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18th Nov 2018

EU says Greece fit to take back migrants

  • Camps at the Greek islands are overcrowded (Photo: Joseph Boyle)

Migrants stuck in Greece will have until early next year to make their way to another EU state without fear of being returned.

The European Commission on Wednesday (8 December) said it wants member states to start transferring people back to Greece as of mid-March under so-called Dublin rules.

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EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said that “transfers should not be applied retroactively," however.

The commission announcement comes despite the fact that the European Court of Human Rights banned returns to Greece in 2011 due to inhumane conditions in its asylum centres.

A contact at the Council of Europe, which oversees the Court of Human Rights, told EUobserver that Greece had not yet met conditions for transfers to resume.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has issued a similar judgement.

The commission said it was not challenging those verdicts, because its announcement was merely a "recommendation".

"The ultimate responsibility for resuming transfers lies with the member states and their national courts," Avramopoulos said.

Greek asylum 'fully functional'

The EU commissioner said that Greece had vastly improved conditions and that its asylum system was “fully functional”.

Asylum processing centres, also known as hotspots, on Greek islands, where people face long delays and poor living conditions, recently witnessed clashes between migrants and with local far-right groups.

The EU is also putting pressure on Greece and Italy to fingerprint and screen all asylum claimants before they disappear into other member states.

The prints are wanted, in part, in case terrorists try to infiltrate the flow of migrants.

Simona Spinelli, who heads the Dublin unit in Italy's interior ministry, told MEPs in October that not a single asylum seeker who had so far been screened had posed a security risk. "We have intelligence services in our territory … and there haven't really been any concerns there," she said.

The extra burden will see Greece’s understaffed asylum service increase its staff from 350 to 650 by the end of the year.

Amnesty International has said EU commission demands for fingerprints have led to refugees being tortured by police in Italy.

Dublin returns and relocation

Wednesday's announcement to restart returns to Greece comes at a time of relatively few daily arrivals, of some 80 people a day, from Turkey to the Greek islands.

If Turkey was to make good on recent threats to scrap its migration control pact with the EU, those numbers could soar, however.

The EU commission is also betting that member states will dramatically increase the number of people that they take off Greece and Italy’s hands.

The commission launched a relocation scheme last year to share 160,000 people from Greece and Italy around the rest of the EU.

Just 8,000 have been relocated so far.

Earlier this year, Avramopoulos asked EU states to relocate at least 6,000 per month, but they did not do it.

He asked them on Thursday to relocate at least 3,000 per month for now, and 4,500 a month from April.

"It [Dublin transfers to Greece] will work only if other member states do their part in picking up the pace of relocation and deploying national experts," he said.

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