Turkish Minute

Greece calls on EU to pressure Turkey to take back 1,500 migrants

A group of migrants, wearing protective facemasks, gather outside in the new refugee camp of Kara Tepe, in the island of Lesbos, on December 19, 2020. Anthi PAZIANOU / AFP

Greece on Thursday called on European Union authorities to better enforce a landmark 2016 migrant deal and ensure that Turkey take back nearly 1,500 people whose asylum requests were rejected, AFP reported.

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said his government had submitted a “request” to the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, and the Frontex border agency “for the immediate return to Turkey” of just under 1,500 “third country citizens who are not entitled to international protection.”

Under an EU-Turkey 2016 pact that sharply stemmed the flow of migrants to Europe, Ankara had undertaken to take back migrants not entitled to international protection in return for billions of euros in aid.

But Ankara has long accused the EU of failing to fulfill its end of the bargain while Turkey continues to host more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

“Europe needs to establish a common mechanism to address this issue within the new Migration and Asylum Pact, as well as implementing the necessary legal and operation mechanism for achieving returns,” Mitarachi said in a statement.

Among asylum claimants whose applications had been “conclusively” rejected on appeal, 995 are on the island of Lesbos, 180 on Chios, 128 on Samos and 187 on Kos, the migration ministry said.

Only 139 returns took place in 2020 before Turkey halted the process in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Athens said Thursday.

“We expect Turkey to step up its efforts under the Joint Statement,” Mitarachi said.

“First, to prevent the passage of boats departing from its shores bound for our country and the European Union. And second, to accept the return of migrants on the basis of the EU-Turkey Joint Statement, but also on the basis of existing bilateral readmission agreements,” he said.

The EU in December said it had it had allocated to Turkey the full 6 billion euros ($7.3 billion) pledged in 2016.

The EU money was earmarked for specific social projects inside Turkey for helping refugees and was not paid directly to the Turkish government.

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