The number of migrants on the Greek islands has overwhelmed the local population and their resources | Photo: Reuters/A. Konstantinidis
The number of migrants on the Greek islands has overwhelmed the local population and their resources | Photo: Reuters/A. Konstantinidis

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is to hold talks in Ankara and Athens on the continuing migration crisis. His trip comes as the number of migrants crossing to Greece from Turkey grows once more.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer will travel to Turkey and Greece on Thursday and Friday for talks on how to better manage the flow of migrants from the Middle East to Europe.

His trip comes as a deal between the European Union and Ankara on reducing the numbers of people reaching Greece from Turkish soil appears to be in trouble, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatening to release a large number of migrants to Europe if his conditions are not met.

Greece, in its turn, is facing the problem of overfilled refugee camps on its Aegean islands, where human rights groups have criticized the poor living conditions and warned of the coming winter.

Refugee camps on the Greek islands like this one on Lesbos are filled far over capacity  Photo D Tosidis

Seehofer will be joined on his trip by his French counterpart, Christophe Castaner, and EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulous.  He is expected to sound out Ankara on its problems with the deal and offer Athens help in processing asylum applications, among other things.

Ahead of his trip, Seehofer, who has been known in the past for his harsh anti-immigration rhetoric, said that "the year 2015 must not be repeated." That year saw a huge influx of migrants trying to reach Europe, many via Turkey, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that those fleeing conflict in their home countries, notably Syria, would find shelter in Germany — a policy of which Seehofer was one of the main detractors.

Migrant numbers on the up again

The trip comes as the number of migrants reaching Greek islands is on the increase once more, though the flow is much reduced compared with 2015 levels, when up to 7,000 people arrived on some days. More than 30,000 migrants are now being hosted on the islands, up from 14,000 in April.

Under the EU-Turkey agreement, which initially had a strong impact in stemming the migrant flow, Greece is permitted to send rejected asylum-seekers, mostly from Syria, back to Turkey. Turkey then receives financial aid to house refugees in camps, while the EU also accepts a certain contingent whose asylum claims have been recognized.

However, the leftist government of former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras returned just some 2,000 people, despite the overfilling on several islands. The island of Lesbos, for example, is hosting some 13,000 migrants, although its reception center is designed for just 3,000. The new Greek government under conservative premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis is expected to take a harsher stance and return more people.

Turkish complaints

Turkey's Erdogan, meanwhile, has been complaining that his country has so far received too little of the €6 billion ($6.5 billion) promised by the EU for the years 2016 to 2019, while shouldering costs of more than $40 billion (€36.5 billion).

EU staff in Turkey say, however, that under the deal, the money is released only in connection with concrete projects, something they say is not fully accepted by Turkish government officials.

Erdogan on Tuesday announced a new plan to resettle millions of Syrians from Turkey into a "safe zone" in northern Syria "with international help," though it is unclear whether he means to ask the EU and Germany for additional funds during Seehofer's visit.

Looking after young people

Ahead of Seehofer's trip, a group of human rights organizations on Thursday called on the German government to take some of the burden off Greece by taking in young refugees from the Aegean islands.

A letter to Seehofer and Merkel signed by charities Pro Asyl and Terre des Hommes, among others, described the situation on the islands as a "considerable risk to children and young people."

"We therefore ask you to take in unaccompanied minor refugees from Greece and to use all existing legal means to reunite those seeking protection with family members in Germany," the letter said.

There are reportedly 4,100 unaccompanied minor refugees in Greece | Photo: DW/Dimitris Tosidis

Leading members of Germany's Green party also had a message for Seehofer as he prepared to leave.

Its parliamentary spokeswoman for refugee affairs, Luise Amtsberg, and former party leader Claudia Roth called on him to make it clear to the Turkish government that returning refugees to Syria against their will, as Ankara is reported to have done by human rights groups, is a "blatant violation of laws on asylum."

Author: tj/ng (dpa, AFP)

First published: October 03, 2019

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