ATHENS — Without pushing it, the European Commission asked Turkey – which is being paid 6 billion euros ($7.33 billion) to contain 4.4 million refugees and migrants – to take back those denied asylum in Greece.
Those are part of the terms of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union so that Turkey would hold refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardships in their countries and were using it a jumping-off point into Europe.
Turkey had received 3 billion euros ($3.62 billion) previously but after stepping up provocations against Greece was offered more money although it has let human traffickers keep sending refugees and migrants, mostly to Greek islands.
The deal stipulates that Turkey must take back who aren't granted sanctuary but only a relative handful have been sent back and Greece is still holding scores of thousands of them in detention centers and camps on the mainland and five islands near Turkey.
The EU's Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Verhelyi, a Hungarian lawyer, said Turkey must take them back immediately as the bloc has closed its borders to them and Hungary is vehemently anti-migrant.
“It is important for Turkey to resume returns of irregular migrants from Greece to Turkey without delay, and avoid the opening of alternative routes as well as to further reduce arrivals of irregular migrants to Cyprus,” he told lawmakers at the European Parliament during a debate on 2019-2020 Progress reports on Turkey.
Varhelyi said cooperation with Ankara has allowed irregular migration flows to “fall significantly” in recent years, reported Kathimerini. The EU-Turkey statement remains “the key framework” for cooperation in this area, he also said.
He also said that the EU recognizes “the immense burden shouldered by Turkey in hosting the largest refugee population in the world. In this context, the Commission will soon propose options for continuing the EU support provided under the Facility for Refugees,” both urging and preparing to reward Turkey for obeying the deal.
Turkey has been trying to join the EU since 2005 and its prospects have rapidly diminished after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan purged civil society, the courts, the education sector, military and jailed dozens of journalists after a failed 2016 coup.