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24th Jul 2021

EU-Turkey migrant deal under pressure

  • 'Last time this happened was in 2015,' says Aegean Boat Report (Photo: Aegean Boat Report)

Over 500 people reportedly arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos from Turkey in one day, as Germany's chancellor attempts to keep the EU-Turkey migration deal from unravelling.

The reported arrivals on Thursday (29 August) on Lesbos follow a spate of violence at the overcrowded "EU hotspot" inside the Moria camp, where thousands are squeezed together in grim conditions.

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Typical average daily arrival rates on all four Aegean islands is around 250 per day, according to recent figures from the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR).

Over 1,000 landed in Lesbos last week alone.

The EU's deal with Turkey, thrashed out in 2016, is meant to keep people from making the crossing in exchange for billions of EU aid funds and political concessions towards Ankara.

It attracted controversy due to Turkey's authoritarian lurch at home and the political concessions stalled.

Before its launch and at the height of the sea crossings in October 2015, daily arrivals at the Greek islands reached over 6,000 and then dropped to around 80.

The recent spike to 250 follows a hardening tone against Syrians in Turkey, where many in Istanbul are being reportedly forced back to the war-torn country since the mayoral elections. Ankara has denied any forced returns.

A key architect of the deal, Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel, on Thursday said that she is in constant contact with Turkish president Erdogan about the agreement.

Speaking alongside Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at a press conference in Berlin, she said more needs to be done to resettle stranded refugees in Turkey to the rest of the European Union.

"I am glad that one of the main focuses of the Greek government will be to bring this agreement to life," she said.

The EU has since the deal was launched resettled only around 20,200 Syrians from Turkey, which hosts 3.6m refugees.

It has also struggled to return those from the Greek islands, with around 1,900 sent back, according to UNHCR figures. Of those, only 38 were Syrians who had their asylum claims dismissed.

Separated kids in Greece highest since 2016

The number of unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children in Greece is now the highest since 2016 and exceeds 1,100, said UN child rights organisation Unicef.

"We continue to appeal to Greek authorities to transfer children to adequate accommodation on the mainland, but Greece cannot support refugee and migrant children alone," Afshan Khan, a senior Unicef official, said in a statement on Thursday.

She called on European governments to increase pledges to relocate unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children, and fast-track family reunifications for those who already had relatives in Europe.

Whatever the numbers, the conditions on the Greek islands and at the EU hotspot in Lesbos continue to put minors, children, and others in the place of immediate harm and violence.

One Moria-based asylum seeker told this website earlier this week that there was "a lot of violence" and that it was "getting worse - even yesterday night we slept from around 3AM. Before, there was a fight here between Afghanistan and Iran".

Last weekend, a 15-year old boy from Afghanistan was knifed to death inside an area in the camp that is designated a so-called "safe zone" for kids.

Around 9,500 people are thought to reside in and around Moria camp, which is designed for 3,000.

The EU says it has disbursed some €2bn, out of €6bn pledged, to help those refugees in Turkey.

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