ATHENS – Refugees and migrants who came to Greece after March 1 – those who made it through after the New Democracy government closed the land borders with Turkey and tried to thwart those going to islands – will be sent back to their countries of origin.
The announcement was made by Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis as Greece was trying to deal with holding back thousands of refugees and migrants along the Evros River border after Turkey opened its gates for them to leave.
Thousands of migrants have made for Greece since Ankara said on Feb. 28 that it would let migrants cross its borders into Europe, despite a commitment to hold them in its territory under a 2016 deal with the European Union, said the news agency Reuters in a report.
Hundreds have made it into Greece, many by sea to Lesbos and other Greek islands despite stepped-up sea patrols by Greek forces and the EU border patrol agency Frontex as Turkey lets human traffickers keep sending them.
“Our aim is to return them to their countries,” Mitarakis told the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA.) News Agency. He also said migrants who entered the country prior to Jan. 1, 2019 and living on the islands would be transferred to the mainland from islands where officials are fiercely protesting plans for new detention centers and are holding some 42,000 of them.
Human rights groups are upset that Greece has cracked down and had also suspended asylum applications for newly-arrived refugees and migrants who made it through during the chaos.
A 2016 swap deal with the EU was supposed to see those deemed ineligible for asylum returned to Turkey, where they had gone fleeing war and strife and poor economic conditions in their homelands, but has largely been suspended.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan violated the agreement by opening the borders, saying he had no choice after the deaths of 33 Turkish soldiers in an area of Syria his country invaded could bring another surge he didn’t want to handle.
Greek army units and riot police massed at the border in response. “The situation is calm today. Yesterday we stopped a group of 150 migrants. We will be here as long as is needed,” a police official told Reuters.
With choppier seas in the Aegean, no more dinghies or boats carrying refugees and migrants from nearby Turkey to close-by Greek islands, especially Lesbos, had been spotted, the report also said.