Greece has started sending back around 30 rejected asylum seekers a day to Turkey, said the Greek government on Monday.
The deputy leader of the governing New Democracy party, Adonis Georgiadis, announced on Monday that the Greek government was sending back "around 30 migrants per day, and that Turkey was accepting them," reported the German news agency dpa. Georgiadis, who is also minister for the economy and development originally made the announcement to Real, a broadcaster in the Greek capital Athens.
On January 1, 2020, the Greek government brought in a law intended to speed up the asylum process and assess people’s asylum claims more quickly. Before that, due to a lack of personnel, reported dpa, returns to Turkey had "virtually stalled."
One of the tenets of the new law requires those whose asylum claim is refused to apply for a legal assessment in order to launch an appeal. Previously, according to dpa, migrants who were refused were able to fill out a standard form and delay their deportation by months, or even years.
Overcrowding on Greek islands
Humanitarian organizations have criticized the new law in Greece. However, the EU-Turkey agreement, implemented in 2016, provides for any asylum seeker, whose claim is refused, to be sent back to Turkey.
Despite the new Greek policy, camps on the Greek islands remain severely overcrowded. According to the UNHCR there were 112,300 refugees and migrants in Greece at the end of December 2019. More have since arrived from Turkey in 2020. The UNHCR estimates that to date more than 2,000 people have arrived. There are over 40,000 people on the Greek islands and over 70,000 people on the Greek mainland.
The greatest proportion of new arrivals is from Afghanistan, followed by Syria and then the Palestinian territories. Women account for 22% of the population and children for 33%. According to the UNHCR, "approximately 15% of the children are unaccompanied or separated, mainly from Afghanistan."
Speeding up deportations
The Greek daily Ekathimerini English website reported that the country’s "new Ministry for Migration and Asylum is expected to focus on speeding up deportations and returns amid fears of an expected surge in migrant arrivals from Turkey as winter starts giving way to spring."
According to Ekathimerini, the European Asylum Support Office has deployed "an additional 550 personnel" to Greece in order to help speed up the asylum process. Returns, said the paper was the "focus" of the new ministry.The tougher legislation comes as Greece has been rocked by a series of protests from mostly Greek islanders who say they cannot continue with the situation as it is. On January 25 the government tweeted that the "migration influx has subsided, both on land and sea."
Strengthening the border
A government spokesperson, Stelios Petsas, said that the Greek government had made efforts to strengthen its police force too, especially those deployed at the country’s borders. Petsas told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) that migration "is one of the so-called security issues, and to address it we are implementing a coherent plan."
Petsas added that they were currently recruiting "some 400 border patrol officers" and "moving ahead with upgrading the logistical equipment available to regional staff."
Petsas confirmed that the new returns policy had started again "last Friday and continued to this Friday." He said refused asylum seekers names would be sent via "the relevant ministry to the police…the police then informs the relevant Turkish authority who then contacts Frontex, then the latter undertakes the returns to Greece."According to the Frontex website, the European border and coast guard agency has "almost 600 guest officers" in Greece.