First "easy cases" arrive in Turkey after deportation from Greek islands begins

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On the day the EU-Turkey deal comes into force, over 130 people have been deported from Greece. They arrived in the port of Dikili this morning after being deported from the islands of Lesvos and Chios on boats staffed by Frontex officers, Turkish officials and Greek riot police. Those on board were "mostly Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Moroccans who were already being deported to Turkey before the deal's creation," according to a report in The Guardian, but there were also apparently two Syrians on board, "including a woman who had volunteered to return." The BBC reports that Sri Lankan nationals were also deported.

The same article in The Guardian quotes Frontex spokesperson Ewa Moncure as saying that those returned this morning were "easy cases," and that: "I really cannot tell you when the next readmission will happen." See: First boats returning migrants and refugees from Greece arrive in Turkey (The Guardian, link) and Migrant crisis: Greece starts deportations to Turkey (BBC News, link)

The operation overall involved more than 700 police officers, "including riot police units from France and Portugal," according to the Middle East Eye. The article also contains allegations that while the Greek authorities have said that "Monday's returns involved only people who had not requested asylum," not everyone has been given the opportunity to make such requests.

One of the key arguments for the legitimacy of the EU-Turkey deal is that all those arriving in Europe will have the opportunity to request asylum and have their application processed, but the Middle East Eye was told by a Pakistani national that "Pakistanis had not been informed that they would be returned to Turkey if they did not claim asylum, and had been prevented from doing so." See: Detainees in Greece 'prevented from claiming asylum' ahead of EU deal (Middle East Eye, link)

The report in The Guardian quoted above also includes allegations from volunteers on Chios that they saw "police beating deportees at the quay."

As the date for the EU-Turkey deal coming into force approached, tensions rose in Greece and culminated in hundreds of people breaking down a detention centre's razor wire fence in Chios and marching towards the port demanding the opportunity to travel further north into Europe. See: Greece: Hundreds of refugees and migrants break out of camp just days before deportations begin (International Business Times, link), Greece on brink of chaos as refugees riot over forced return to Turkey (The Guardian, link) and 100s of foreign riot police drafted to Lesvos as refugee deportations to commence (UndercoverInfo, link)

On Friday the Greek Parliament approved a hastily-drafted new asylum law that allows returns to Turkey and which is crucial for the functioning of the EU-Turkey deal. The bill passed with 169 votes in favour and 107 against. See: Greece passes law allowing migrants' return to Turkey (BBC News, link). The actual implementation of the law, and the EU-Turkey deal alike, looks unlikely without a massive increase in staff for the Greek asylum service - its most senior official has said that "if we are asked to handle anything like half the flow of last year, then we need to have 20 times more capacity.” See: EU-Turkey refugee deal: staff shortages and rights concerns pose twin threat (The Guardian, link)

This morning's deportations have been accompanied by protests calling for open borders in both Greece and Turkey, as well as a protest by residents of the town of Dikili who are opposed to migrants returned from Greece being hosted there. However:

"the BBC's Mark Lowen, who has been to a proposed registration camp near the western Turkish town of Dikili, says the field earmarked for the centre remains empty.

He says local officials are suggesting those sent back here would only stay temporarily in Dikili before being sent to other areas of Turkey."
(Migrant crisis: Concern rises as EU-Turkey deal looms, BBC News, link)

The attempt to implement the EU-Turkey deal so quickly has meant that the resources and personnel required to do so are not yet in place. A press release from the European Commission issued this morning (4 April) says that while demands for some categories of officials have been met, of the 1,500 "escort officers" requested by Frontex, only 702 have been promised by Member States. Just 32 of 400 interpreters have been pledged to the European Asylum Support Office by Member States. See: European Commission, Operational implementation of the EU-Turkey Agreement (statistics, pdf), Implementing the EU-Turkey Agreement - Questions and Answers (pdf) and also: EU-Turkey refugee deal: staff shortages and rights concerns pose twin threat (The Guardian, link)

According to the Commission's press release, the EU-Turkey deal shows "how Europe lives up to its responsibilities as a continent committed to the Geneva Convention and to the fundamental right to asylum." A more sober assessment concludes that:

"For the Union, it symbolizes the abandonment of the soft power based on law, ethics and human rights which it claims to embody in its founding treaties. Even the generosity of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has its limitations. These include the ones imposed by the EU, which only extends the right to seek asylum – as laid out in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – to those who reach its territory, while doing all it can to prevent them from getting there." (The EU-Turkey Agreement on migration and asylum: False pretences or a fool’s bargain?, EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy, link)

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