforts of the European Commission to discourage refugees and immigrants from leaving Turkey.
Stopping migrants making the short crossing from Turkey is a key part of European Union policy aimed at avoiding a repeat of the crisis of 2015 when over a million migrants, many of them Syrian refugees, made it to Germany.
Asylum-seekers have been prohibited from traveling beyond five Greek islands since March 2016, when the EU agreed a deal with Ankara to seal the sea route, offering cash to improve conditions for Syrians staying in non-EU member Turkey.
The restriction on leaving the islands, imposed by Greece’s Asylum Service, has resulted in severely overcrowded camps and violent protests over delays in asylum decisions. More than 15,000 asylum-seekers are living in five island camps, more than double their capacity, according to government data.
The Council of State, Greece’s top administrative court, annulled the decision. It found no “serious and overriding reasons of public interest and migration policy to justify the imposition of restriction on movement”, a court official said.
Reuters also notes that, according to official figures, the number of migrants and refugees arriving in the islands has so far increased by 27% over the same period of 2017.
The Greek Council for Refugees, which had taken the issue to court, said the decision was “an important victory for all those who defend the rights of refugees”.