18th Mar 2018

Greece on edge, as Turkish coup prompts surge in new arrivals

After dropping for several months, the numbers of refugees pouring through Greece have started to increase again in recent weeks.

When an EU-Turkey deal was hacked out in March 2016, it was hailed by EU governments as a success. The massive numbers that had transited through Greece in 2015 and early 2016 quickly whittled down to almost nothing.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • The EU-Turkey deal hasn't stopped people from coming to Europe (Photo: The European Union.)

But people have not stopped coming, and the failed coup in Turkey on 15 July seems to have had consequences.

The EU-Turkey deal came into effect on 20 March 2016.

In February, UNHCR data showed 55,222 arrivals in Greece. This had fallen to 26,623 in March and 3,419 in April. The numbers for May and June were more or less steady at 1,465 and 1,489, respectively.

But in July, the pattern began to change.

There were 1,855 arrivals recorded for the month of July. This could be written off as part of the settling down period for the deal, until the numbers are broken down and matched with events which took place that month.

On 15 July, an attempted putsch took place in Turkey. The number of arrivals from 1 July to 14 July came to 560. But that number jumped to 1,295 for the period 15 July to 31 July - an increase of 131 percent.

Taking a step further back, between 15 June and 14 July, 1,438 arrivals were registered in Greece. But from 15 July to 14 August, the number was 2,675, representing an 86-percent increase in arrivals.

No Turkish police

In the face of this data, it is hard to ignore Turkey’s current instability as a driving factor behind refugee flows. Between 1 and 28 August, the latest available date for arrivals by the UNHCR, 2,810 refugees and migrants arrived on Greek shores.

The EU-Turkey deal, already a precarious arrangement and widely condemned by human rights organisations, has many working parts.

One is a convincing image of Turkey as a safe third country to return refugees to, something that Syrian refugees, and particularly Syrian Kurds, are not buying.

The second is a stable Turkish government that does not have its attention taken up by internal unrest, and more recently, boots on the ground in Syria.

The disarray left behind by the coup attempt has been seized upon and, in the fair summer weather, refugee numbers have begun climbing up.

The third factor is Turkey’s cooperation, and it is this factor which could undo the deal.

The UNHCR’s director Vincent Cochetel recently told the Guardian that parts of the deal are already de facto suspended due to the post-coup absence of Turkish police at the Greek detention centres.

Meanwhile, the Turkish government has plainly stated that if there is no agreement for visa-free travel for Turkish nationals to the EU by October, as promised under the EU-Turkey deal, they will stop upholding their part of the bargain, and Greece could once more see record numbers flood across the sea.

Confusion in asylum process

As for those who do make it to Greece, the prospects are grim.

Claiming asylum in Europe has been designed as a two-step process as of June this year under the approval of the UNHCR and the European Asylum Support Office.

It was meant to ease the unrest growing among refugee populations and give authorities a more complete picture of who and where they are in order to process their claims fully.

It was also meant to streamline the asylum process, but has caused confusion instead. Pre-registration comes first, after which the applicant receives an asylum seeker’s card granting them basic rights such as education for their children.

The design of the process has left many convinced that the first step is the only one which needs completion, only for them to find there were still many more hoops to jump through before their dreams of life in Europe came closer to reality.

There are currently more than 58,000 refugees in Greece. Around 10,000 of these are crammed into camps on the islands.

It is a figure that has stubbornly refused to go down in any meaningful way thanks to a painfully slow relocation programme. Only around 4,000 of the 160,000 which EU member states pledged last year to take from Greece and Italy by September 2017 have actually been moved.

Mayors from the Greek islands have spent the summer months making increasingly desperate appeals for something to be done about the backlog and the crawling pace of the relocation programme, citing the highly tense atmosphere both inside and outside the camps.

Several communities do not want the refugees there, no more than the refugees want to be there themselves - an explosive combination.

Fear and confusion

Stuck in sub-standard, or as in the case of unofficial camps, non existent, accommodation, the refugees in Greece find themselves in limbo. In this environment, the ground is ripe for exploitation, which is already happening.

Various groups who might not necessarily get along have been grouped together with little thought about the consequences.

There is little by way of security, meaning that both religious fundamentalists and mafia groups prowl the camps looking for easy pickings.

Cut off from viable work options, prostitution has become a means to survive for some migrants in the streets around Victoria Square, in downtown Athens.

In Petra, under the shadow of Mount Olympus, a camp exclusively for Yazidis, a Kurdish minority, was set up after activists received reports that they were being constantly harassed and attacked by other refugees.

Resentment is also growing between various refugee and migrant communities over who gets better treatment - Afghans, for example, are convinced that the Syrians are treated more favourably than they are, while Pakistani Christians are amazed at the lack of knowledge among Greek authorities about the persecution they face in their home country.

Fights between Afghans and Pakistanis at the Elliniko camp in Athens are a regular occurrence (one such fight led to a fatality).

Women and girls in particular suffer from being exposed to lack of adequate accommodation and lack of privacy. Reports of sexual harassment targeting women and children in official and unofficial camps in Greece are rife.

In Greece, a climate of fear and confusion has taken hold.

Several frontline islands, which rely heavily on tourism, have reported drops in tourist arrivals. Lesbos was hit particularly badly, with bookings down nearly 60 percent compared to last year.

The battered infrastructure of these islands will not be able to withstand a repeat of the numbers seen last year.


Samos: Inside Greece's 'nightmare' EU hotspot

Asylum centres on the Greek islands have borne the brunt of implementing the EU-Turkey deal. The centre on Samos island has struggled more than the others.

Turkey threatens to scrap refugee deal, again

Two Turkish ministers said that Ankara would end the agreement to reduce the number of migrants coming to Europe if it does not get visa-free travel to the EU.

German ministries were at war over CO2 car cuts

Foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel was not the only German government official trying to water down an EU draft bill on CO2 emissions from passenger vehicles last year. In fact, three Berlin ministries were contradicting each other behind the scenes.

News in Brief

  1. Sweden emerges as possible US-North Korean summit host
  2. Google accused of paying academics backing its policies
  3. New interior minister: 'Islam doesn't belong to Germany'
  4. Hamburg 'dieselgate' driver wins case to get new VW car
  5. Slovak deputy PM asked to form new government
  6. US, Germany, France condemn 'assault on UK sovereignty'
  7. MEPs accept Amsterdam as seat for EU medicines agency
  8. Auditors: EU farm 'simplification' made subsidies more complex

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceConmtroversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  2. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  5. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  7. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  8. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  9. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?
  10. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  11. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  12. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework

Latest News

  1. Brexit and trade will top This WEEK
  2. Dutch MPs in plan to shut EU website on Russian propaganda
  3. Four years on – but we will not forget illegally-occupied Crimea
  4. Evacuated women from Libya arrive newly-pregnant
  5. Merkel in Paris for eurozone reform talks
  6. Commission rejects ombudsman criticism over Barroso case
  7. Western allies back UK amid Russian media blitz
  8. Meet the European Parliament's twittersphere

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  2. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  4. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  5. EUobserverNow Hiring! Sales Associate With 2+ Years Experience
  6. EUobserverNow Hiring! Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience
  7. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  10. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections
  12. CECEIndustry Stakeholders Are Ready to Take the Lead in Digital Construction

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementEuropean Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  10. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementSuing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name
  12. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström