Auditors:Shortfalls for Migrant Centers

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Migrant centers in Greece and Italy meant to fast-track the arrival of people seeking sanctuary in Europe are overwhelmed and urgently require more experts, particularly to help vulnerable children traveling alone, European Union auditors warned Tuesday.

In a new report, the auditors said that two more centers known as "hotspots" are needed to process migrants in Italy and that facilities on Greek islands where people arrive from Turkey must be improved.

In Greece, the auditors said, "there are still more migrants arriving at the hotspots than leaving, and they are seriously overcrowded." Some children have been held in "restrictive conditions" there for more than three months.

"This issue needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency," said Hans Gustaf Wessberg, an auditor responsible for the report.

While the hotspot system has helped manage the problem short-term, migrant arrivals are unlikely to ease soon. "I cannot see any end of this situation," he told reporters in Brussels.

The hotspots in Greece and Italy are designed to process a total of about 8,000 people in a few days but are routinely dealing with 15,000-16,000 migrants.

The centers — four in Italy and five in Greece — are seen as a key part of the EU's response to the refugee emergency. They were set up in 2015 as tens of thousands of people entered Europe, many from Syria and Iraq.

The auditors note that the EU's agreement with Turkey to send migrants back there means that people are stuck on the Greek islands for longer periods while their cases are examined, turning the hotspots into de-facto camps.

The report urges the EU and its member countries to ensure that adequate shelter and protection is provided for children, including the deployment of child protection officers at every site. More migration and asylum experts should also be deployed, and with longer contracts so their expertise is not lost.