EU-Turkey deal on migrants kicked off but to who’s interest?

Dimitris Avramopoulos, Member of the European Commission in charge of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship (third from right), travelled to Idomeni, in northern Greece. During his stay, he toured the camp of the village and met with migrants staying there as well as representatives from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Frontex. Date: 15/03/2016. Location: Greece. © European Union, 2016 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Sakis Mitrolidis.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, Member of the European Commission in charge of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship (third from right), travelled to Idomeni, in northern Greece. During his stay, he toured the camp and met with migrants staying there as well as representatives from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Frontex. Date: 15/03/2016. Location: Idomeni, Greece. © European Union, 2016 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Sakis Mitrolidis.

Last Monday, 4 April, Greece and Turkey kicked off the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement. For migrants and refugees alike it foresees deportation from the Greek islands to Turkey, just some dangerous miles eastwards, over rough sea straights at times. Ankara is to receive from Brussels € 3+3 billion for that. During the past twelve months hundreds have paid the steepest price for this short but often deadly trip westwards.

In view of that, early on Monday, 202 people mostly migrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan, were sent back to Turkey from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios aboard two small ferries. It’s also extraordinary that every migrant or refugee was accompanied by one EU government agent.

As a result, an equal number of Greek and other European border guards or police officers guarded the 202 men, women and children during those short trips. Actually, all illegal migrants and refugees who have reached Greece after 20 March and do not ask for asylum in Greece, are bound to be returned to Turkey.

Seeking asylum

Those who seek asylum will be examined by Greek and other European asylum ‘experts’ and will very likely also be sent back to Turkey. It must be noted that they have the right to appeal an ‘inadmissibility’ decision. However, the same agencies will decide on the appeals too. The quality of this procedure is at least questionable.

It’s characteristic of the entire operation that before the initialization of the EU – Turkey agreement, Greece briefly deported 147 migrants to Turkey, who had been described as ‘irregulars’. According to the same source they had been judged as “not in need of international protection”.

The EU ‘paradise’ for some

The terms of the agreement also foresee that Turkey will be sending to Europe aboard commercial flights, an equal number of Syrians on a one to one basis, counting for those returned from Greece. Apparently, it won’t be the same Syrians returning from Greece and then flying to Europe. All those who have attempted or have entered Greece illegally, will never be eligible for asylum in any EU country. At this point it must be pointed out that the selection of the Syrians to fly to the European ‘paradise’ is a quite obscure procedure.

Along these lines, last Monday, 78 Syrians were chosen and were sent to Europe as part of the deal. Thirty-two ‘lucky’ ones departed for Germany, 11 for Finland and another 34 went on Tuesday to the Netherlands. It’s not only the selection procedure that is obscure. A number of EU countries have repudiated their obligation to accept any refugee or immigrant on their soil. To be reminded, that the four Visegrad EU countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) have made that clear.

The Commission insists

Still the European Commission insists that the resettlements from Turkey to the EU will be carried out in the first instance by “honouring the commitments of Member States under the Council conclusions of 22 July 2015 of which 18,000 places for resettlement remain”.

In addition to that, the Commission has proposed an amendment to the relocation decision of 22 September 2015 to facilitate the “resettlement of an additional 54,000 persons under a voluntary arrangement”. This is the Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme recommended by the Commissions on 15 December, for refugees “displaces by the Syrian conflict from Syria to Turkey, will be activated”.

Back to the Greek islands

Coming back to the application of the EU-Turkey agreement on real time, problems already appear on the second day, Tuesday. The initial planning foreshowed the return of another group of 200 migrants to Turkey on Thursday. However, early on Tuesday, the Greeks informed the Turks that this group had to be delayed at least until Friday.

The truth is that there are now more than 2500 refugees and immigrants, who are to be returned to Turkey according to the deal, because they entered Greece after 20 March. Those unlucky souls are held in closed facilities on the Greek islands, in defiance of the objections of representatives of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. However, most of them have now started to massively apply for asylum in order to block deportation, at least temporarily. They also protest, shouting “we want freedom”. The refugees and immigrants, who had arrived to the islands before that day, have been transported to mainland Greece, mostly to Piraeus port.

Futile expectations

As a result, more than 5,000 are now badly packed in Greece’s main sea port facilities, being left unaided to live on the piers. However, they refuse to be transported elsewhere in the country in scattered facilities, still eager to travel to north Europe.

The same is true for around 11,000 people who are stuck at Idomeni, close to the northern Greek-Fyrom borders. In both cases there seems to be a dangerous radicalization brewing. This is trend is supported by shadowy militants, who have infiltrated in the masses of refugees and migrants, spreading false hopes.

By ‘mistake’

It seems that there are also problems with the initial 202 migrants who were deported to Turkey on Monday, at least for 66 of them. It’s those who were sent off from the island of Chios. According to representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there is evidence that, by mistake, some of the 202 were not given the opportunity to officially file a request for asylum.

The British newspaper ‘The Guardian’ reported that Vincent Costel, the regional director of UNHCR stated that the Greek police ‘forgot’ to process the asylum applications of 13 people, out of the 202 deported to Turkey. There is widespread criticism that the whole operations organized by the Greeks and the Turks suffers of serious deficiencies to say the least.

Help from above?

Late last Tuesday, it became known that Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will jointly visit Lesvos. According to Athens sources, the visit is to be realized on 14 and 15 April next week. The two religious leaders of will be accompanied by the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Hieronymus and the President and the Prime Minister of the country.

Obviously, the purpose of the visit is to draw the attention of the world community, on the need to stop the wars raging in the Middle East and Africa. The unseen before refugee and immigrant flows towards Europe has slipped from prime news. Possibly, the public opinion is fed up with this or the issue is deliberately demoted.

It’s about people

In conclusion, after the first few days of the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, the important thing seems to be, at least for Greece and the EU, that it really has kicked off. There is a massive mobilization of EU and Greek government agencies, including the armed forces of the country.

On many occasions though, this last reality appears to complicate things, rather than effectively deal with the real problems of this highly complicated operation. It’s living souls they are dealing with, not numbers. In any case, it has become apparent what was true from the very beginning, that Turkey holds the key to the problem and uses it as it suits her interests.

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