ATHENS – With islands near Turkey overwhelmed with refugees and migrants during a recent surge, Greece’s New Democracy government said a plan to cut the numbers will include accelerating deportations of those deemed ineligible.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas told SKAI TV it would take some time to begin, however, at least six months until the spring of 2020, blaming the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA for its handling of a crisis that has seen the country trying to deal with more than 78,000 refugees and migrants, including more than 28,000 in island camps and detention centers.
They were sent to the islands by human traffickers that Turkey lets operate during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union after going to that the country from their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan, fleeing war and strife.
With the EU closing its borders to them they have no option to prevent being returned other than seeking sanctuary with the number clogging processing so much it can take two years or more to review, leading to rising tension and frequent clashes in the camps between ethnic groups and riot police called in to quell the trouble.
The government also wants to send 20,000 back to Turkey but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan instead is threatening to send another 3.6 million as he’s feuding with the EU over his country’s invasion of north Syria and sending energy drill ships into Cypriot waters.
The government also plans to transfer thousands off islands to mainland camps and centers although that technically violates the swap deal and there’s resistance with villagers near Thessaloniki blocking buses carrying 400 of them they didn’t want.
“We all understand the Greek society’s fatigue, but Greeks have never turned their backs to humanity,” he said, adding that transfers from overcrowded island hotspots to the mainland concerned likely refugees and families, said Petsas.
Erdogan repeated threats to “open the gates” to Europe to millions of refugees if European countries did not support his plans to clear Kurdish YPG soldiers from a part of the Turkish-Syrian border, said Kathimerini.
Human rights groups said they could be returned to war zones with the United Nations staying out of the problem.