Around 7000 Syrian refugees were transferred from Turkey to EU countries in 2018 as part of the EU-Turkey deal, while just over 5000 asylum seekers were sent from Greece to Turkey. Critics of the deal say it turns a blind eye to the detrimental conditions in Greece and Turkey.
Nearly 7000 Syrian refugees in Turkey were sent to EU countries as part of the EU-Turkey deal last year. That’s around 0.2 percent of the Syrian refugee population currently registered in Turkey.
Around 5000 asylum seekers left Greece "voluntarily" with return assistance from the United Nation's "Assisted Voluntary Returns and Reintegration Program." Another 322 people were deported from Greece to Turkey, according to a response from the German government to an inquiry from the opposition Left party. The figures are based on information provided by the European Commission.
The EU-Turkey deal was signed in March 2016 and allows Greece to return migrants from its islands to Turkey in case they don’t qualify for asylum. In turn, the EU agreed to take in one Syrian refugee living in Turkey for every asylum seeker transferred back from Greece. In addition, the EU promised Turkey billions in funding for hosting Syrian refugees. So far, around 50 percent of the funds have been transferred (3 billion euros).
Turning a blind eye
The deal has lead to a sharp decrease in illegal crossings from Turkey to Greece over the past three years. However, critics say that EU money is not being spent effectively and that funding and implementation lack transparency.
"The conditions for Syrian refugees in Turkey are everything but good," parliamentarian Ulla Jelpke of the German Left party said. A large percentage of refugees was barely surviving on day-to-day jobs and EU support did not reach around 2 million people living outside of the official refugee camps in Turkey, Jelpke claimed.
Around 143,000 refugees are living in official camps in Turkey, according to the Turkish interior ministry. Many refugees move to big cities to find work. The EU supports refugees living outside the camps with its assistance scheme "Emergency Social Safety Net." This program reaches 1.5 million refugees and provides them with a fixed amount of around 20 euros a month, according to the German government.
For Jelpke, the deal is a comfortable way for EU countries to keep the problem of migration outside the bloc. "The German government keeps whitewashing the deal. Its main concern is that refugees are prevented from coming to the EU," she said.
Situation in Greece
The number of refugees arriving on the Greek islands increased significantly in 2018, leading to severe overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the refugee and migrant camps. There are currently over 11,750 asylum seekers in five hotspots on the Greek islands and there are relatively few transferrals to the mainland. The EU-Turkey deal states that only asylum seekers still on the islands can be returned to Turkey.