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19th Jan 2020

EU resettled fewer than 200 Syrians under Turkey deal

  • Syrians in the Harran refugee camp in Turkey (Photo: Reuters)

Only 177 Syrians have been resettled in EU states under a March deal with Turkey to stem the flow of people seeking international protection in Greece, according to figures presented on Wednesday (18 May) by the EU commission.

"We need to increase resettlements, mostly from Turkey, but also from other countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. Our recent progress in breaking the smugglers’ business model is only sustainable if a safe legal channel also opens for asylum seekers," said EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos in a statement.

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Only Sweden (55), Germany (54), the Netherlands (52), Finland (11), and Lithuania (5) have resettled Syrians from Turkey.

EU states are expected to resettle up to 72,000 Syrians out of a total of some 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

And while the deal has resulted in a sharp drop in people heading across the Aegean sea in a bid to seek international protection on a Greek island, just under 400 have been returned to Turkey from Greece.

But it means some 46,000 are now stuck in the Greek mainland with many living in squalid conditions in an improvised refugee camp at Idomeni near the border with Macedonia.

On Wednesday, riots broke out at the camp when refugees clashed with police in their efforts to cross into Macedonia.

Aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) withdrew operations over security concerns. One MSF aid worker said the entire camp had been tear-gassed.

"For security reasons we have had to evacuate all staff from #Idomeni along with patients in our clinic due to tense confrontations," MSF Sea noted in a tweet.

Around 40 percent of the estimated 9,000 people stuck in Idomeni are children.

Meanwhile, for the first time since last June, the number of arrivals in Italy has surpassed those in Greece.

Many are still hoping to reach Germany but are now being turned away by police as they approach Austria near the Brenner Pass.

This website over the weekend encountered an unaccompanied minor from Ethiopia and another from Eritrea, along with around a dozen other asylum seekers, at the Brenner rail station just metres from the border with Austria.

EU officials say there is no direct evidence to suggest the shut down of the Greek route has triggered larger flows from Libya to Italy.

But the EU commission now wants Italy to set up additional migrant arrival centres or so-called hotspots in anticipation that many more will embark from the north African coast over the coming summer months.

Italy already has hotspots in Lampedusa, Pozzallo, Trapani and Taranto. Not all are fully operational.

Italy's interior minister Angelino Alfano said that Rome was prepared to set up more facilities, including "mobile" ones.

"There is an absolute willingness on our part to open new hotspots, also because it suits us, and we'll decide where to do it according to needs," he was quoted as saying by Italian press agency outlet ANSA.

Relocation standstill

The hotspots are part of a wider key EU asylum policy to relocate some 160,000 people from Italy and Greece to other EU states over a two year period.

Launched last September, the scheme continues to produce dismal results.

Avramopoulos earlier this year had set a 20,000 relocation target for mid-May. But as of this week, only 1,500 relocated from Italy and Greece.

"We cannot be satisfied with the results achieved so far. More has to be done, and swiftly," he said.

Human smuggling to EU worth €5bn a year

Up to 40,000 suspects involved in "multinational business", Europol and Interpol said. Migrants "increasingly" targeted for labour and sexual exploitation.

EU plans tougher asylum rules

Asylum seekers' applications to be rejected if they move around within the EU, under new asylum rules proposed by the EU Commission.

EU asks for G7's help on refugees

EU Council president Donald Tusk said the world should show solidarity and help to pay for aid to refugees and encourage regular migration.

EU aid pushing Libyan refugees back to war-hit Libya

At least 17 Libyans were returned to their war-torn country after attempting to flee on boats towards Europe. Their fates, along with many others, remain unknown as the EU-backed Libyan Coast Guard sweeps up people en masse.

Erdogan warns Europe of new migration crisis

Turkey's president Erdogan said more violence in the north-western Syrian province of Idlib would trigger a new migration crisis "felt by all European countries."

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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.

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