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26th Sep 2022

Turkey snubs Greece on migrant returnees

  • Greece wants to return 1,450 failed asylum seekers back to Turkey (Photo: Reuters)

Turkey will not consider accepting the return of some 1,450 rejected asylum seekers in Greece, despite Athens' demand last week to do so, until after the coronavirus pandemic.

"Once the pandemic is taken under control, we will reassess the situation with respect to the return of irregular migrants," said Turkish diplomatic sources, in an email to EUobserver on Saturday (16 January).

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The sources also noted that Greece, along with other EU member states, is not itself currently accepting the entry of Turkish citizens because of the coronavirus.

The response follows requests last week by Athens for Ankara to accept the immediate return of 1,450 people, as part of the 2016 EU deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants to the Greek islands.

That March 2016 pact, also known as a joint-statement, includes having Turkey take back people from Greece not entitled to international protection.

Notis Mitarachi, Greece's minister of migration and asylum, drove home the point last week.

"We expect Turkey to step up its efforts under the joint statement," he said, adding that only 139 returns to Turkey had taken place for the whole of 2020.

Some 955 out of the 1,450 are on the Greek island of Lesbos, followed by 180 in Chios, 128 in Samos and 187 in Kos.

Mitarachi has demanded that both the European Commission and the EU's border and coast agency, Frontex, step in to help facilitate the returns to Turkey.

A spokesperson from the European Commission last week said the Brussels-executive is preparing a reply.

"The commission is aware of the challenges faced by Greece," said the commission spokesperson.

He also said the commission will "support any efforts" by Greece to resume returns from the islands as part of the EU-Turkey statement.

For its part, Frontex can only launch an operation to implement returns once after it is first discussed at the political level.

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