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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 January 2021

Greece demands EU help sending 1,450 migrants back to Turkey

Athens says they are failed asylum seekers who are not entitled to international protection

The refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos. Reuters
The refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos. Reuters

Greece is pushing to return hundreds of migrants living in island camps to Turkey and demanding that the European Union helps it police a deal for failed asylum seekers.

EU member Greece wants the bloc to better enforce a 2016 deal and ensure Turkey takes back 1,450 people whose asylum requests have been rejected.

Meanwhile, Turkey has accused the EU of not fulfilling its end of the bargain as it continues to house more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

The attempt to return the migrants comes ahead of planned talks to tackle longstanding territorial disputes between the two Nato allies.

Map shows competing maritime borders according to agreements made by Athens and Cairo, Tripoli and Ankara
Map shows competing maritime borders according to agreements made by Athens and Cairo, Tripoli and Ankara

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said his government had submitted a request "for the immediate return to Turkey" of 1,450 "third country citizens who are not entitled to international protection".

Most of the migrants are on Lesbos, where a fire destroyed the main migrants’ camp last year, while others are on Kos, Samos and Chios.

Under the EU-Turkey 2016 pact, Ankara agreed to take back migrants not entitled to international protection in return for billions of euros in aid.

"We expect Turkey to step up its efforts ... First, to prevent the passage of boats departing from its shores bound for our country and the European Union. And second to accept the return of migrants,” Mr Mitarachi said.

"Europe needs to establish a common mechanism to address this issue within the new Migration and Asylum Pact, as well as implementing the necessary legal and operation mechanism for achieving returns.”

The system of returning migrants to Turkey largely dried up in 2020 as a ripple effect of the coronavirus pandemic. Covid testing means conditions are now acceptable to resume returning the failed asylum seekers, Mr Mitarachi said.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees used Greece as their entry point into the EU through Turkey in 2015 and 2016, and the 2016 deal slowed that considerably.

Turkey hosts more than three million refugees and migrants, many from Syria, while tens of thousands are waiting in Greece for asylum applications to be processed.

The EU has said it is ready to support Greece in its talks later this month with Turkey.

The two have had serious differences over maritime boundaries in the hydrocarbon-rich eastern Mediterranean.

“If Greece decides that it needs support from the EU in these bilateral talks with Turkey, I think our Greek partners know what they need to do to get such support,” said EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano.

Published: January 14, 2021 05:59 PM

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