Germany Pushes Greece to Deport Refugees, Migrants to Turkey

(AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos, FILE)

Germany wants Greece’s new New Democracy government to speed the pace of sending back to Turkey refugees and migrants ineligible for asylum, which Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he would do, along with accelerating long-stalled asylum applications.

Greece is overwhelmed with more than 70,000 refugees and migrants, including more than 22,700 on Greek islands sent there by human traffickers that Turkey lets operate during an essentially-suspended swap deal with the European Union which closed its borders to them.

Thousands more continued to arrive during the summer with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatening to flood Greece and the EU with 5.5 million of them unless he gets his way in concessions, the stalled swap deal seeing Turkey not yet getting 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion.)

Stephan Mayer, the Parliamentary Secretary for Germany’s Interior Ministry, said, “We urgently need to make progress in small repatriations to Turkey, to improve the deteriorating conditions at certain hot spots on the islands.”

That was in reference to overcrowded detention centers and camps on the island, including one on Lesbos hosting 10,000 people – 400 percent over capacity – with human rights groups and activists decrying conditions they said aren’t fit for humans.

Speaking with the Funke Mediengruppe news publisher, Mayer described the situation on the Greek destinations closest to Turkey as “very difficult,” an understatement given the severity of the crisis that’s been going on for more than four years.

The European Commission, which has done little to help although Greek New Democracy politician Dimitris Avramopoulos has been migration chief since November, 2014, said Greece has to do more but didn’t say what that was.

Mayer insisted that there be a more “comprehensive implementation” of a 2016 EU-Turkey migration pact meant to keep migrants from taking the often perilous journey to Greece. At least 1,163 people died during the crossing between March 2015 and March 2016.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Deutsche Welle he had “spoken with my Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu this week and reminded him that the European Union was honoring its parts of the EU-Turkey deal, and we have to assume Turkey is too,” although it’s not.

Only 1,904 people have been deported to Turkey, while 24,348 Syrians who arrived in Europe via Turkey have been settled in EU countries before the borders were closed and Avramopoulos refused to go to EU courts, saying it was too delicate politically for him to handle.

The German government has said Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about his threat he would would reopen the borders to Europe for Syrian refugees but didn’t say what the result was as he has continued to defy the EU on everything.