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Only 189 migrants returned to Turkey: report

January 26, 2020

The EU and Turkey reached a so-called refugee deal in 2016 to prevent illegal migration. But new figures show that a tiny fraction of migrants are being returned to Turkey, while the EU is resettling significantly more.

A Turkish coast guard vessel picks up a migrant boat in the Aegean Sea
Image: picture-alliance/AA/B. Akay

Despite a 2016 refugee agreement between the European Union and Turkey, only 189 irregular migrants who crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece were returned to Turkey in 2019, according to new EU figures.

That figure is minuscule compared with the approximately 60,100 refugees who landed in Greece in 2019, a sharp rise from the year before

The EU-Turkey migrant deal was implemented to stop "irregular migration via Turkey to Europe" and "break the business model of the smugglers and to offer migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk."

Under the agreement, Turkey is obligated to take back irregular Syrian migrants who pass through its territory to prevent them from crossing into Greece. For every irregular returned to Turkey, another Syrian approved for asylum in the EU will be resettled in one of the 28 states. 

Turkey has also received a total of €6 billion ($6.6 billion) in funding, €3 billion in 2016 and €3 billion in 2018.

Read more: How the EU-Turkey refugee deal works

According to a European Commission report seen by the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, a total of 1,995 Syrian asylum-seekers were returned to Turkey from 2016 to 2019 — 801 in 2016, 683 in 2017, 332 in 2018 and 189 in 2019. Meanwhile, during the same period, the EU has resettled 25,660 Syrians coming via Turkey.

The European Commission report said that of the 60,100 asylum-seekers who landed on Greek islands in 2019, around 37,700 were transferred to the mainland.

Read more: Can the EU-Turkey deal be fixed?

The large number of migrant arrivals on Greece's Aegean islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros has put extreme pressure on overloaded refugee camps. Around 42,000 people reside in these camps and there is a shortage of food, clothing and medicine.

Greece: Refugees suffering on Samos

Turkey not doing enough

Thorsten Frei, deputy leader of Germany's center-right CDU/CSU parliamentary group, who is responsible for migration, told Welt am Sonntag that the refugee situation in Greece was close to becoming untenable.

"That has unmistakably to do with the fact that Turkey is no longer consistently preventing landings," Frei said.

Ankara has accused the EU of not living up to its obligations under the migrant deal and has demanded the bloc provide more funds.

Slow process

Frei also accused Greek authorities of not sending back migrants arriving from Turkey, which he finds "unacceptable" in view of offers from the EU to help Greece.

"The number of repatriations from Greece to Turkey has for years only known one direction: it is going down. One must speak quite openly of an administrative failure here," Frei told the paper.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Friday his government intended to apply for more EU funding to build new camps on the islands and to speed up the process of evaluating asylum applications. Mitsotakis estimates his administration "inherited" around 80,000 open asylum applications from the previous government last year.

Lesbos wants to get back to normal

dv/mm (AFP, dpa, KNA)

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