ATHENS – Under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal, Greece has asked the European Commission and border agency Frontex to require Turkey take back 1,450 migrants denied asylum, being held on four islands near Turkey’s coast.
Some 995 are on Lesbos, another 180 on Chios, 128 on Samos and 187 on Kos, the ministry said, a smidgeon of more than 34,000 on five islands and another 66,000 in mainland detention centers and camps.
In 2020, only 139 returns took place, because Turkey stopped the process on March 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The refugees and migrants had gone to Turkey fleeing war, strife and economic hardships in their homelands and human traffickers were being allowed to keep sending them to Greek islands.
“Today the conditions for the restarting return procedures towards Turkey are ripe. During the last 10 months, by accelerating the asylum procedures and by implementing extensive testing and anti-Covid-19 health protocols, Greece is ready to safely return migrants who are not entitled to international protection back to Turkey,” the ministry said.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said, “Greece consistently implements a strict but fair migration policy. Giving international protection to those who are entitled to stay, but at the same time returning – with safety and dignity – those who do not meet that criteria,” said Kathimerini.
That has been disputed by human rights groups, volunteers and activists who have alleged inhumane conditions in the camps and centers and treatment of some, especially minors.
“The separation of refugees from economic migrants who have entered Greece illegally is a matter for the Asylum Service and the Appeals Authority. Both have dramatically increased their effectiveness during 2020,” he added.
Mitarakis also called on Turkey to “step up its efforts” under the Joint Statement. “First, to prevent the passage of boats departing from its shores bound for our country and European Union. And second to accept the return of migrants, on the basis of the EU-Turkey Joint Statement, but also, on the basis of existing bilateral readmission agreements.”
There was no mention of claims from Turkey and critics, including in major media reports, of Greece allegedly pushing back refugees and migrants in rubber dinghies and rickety craft into the Aegean and whether Frontex aided and hid that.