ATHENS – While denying claims of pushing back refugees and migrants coming from Turkey, Greece is targeting the human smuggling rings allowed to keep sending them, Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachis said.
Speaking to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at the 113th meeting of the Council of the IOM in Geneva, he said Greece won’t let the traffickers keep sending them but didn’t say how they would be stopped.
“It is our national priority to identify and dismantle the networks of traffickers,” he said, noting, “It is crucial to maintain the integrity of the asylum system and the Geneva Convention,” said InfoMigrants.
Turkey is holding 4.4 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war, strife, and economic hardship in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan but continues to let smugglers keep sending them to Greece, especially five islands near Turkey’s coast.
That’s in violation of an already essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union that closed its borders to them, dumping the problem largely on Greece as well as Italy, Malta, and Spain.
Turkey has joined in allegations from human rights groups, activists, and major media that Greece is pushing back refugees and migrants but hasn’t been sanctioned for allowing the traffickers to keep operating.
Mitarachis pointed out that Greece is bearing much of the burden and the New Democracy government is building walls and barriers to keep out refugees and migrants, and that it has implemented “a strict but fair immigration policy, protecting borders and controlling illegal immigration based on International Law, while also opening avenues for legal immigration,” citing the agreements made with nations such as Bangladesh and Egypt.
In November, he urged the EU to urgently intervene and relocate the 500 migrants that Greek authorities rescued at sea in what was the latest high-profile migrant search and rescue operation in the country, the site noted.
Mitarachis recently met with officials from the EU border patrol Frontex and said that the government had reached a new agreement on cooperation for the voluntary returns of “irregular” migrants as Turkey hasn’t taken back those deemed ineligible for asylum apart from a small number returned.
“Frontex will provide tools and technical support, at an administrative and operational level, throughout the process followed for voluntary returns,” a statement said of a plan for a special group to monitor its implementation.
He also announced the closure of the Elaionas refugee camp which had operated since 2015, and housed some 1,500 refugees at the peak of its use as the government is shutting down the centers around the country.
“Those applying for asylum have been cleared without incident and all that is left is to clear the shelters. We are returning the space to the Athenians as we had vowed,” he said via a statement shared on social media, the report added.