Saturday

7th Dec 2019

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

Migrants paying to get detained in Libyan centres

A trend has emerged over the past few months where desperate people are paying to get locked up in Libyan detention centres to escape the conflict and with the hope they stand a better chance of getting resettled to Europe.

Finnish EU presidency brief broadly offshores migration

A Finnish EU presidency paper on migration, designed to feed into the new European Commission, lays out a vision to prevent irregular migration, forced displacement, and boost cooperation on return and readmission.

EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors

A two-year scheme to send asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU states fell short of its potential, say EU auditors. Some 35,000 were helped - but auditors say 445,000 in Greece alone could have also potentially benefited.

News in Brief

  1. Greece denies access to fair asylum process, report says
  2. Report: Self-regulation of social media 'not working'
  3. Turkey: Greek expulsion of Libyan envoy 'outrageous'
  4. Merkel coalition may survive, says new SPD co-leader
  5. Von der Leyen Ethiopia visit a 'political statement'
  6. Over 5,500 scientists ask EU to protect freshwater life
  7. Iran defies EU and UN on ballistic missiles
  8. Committee of the Regions: bigger budget for Green Deal

Opinion

Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Russia makes big promises to Arctic peoples on expansion
  2. UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK
  3. Migrants paying to get detained in Libyan centres
  4. Searching for solidarity in EU asylum policy
  5. Will Michel lead on lobbying transparency at Council?
  6. Blood from stone: What did British PR firm do for Malta?
  7. EU Commission defends Eurobarometer methodology
  8. Timmermans warns on cost of inaction on climate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us