European Council President Charles Michel (center) walks with Greek Minister of Citizen Protection Michalis Chrisochoidis (right) and Greek migration minister Notis Mitarakis (left) during his visit in a refugees camp on Lesbos on September 15, 2020 | Photo: Dimitris Tosidis/EPA
European Council President Charles Michel (center) walks with Greek Minister of Citizen Protection Michalis Chrisochoidis (right) and Greek migration minister Notis Mitarakis (left) during his visit in a refugees camp on Lesbos on September 15, 2020 | Photo: Dimitris Tosidis/EPA

Urging the EU to push Turkey to stick to its obligations under a 2016 refugee deal, Greece has requested the immediate return to Turkey of almost 2.000 migrants living in camps on the Greek Aegean Islands. Turkey continues to refuse to take back rejected asylum seekers.

On Wednesday (July 28), the Greek migration minister, Notis Mitarakis, requested Frontex and the European Commission that 1,908 migrants living in the Greek Aegean Islands be returned to Turkey, from where they entered Greek territory. Based on the 2016 EU-Turkey deal, Turkey is obliged to take back migrants whose applications for asylum are denied by Greece.

In a landmark decision last month, Greece declared Turkey as a "safe country" for asylum seekers for the first time. Aiming to send back asylum seekers from Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and Bangladesh who arrive from Turkey, the Greek government says they are not in danger in Turkey and have no need of protection in Europe.

The announcement was met with criticism. In a letter addressed to the Greek government and the European Union, 38 humanitarian organizations said considering Turkey a safe third country "endangers refugees".

The return to Turkey of those who entered Greece from the neighboring country and are not entitled to international protection can take place on the basis of the first paragraph of said EU-Turkey agreement, which states that all migrants who have entered Greece from Turkey after March 20, 2016 and are not entitled to international protection, have to return to Turkey.

In return for every Syrian sent back, the EU takes one Syrian refugee from Turkey and provides financial support to Turkey to care for refugees.

Returns to Turkiey on hold

The return process, however, had been on hold since March 2020, when Turkey cited difficulties caused by the emergence of the Ccoronavirus pandemic. Turkey had been refusing cooperation for 17 months, even though coronavirus testing could be used in the repatriation process, Greek Migration Miniser Mitarakis said.

According to a media statement from the migration ministry on Wednesday (July 28), the returns to Turkey "are in accordance with the law and in compliance with health protocols. This is a necessary step in what is a strict but fair migration policy, with respect for European values and the rules of international law."

The commission acknowledged having received the letter. "The commission is aware of the challenges faced by Greece and continues to support any efforts to resume returns from the Greek islands to Turkey as part of the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement," a commission spokesperson told news agency dpa in a statement. Greece had already called on the EU for help in January, but to no avail, Mitarakis said.

About 6,650 migrants are currently living on the Greek islands, dpa reported.

 

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