86 Pakistani nationals took up the offer of voluntary return to fly from Athens to their home country on Wednesday | Source: @IOMGREECE Twitter feed
86 Pakistani nationals took up the offer of voluntary return to fly from Athens to their home country on Wednesday | Source: @IOMGREECE Twitter feed

A group of 86 Pakistani migrants returned home from Greece this week. The voluntary returns were organized by the UN migration agency (IOM) in Greece.

IOM Greece on Wednesday (November 30) tweeted that 86 Pakistanis departed from Athens to Pakistan with a voluntary repatriation program, allowing them "to return to their home country with safety and dignity."

The return was organized in the framework of the Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) program, in cooperation with the Greek Migration and Asylum Ministry’s Asylum Service and the Greek police, IOM said.

Pictures posted on Twitter show one from the group smiling as he queues to board a plane due to take him back to Pakistan.

Joint financing for return program

According to the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini, the project "is 75% financed by the European Commission’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and 25% by Greek state funds."

Since September 2019, at least 9,020 migrants have reportedly returned to their home countries on similar programs.

Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi was present at Athens International Airport as the migrants boarded the plane. According to the Greek news agency AMNA, Mitarachi said that "the number of migrants returning voluntarily to their home countries has doubled," although there was no time frame specified.

On his Twitter profile, Mitarachi also said that "Greece is stepping up deportations, voluntary and forced, adding that Greece was in favor of applying a "strict but fair immigration policy" and that in the last three years "more [people] have left than have come."

Also read: Mystery around alleged death of girl on Greek-Turkish border

Greece hopes to increase returns

Mitarachi said that a recent agreement with the EU border agency Frontex would add a further "boost [to] the planning and capacity for such returns," according to AMNA. According to Ekathimerini, Greece hosts one of the largest Frontex presences in Europe.

The EU Commission Vice President, and Commissioner for the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, spoke to Ekathimerini about migration along the Balkan route in early November. In that interview, Schinas acknowledged that Greece had received more money from Europe than any other member state in order to handle migration. He praised the building of new reception facilities which have been built "with funding from the community budget," and concluded that the EU Commission was "basically together with Greece in its management [of migration]."

Later on Wednesday, Mitarachi posted a picture of his visit to the migrant reception center at Eleonas which is in the process of being closed down. According to a translation of his tweet from Google, he said "We said it, we did it! The structure of Eleonas was closed as the asylum seekers were removed smoothly, [only] the huts remain. The structure in September 2020 had 2,451 people, today, only 57. We are returning the space to the Athenians, as we had promised."

Arrivals in Greece

According to figures from the UN refugee agency UNHCR, last updated on November 27, 15,872 migrants have arrived in Greece since the beginning of the year. The majority of them, just over 10,000, arrived by sea, and about a third of them arrived by land, over the border between Turkey and Greece which runs largely along the Evros river.

According to UN figures, the majority of migrants arriving declared themselves Palestinian (18.1%), closely followed by Afghan nationals (16%) and nationals from Somalia (15.4%). After that came nationals from Syria (9.7%) and Sierra Leone 8.6%).

Also according to UNHCR’s mid-year data, as of June 30, 2022, Greece had 147,420 registered refugees on its territory, 22,117 asylum seekers and 3,645 "others of concern." Of those granted refugee status in the country, the majority came from Syria, followed by nationals from Afghanistan and Ukraine. In terms of asylum seekers, the majority of those waiting for their cases to be decided were Afghan, followed by nationals from Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Also read: Mediterranean countries disappointed by migration relocation


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