ATHENS – With Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis blaming the European Union for not doing enough to stem the tide of refugees and migrants coming from Turkey, the bloc’s commissioners in charge of that will visit both countries.
Greece, through islands, has been flooded with more than 96,000 refugees and migrants who fled their homelands, especially in the war-torn Middle East, to go to Turkey as a jumping-off point to get to the EU before the borders were closed to them.
Under a 2016 swap deal that’s essentially suspended, Turkey was supposed to take back those deemed ineligible for asylum in Greece but that has seen only about 2,000 returned and more than 44,000 more coming since New Democracy won July 7 snap elections.
That has driven Mitsotakis to order asylum applications be processed faster as well as deportations and as his government said it would move 20,000 out of island camps, creating detention centers instead, and moving more to the mainland.
Commissioners for Promoting the European Way of Life Margaritis Schinas – from New Democracy – and for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson were due in Athens on Dec. 3 before planning to go to Ankara the next day, Schinas said following a meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, reported Kathimerini.
The visits are part of plans for an overhaul of migration and asylum policy – described by Schinas as “one of the most emblematic priorities of the Commission – based on a report from the EU’s Finnish Presidency, the paper said.
“From Day One, the Commission has been working to find consensus on migration, in all capitals of the EU member states,” Schinas told reporters although he didn’t say if that would include taking reluctant countries to court to make them live up to pledges to help take some over the overload from Greece.
“This time we have to get it right. There has been too much division amongst us and for far too long,” he added, without noting his predecessor was fellow New Democracy veteran Dimitris Avramopoulos.
In its Nov. 22 report, the Finnish Presidency states that “there is a shared understanding that the current system is not suitable for securing a fair distribution of asylum seekers across Member States,” although the rotating role as the bloc’s presidency is mostly symbolic and without enforcement teeth.
The EU’s “credibility towards third-country partners depends also on tangible action: sharing global responsibility through resettlement and complementary pathways should be scaled up, with efforts from the largest possible group of Member States,” the report said in careful diplomatic language that can’t make other countries do anything.