BRUSSELS – While backing Greece in its battle to get Turkey to stop sending refugees and migrants to the border between the countries and urging them to cross, the European Union said the government must uphold the right for those in the country to seek asylum, after it was suspended during a rekindling of the crisis.
EU leaders were due to go to Athens to meet Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis although the coronavirus could curb travel but had already said they were also upset over a New York Times report the government was operating a secret “black site” detention center near the border where those who crossed were said to have been stripped, beaten and returned to the Turkish side via the Evros River and denied seeking asylum.
Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, said she wanted to know about the center but there was no response from the government to the news story or to EU leaders although the report said one refugee had been murdered, supporting Turkish President Recep Tayyip’s repeated claims that Greece was mistreating new migrants.
Johansson, a Swedish Social Democrat, said she wanted answers from Greek ministers, the British newspaper The Guardian reported.
“These kind of temporary detentions that they have set up – is one of the things I would like to know more about … of course you can have detention for some period of people that have come, but of course you can’t beat them,” she said.
The commission has been accused of failing to uphold EU law since Greece said it was stopping asylum applications for a month in response to Turkey breaking a 2016 swap deal with the bloc that was supposed to keep millions of refugees and migrants in that country.
While the UN agency for refugees has said the Greek decision has no legal basis, the commission said it needs time to review, in keeping with the bloc’s frequent method of setting aside decisions until later.
Johansson wouldn’t say whether what the Greek government did was legal, only that, “We are going to discuss actually what they are doing, but they have to let people apply for asylum,” without explaining why she doesn’t order it under her jurisdiction.
Ironically, the current and former EU migration chiefs are both from New Democracy but did little to help their country deal with a flood of refugees and migrants, with some 100,000 in detention centers and camps, including 42,000 on islands near Turkey which let human traffickers keep sending them during the deal that is now broken.
Johansson said the commission did not plan to suspend the right to asylum by invoking a little-known clause of the EU treaty that allows Brussels to propose “provisional measures”, to help a member state facing an emergency because of large numbers of migrant arrivals.
Mitsotakis said earlier he invoked an EU article to suspend asylum, doing it on his own although it requires a proposal from the commission agreed by all 27 EU member states.
Johansson said the commission would not propose suspending the right to asylum. “Individuals in the European Union have the right to apply for asylum. This is in the treaty, this is in international law. This we can’t suspend.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who drew criticism from the left when she described Greece as Europe’s “shield,” and protecting the bloc’s borders after she earlier, under fire from critics, changed the name of a portfolio concerning migrants as Protecting the European Way of Life.
She said there would be a compromise somehow.. “Everybody realises that (there is) a lack of a common European migration and asylum policy – we are paying a price for that and it shows right now with the crisis in Greece,” that’s been ongoing for almost five years with little being done to alleviate it and conditions in the detention centers and camps described as inhumane by human rights groups and activists working in them