ATHENS – With the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA having been accused by human rights groups of doing little to aid more than 70,000 refugees and migrants in detention centers and camps, the new New Democracy government said it will accelerate asylum applications but also send back to Turkey those deemed ineligible.
A largely suspended swap deal with the European Union has seen only a relative handful returned to Turkey, where they had gone from countries in the Middle East fleeing war and strife and from other countries where their economic opportunities were limited.
Sending more back to Turkey could raise tensions further between the countries that are already high over Turkish provocations, including sending fighter jets and warships to violate Greek airspace and waters.
Turkey is also drilling for energy off Cyprus despite complaints from Greece. The two countries, along with the United Kingdom – the former Colonial ruler which still has military bases there – are guarantors of security for the island.
Turkey and Greece both belong to NATO which is staying far away from their growing feud over the Aegean and East Mediterranean. Turkey has allowed human traffickers to keep sending refugees and migrants to Greek islands during the suspended swap deal.
There are more than 15,000 on islands, held in detention centers and camps that activists and human rights groups said are unfit for humans and where clashes between ethnic groups and with riot police happen often.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met in Athens with Dimitris Avramopoulos, the Greek commissioner at the EU for migration, home affairs, and government officials later said that discussions focused on rapidly reducing a backlog of asylum applications and a return to the terms of a 2016 European Union-Turkey agreement that allow for the deportation of migrants whose applications have been rejected.
Avramopoulos, a member of New Democracy, had done little to help Greece during SYIZA’s 4 ½-year reign and said he couldn’t take other European Union countries to court to make them live up to pledges to help take some of the overload because it was a political hot potato he didn’t want to handle.
The EU closed its borders to the refugees and migrants, dumping the problem largely on Greece during its long-running economic crisis, further depleting the state’s coffers and piling on another burden, adding more trouble.