Thursday

18th Jan 2018

EU sends back 200 migrants, despite legal concerns

  • Migrants leaving Lesbos island escorted by Frontex agents. "Greek authorities are doing their best, but that's not enough at the moment," said UNHCR Europe chief. (Photo: Reuters)

Legal and practical concerns over the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal were still running deep as the first migrants were returned from Greece to Turkey on Monday (4 April).

Greece is lacking the capacity to process thousands of people stuck on its islands since 20 March - the date after which new arrivals would face much quicker deportation.

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.

Athens passed the necessary legislation last Friday to create a legal basis for the returns, which are enforced when a migrant does not apply for asylum in Greece, or if their applications are declared inadmissible.

But fast-track asylum procedures, with appeals to be processed on the mainland, are to take at least two weeks in each case.

According to the UNHCR, the UN refugee body, no asylum requests have been processed so far at the Greek hotspots, the reception centers, for those who arrived after 20 March.

The situation means the first Syrians, who make up the majority of the refugee flow, are unlikely to be returned any time soon.

Three boats left in the early hours of Monday from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios with 202 migrants, who Greek authorities said were not claiming asylum. Most of the migrants were from Pakistan. Two Syrians also returned voluntarily, Greece said.

But Vincent Cochetel, the director of the UNHCR’s European office, said there might have been people who needed international protection on the third boat from Chios.

"It appears 13 [people] were on the boat who may have applied for asylum, and had registered their wish to do so two days ago," Cochetel told EUobserver.

He added that the UN is seeking clarification from Greek authorities. The migrants concerned are Afghanis and Congolese.

The UNHCR has no objections to the first two boats and no concern over sending back economic migrants - people who do not need international protection, Cochetel added.

Turkey's guarantees

Another sticking point is whether Turkey will in fact provide the necessary protection for those who are returned.

The UNHCR over the weekend called on all parties to ensure all "safeguards" are in place before returns start, and said in a statement that there were "serious gaps" both in Turkey and Greece.

The European Commission on Monday insisted that no-one would be returned to Turkey before their asylum application is processed. They also would not be returned if they had no guarantees of protection in Turkey.

"Turkey has provided formal guarantees that all Syrians refugees returned to Turkey will see their protection status returned," a European Commission spokesperson said.

"The amendment to the temporary protection regulation, we understand, will be adopted immediately, and non-Syrians in need of international protection will continue to benefit from that."

An EU source said proper monitoring of the Turkish procedure is part of the ongoing talks between European and Turkish officials.

Under the deal, for every returned Syrian EU countries will resettle a Syrian refugee from Turkey.

On Monday, Germany took in 32 people and Finland took 11. The Netherlands is expected to give refuge to 34 Syrians on Tuesday.

Lesbos conditions

Some NGOs have also voiced concern over lack of transparency.

"There is a de facto news blackout. Nobody is allowed to go into the camp or talk to the refugees," Wenzel Michalski, a spokesman for the US-based NGO Human Rights Watch told this website from Lesbos.

Michalski indicated this prevents NGOs from monitoring the procedure. "It's scandalous! What do they have to hide?", he said.

He said people were transferred by bus from the Moira camp, where 3000 to 4000 still remain, escorted by an equal number of border guards from the EU agency Frontex to the harbour in the very early morning and put on ferries to Turkey by 8am.

Michalski said he managed to talk to two young Syrians over the fence of the closed camp, who complained they were handed asylum papers only in Greek, which they do not understand.

UNHCR's Cochetel said Greece needs a big boost in terms of capacity and needs it quickly.

"Greek authorities are doing their best, but that's not enough at the moment," he said, adding that the eurozone bailout conditions limit how many staff ministries can hire.

Over the weekend, 206 escort officers from Frontex were deployed to Greece, as well as 32 officers from EASO, the bloc's asylum agency.

But EU support staff for Greece are still short of earlier pledges by fellow member states.

Greece begins migrant deportations to Turkey

Greece has started sending back migrants to Turkey under the EU deal. The German interior minister suggests similar agreements might be necessary in northern Africa.

EU-Turkey deal gets reality check

The EU-Turkey deal that came into force on Sunday has not deterred migrants crossing the Aegean sea on its first day. But it raises many questions as Greek and Turkish legal frameworks still need to be set up.

Greece gets two-week deadline for border plan

Greece gets two weeks from the EU commission to come up with a plan to better manage the passport-free Schengen zone's external borders, or face an extention of border checks.

Macron eyes France-UK border agreement

French president Macron wants the UK to take in more refugees as he revisits the 2003 Le Touquet agreement, which allows British border controls to take place inside French territory.

Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June

Divisions on relocating asylum seekers remain entrenched following an EU summit. The east-west divide opens up the possibility of relying on a majority vote for a key asylum in June, further exacerbating disputes among opposing capitals.

EU asylum debate reopens old wounds

EU leaders discussed asylum reforms in an effort to reach a consensus by next June, but divisions remain wide as concept of 'solidarity' becomes ever more elusive.

Macron eyes France-UK border agreement

French president Macron wants the UK to take in more refugees as he revisits the 2003 Le Touquet agreement, which allows British border controls to take place inside French territory.

Magazine

The asylum files: deadlock and dead-ends

The EU is reforming a number of internal asylum laws, but lack of staff, politics, and the sheer complexity of the bills means deadlines - like those announced by EU council chief Tusk - are likely to come and go.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan parliament elects separatist speaker
  2. Czech government resigns
  3. MEPs back tighter export rules on cyber tech
  4. Annual eurozone inflation at 1.4 percent in December
  5. EPP group calls for 'European Netflix'
  6. Ex-MEP Goulard slated for senior French bank post
  7. Luxembourg speaks out in support of Palestinian state
  8. Danish fishing communities to be hit hard by Brexit, says report

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other Border Regions on How Countries Can Work Together to Generate Growth
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  4. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  5. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  6. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  8. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  9. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  10. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted
  11. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  12. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties