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EU tells Turkey to take back migrants from Greece

The EU home affairs commissioner said Turkey should stick to a 2016 deal that would see Ankara take back failed asylum seekers from Greek islands. EU officials are set to travel to Turkey for talks next week.

Greek migrant boat

The Greek island of Lesbos is where many migrants arrive from Turkey by crossing the Aegean Sea.

EU officials told the Turkish government on Monday that it must "urgently" resume accepting migrants from Greece, where thousands are being held in camps

The bloc struck a deal with Ankara in 2016 that it would take back asylum seekers from Greek islands who had their applications rejected.

But tensions have flared between EU members Greece and Cyprus over a decades-old maritime dispute with Turkey.

"I call on Turkey to urgently resume the return of migrants from Greece," said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson during a visit to the island of Lesbos, which hosts more than 8,000 asylum seekers.


Top EU officials to hold talks

Her comments come as diplomats announced that top EU politicians Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel would hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan next week over migration and other regional issues.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan videocall with Charles Michel und Ursula von der Leyen

The EU's top two officials will meet with the Turkish president next week

The European Commission president and European Council head held a video call with Erdogan earlier this month.

But Turkey, an EU candidate country, has not held formal summit with the two EU chiefs since March 2020, when Erdogan met Michel and von der Leyen in Ankara.

The Turkish government last week said it had pulled out of a convention protecting women from violence, sparking furious criticism from human rights activists.

EU pledges more money

The European Commission, the EU executive, on Monday pledged 276 million euros ($326 million) of EU money for new camps on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.

NGOs estimate there are nearly 14,000 migrants being hosted there.

Greece's Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi echoed Johansson's call, urging Ankara to accept 1,450 migrants whose asylum applications had been rejected.

He has said new migrant camps are being built to host migrant populations, with one in Samos to completed by June and others in Kos and Leros by September.

Greece's tougher asylum policy

The Greek government, led by conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis since 2019, has moved to toughen up its migration policy over the past two years.

Some 300 local people demonstrated against the planned Lesbos camp, in a protest called by Governor Costas Moutzouris.

"The islanders will not allow the construction of permanent camps on Greek and European borders," he said in a statement.

Moutzouris had also whipped up opposition to the new camp last year. An attempt by the government to force ahead with construction work had prompted days of riots and clashes with riot police.

Greece denies pushbacks

Mitarachi dismissed claims that the Greek government was involved in illegal pushbacks of migrants.

"We strongly deny that the Greek coast guard has ever been involved in pushbacks," he said.

"We understand we are causing a loss of tens of millions of euros to smuggling networks, and that could have played a role in the kind of fake news we hear about the Greek coast guard," he said.

Mitarachi said independent investigations, including by the Greek judiciary and by the EU's border agency Frontex, had found no violations of international law.

Explained: The EU's search for a migrant policy

However, Johansson said that Greece "can do more" to investigate alleged pushbacks.

"There are some specific cases that I really think need to be looked into closely," the EU commissioner said, adding that she was "very concerned" by relevant reports by the UN refugee agency.

"We need to protect our external borders and we need to protect fundamental rights, that goes hand in hand, it’s not a contradiction," she said.

EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson

EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson says Turkey must take back more migrants from Greece

jf/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)