EU commission dodges Dublin return question on Greece
The EU commission has backed down on demands for EU states to first relocate more asylum seekers from Greece before sending others back to the country.
EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday (2 March) dodged a direct question on the issue, suggesting that the precondition for the returns to take place to Greece is no longer valid.
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The commission last year said so-called Dublin returns to Greece could start on the condition EU states relocate their promised share of asylum seekers from the country.
"It [Dublin transfers to Greece] will work only if other member states do their part in picking up the pace of relocation," Avramopoulos had said in December.
Dublin is an EU asylum law that largely places the burden of processing asylum seeker claims on the country where they first entered.
With people first arriving in Greece and then spreading across the rest of the EU, national governments are keen to send them back to Athens.
But returns to Greece were banned by EU states in 2011 following two judgments by the European Court of Human Rights and another by the European Court of Justice, due in part, to the poor treatment of people by Greek authorities.
The EU commission has since recommended returns to start once again as of 15 March on the condition EU states relocate more people, which they have not.
The two year scheme, which ends in September, requires them to accept over 63,300 people from Greece.
Only 9,600 have so far been relocated to other EU states. It means that at the current pace, just over half of the total will be met in September. Austria, Hungary, and Poland have so far refused to accept any.
When pressed if this means Dublin returns to Greece would no longer take place, Avramopoulos gave an evasive response.
"There are no excuses or pretexts anymore, I believe that all member states will decide to do their duty as I said and the situation will be smoother in the future," he told EUobserver.
Germany's interior minister Thomas de Maiziere in early January already started looking into plans on sending people back to Greece.
Some 60,000 people are thought to be stuck in Greece, of those, an estimated 20,000 are eligible to be relocated.
With an average daily of some 43 people still arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey, the camps in Lesvos, Samos, and Chios are at risk of becoming even more overcrowded.
Italy and EU commission fines
Italy is facing similar problems.
EU states are supposed to relocate just under 35,000 by September. But of those, only 3,936 have been dispatched as of date.
The commission has been wary about imposing sanctions on EU states that fail to meet the September deadline.
On Wednesday, Avramopoulos had sent a joint-letter with Malta's interior ministry to all his counterparts in the EU asking them to deliver on the relocation quotas.
"The relocation schemes end in September but the responsibility of members to fulfill their obligations does not end there. It is as if you have an outstanding bill, you have to pay it," Avramopoulos told reporters.