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6th Apr 2020

Commission silent on Greece suspending asylum claims

  • EU Commission president Ursula on der Leyen in Greece on Tuesday. 'I thank Greece for being our European 'ασπίδα' [shield] in these times' (Photo: European Union)

The European Commission has said it cannot comment on a decision by Greece to suspend asylum applications for a month.

The decision, made by Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis over weekend, came after Turkey sent migrants and refugees to the border.

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"The commission is not a court and does not have the authority to have a definitive legal opinion," Adalbert Jahnz, a spokesperson told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday (3 March), when asked if Mitsotakis' plan complied with EU law.

The commission also said it cannot make an assessment on the whether the deployment of EU Frontex border guards will have to follow the same Greek orders.

"I do not think we for the moment have a very clear picture of the measures announced by the Greek government and their implementation on the ground," he said.

But by law, Frontex officers have to ensure access to asylum procedures of persons in need of international protection.

There are some 530 staff on the ground now, and all are obliged to refer migrants seeking asylum to national authorities. Another 100 officers are being added.

The obfuscation follows the United Nations direct condemnation of the Greek move, which it described as a violation of international and EU law.

The International Committee of Jurists, composed of judges and lawyers from around the world, has made similar critical comments.

Pressed repeatedly on whether the move violates EU and international law, the commission on Tuesday stood its ground.

It said there are various options from a legal point of it.

It said it cannot comment in the abstract and noted that they first have to study the Greek decision.

"The analysis of possible responses and solutions is ongoing," said the commission's deputy spokesperson, Dana Spinat.

She noted it would not be appropriate for her to comment further, given the presidents of the three EU institutions were holding a joint press conference later on Tuesday on the Greek-Turkish border.

Journalists denied questions

However, Ursula von der Leyen (EU Commission president), Charles Michel (EU Council president) and David Sassoli (European Parliament president) never mentioned the controversial Greek decision - and journalists were not given an opportunity to ask any questions.

Instead, all three, along with prime minister Mitsotakis made statements, shaping a narrative of solidarity with Greece.

They said the Greek border is the European border, that Turkey is using the migrants as pawns, and Ankara must respect the 2015 deal with the EU to stem migration flows.

"I thank Greece for being our European 'ασπίδα' [shield] in these times," said Von der Leyen.

She announced more money for Greece and the deployment of more Frontex guards.

On the financial side, Greece will have immediate access to €350m for "migration management" and infrastructure.

They can also draw on another €350m, if needed later, making a sum total of €700m.

Frontex is also sending more manpower and equipment as part of a so-called rapid response team.

"Frontex is preparing the deployment of one off shore vessel and six coastal vessels, two helicopters, one aircraft, three thermal vision vehicles, 100 border guards in addition to current 530 border guards will be deployed by Frontex at the land and at the sea borders," said Von der Leyen.

Greece will also have access to blankets, medical equipment, medical teams, and shelters.

Migrant deal with Turkey 'still stands', EU says

The European Commission says the 2016 deal with Turkey to stem migration flows towards Greece "still stands". The comments follow reports Turkey had opened its borders to allow refugees and migrants into Greece and Bulgaria.

Up to Greece to investigate 'black site', EU says

Revelations by the New York Times that Greece is running a black site where asylum seekers are detained, denied legal rights and then deported, will not be probed by the European Commission.

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