Monday

18th Jan 2021

Iraqis paid €2,000 each agree to leave Greece

Greece has launched its first batch of voluntary migrant repatriations, where recipients were each paid €2,000 to leave the country.

Some 134 Iraqis left Athens on Thursday (6 August) as a part of a larger EU-funded scheme that aims to send home some 5,000 migrants from Greece to their respective countries.

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Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters the Thursday flight was "the biggest voluntary return our country has ever carried out, and the biggest in Europe this year".

The scheme was first announced in mid-March by the European Commission, who at the time said the money would be used to help the migrants reintegrate into their own countries.

The project is being carried out jointly between the European Commission, the Greek authorities, and the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Frontex, the EU's border and coast guard agency, is also part of the return exercise.

Not everyone can sign up to it, as the scheme only applies to people who arrived on the Greek islands before January.

The aim is to help decongest the overcrowded islands.

Around 29,000 migrants remain spread throughout the islands as of 5 August, according to Greek government figures.

Almost 16,000 are on the Greek island of Lesbos, followed by Samos (5,500), Chios (4,100), Kos (2,200), Leros (1,400) with some 90 on other islands.

By comparison, the Aegean islands in March hosted over 41,000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Of those, 21,000 were in Lesbos alone.

Malta and NGO rescues

The repatriations come amid meetings held between Maltese and Libyan authorities to further stem efforts by migrants to cross the central Mediterranean.

The Libyan interior ministry on Wednesday said moves were being made to shore up the Libyan Coast Guard.

In a separate statement, the Maltese government said they are ready, along with Turkey, to provide Tripoli "the necessary needs and equipment to upgrade the capabilities of the Libyan Coast Guard."

The coast guard regularly rounds up people at sea and returns them to Libya, where many end up in notorious detention centres.

Meanwhile, NGOS operating off the Libyan coast and in international waters disembark rescued migrants in European ports.

Tensions over disembarkation have flared with Malta and Italy both claiming their ports unsafe due to the pandemic.

On Thursday, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced a new rescue endeavour.

It will now collaborate with Sea Watch, a German NGO.

The two will be operating a new Sea-Watch 4 vessel in Mediterranean.

"No human being should be forced to endure torture and suffering. Yet this is the consequence of criminal dereliction of duty by European governments," said Oliver Behn, MSF director of operations.

EU offers Greek island migrants €2,000 to go home

Some 5,000 people stuck on the Greek islands will each be offered €2,000 to go home. The scheme is likely to take several weeks before officially launched and will be valid for one month.

EU commission keeps asylum report on Greece secret

On 4 March, the European Commission's legal service handed president Ursula von der Leyen an analysis of the Greek government's controversial decision to temporarily freeze asylum applications. The commission will not now release the document.

New Greek rules stigmatise NGOs working with migrants

New rules in Greece single out NGOs that work with refugees and asylum, in what the Athens government say is a bid to create greater transparency. But refugee groups say the rules are discriminatory and follow an anti-NGO pattern.

Coronavirus

EU shores up Libyan coast guard amid Covid-19 scare

The EU is reorienting funds to boost the Libyan coast guard - amid fears that the escalating violence in the north African country plus the coronavirus will force a large exodus of people to take boats towards Europe.

How Belgian government got caught up in human smuggling

Former Belgian minister Theo Francken gave one of his party friends the power to put Syrian Christians on a list to get Belgian humanitarian visa. This week that colleague was convicted of human smuggling.

EU to scrutinise Hungary 'ignoring asylum ruling'

The European Court of Justice told Hungary in December to stop forcing asylum seekers back into Serbia. The European Commission is now demanding Budapest follow the judgement - but Hungary has since reintroduced a special legal order, under Covid-19.

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