LONDON — With more than 62,000 migrants and refugees stranded in Greece, European authorities have been promising for months to cut the backlog and relocate people across the continent.
But under a European Union plan announced this week, Greece’s continental partners may be sending more people its way rather than helping to ease the burden.
The plan drew sharp rebukes Friday from aid organizations. The International Rescue Committee, which has been assisting people trapped in Greece by closed borders farther north, called the proposed policy change “out of step with what is urgently needed on the ground.”
“It is absurd that rather than stepping up to meet the pledges they have already made to relocate people from Greece, E.U. countries are actively seeking to send more refugees to Greece,” said Imogen Sudbery, head of the IRC’s Brussels office.
In a statement, Sudbery cited the “thousands of refugees staying in sites, designed for temporary stay, for nine months” and now facing winter in inadequate shelters.
A European Commission plan announced Thursday could, at least in theory, add to those numbers by reinstituting rules that asylum seekers must apply for protection in the E.U. nation where they first arrived, and can therefore be sent back to Greece from other countries in Europe.
Those rules had been suspended amid the record flow of new arrivals in Europe last year as asylum seekers passed through Greece en route to Germany, Sweden and other Western Europe destinations. The commission said Thursday that Greece is better equipped to handle arrivals today, having improved its registration systems and accommodations.
The proposal would apply to adult asylum seekers who arrive in Europe beginning next March.
At the moment, few migrants are actually making it into Europe via Greece, after a spring deal between Turkey and the E.U. that effectively sealed an Aegean Sea route that had been traveled by more than 800,000 people in 2015.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently threatened to scuttle the deal and reopen the floodgates, arguing that Europe has not upheld its part of the bargain.
Europe has also struggled to keep its promises to Greece and Italy, the two E.U. nations on the front lines of the migrant crisis.
A September 2015 plan was supposed to mandate the relocation of 160,000 asylum seekers from those two nations to other parts of Europe. But as of this week, fewer than 8,200 people had been moved.
That failure has left large numbers of people stuck in Italy and Greece, countries that are struggling economically and have little capacity to absorb the influx.
Eastern European nations have been particularly unwilling to accept refugees relocated from Greece or Italy, arguing that the predominantly Muslim new arrivals threaten to disturb the social order in their overwhelmingly Christian nations.
Some 350,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea this year as they flee war, poverty or persecution in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The arrivals have been split almost evenly between Italy and Greece, with Italy’s total recently surpassing that of last year.