EU tells Greece to improve conditions for refugees

A man sleeps with other refugees and migrants inside a passenger terminal at the port of Piraeus near Athens on February 6, 2016 (AFP Photo/Angelos Tzortzinis) (AFP)

Brussels (AFP) - The EU on Wednesday told Athens to improve conditions for refugees so that other overstretched member states can send some of them back to Greece if they first entered the bloc there.

The call from the European Commisison, the EU executive, heaps further pressure on Greece after it urged Athens last week to reinforce its borders, the gateway to Europe for most of the asylum seekers from Syria and other countries.

"There are still key areas in the asylum process that need to be improved (in Greece)... notably in the areas of reception capacity and conditions, access to the asylum procedure, appeals and legal aid," the commission said.

It said Greece had addressed shortcomings cited by a European Court of Justice ruling in 2011 which said conditions for asylum seekers were degrading, meaning that other countries could not send them back there.

The EU's Dublin regulations on migration say people must apply for asylum in the country where they first land, but that system has been thrown into chaos by the conditions in Greece and the fact many asylum seekers do not want to stay there.

Germany has also caused disruption by saying last year that it would take in all Syrian refugees that reached its territory no matter where they had initially landed in the EU.

"There must be a real possibility to return asylum-seekers to the country of first entry into the EU, as foreseen by the commonly agreed EU rules," the commission said.