Greece Restarts Voluntary Migrant Returns Suspended During COVID-19

Αssociated Press

A group of migrant children with health issues board a plane to Germany, at Athens International Airport, on Friday, July 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS – Overwhelmed with more than 100,000 refugees and migrants, most wanting asylum after the European Union closed its borders to them, Greece will offer a return home for those who want to voluntarily leave, a program halted during COVID-19.

Migrants in detention centers and camps, including on five islands holding more than 34,000 of them and with waits for asylum application processing up to two years or more can apply for the return program available to 5,000 applicants who would get 2,000 euros ($2349.36) to pay for the cost of going home.

The Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) program is funded by the European Union at the request of Greece and was implemented as part of plans to dec congest the camps on islands near Turkey which allowed human traffickers to keep sending more during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU.

The program was announced last March during a visit by EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson but became inactive due to emergency measures to deal with COVID-19 and the borders closings, noted Kathimerini in a report.

That came as US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt said another $1.25 million would be given the Greek chapter of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to bolster efforts to contain the spread of Coronavirus at refugee identification and reception centers (RICs.)

“We proudly continue to air UNHCR Greece in protecting refugees against COVID-19,” Pyatt tweeted.

“Still no cases in RICs due to great work by Greek government & ministers,” he added, referring to the oddity of the vastly overcrowded detention centers and camps not being hit with COVID-19.