Germany-Greece: Berlin eyes deal for migrant returns with Greece by end July

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Berlin eyes deal for migrant returns with Greece by end July
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"Even as Germany's interior minister Horst Seehofer threatens the launch of mass returns of migrants if bilateral agreements are not achieved, German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen has suggested that such an accord with Greece may be signed by the end of the month.

In comments to Der Spiegel, Seehofer said the absence of bilateral deals was "not a good strategy" and that Germany will start returning migrants reaching its border if that situation is not rectified.

For his part, Alexander Dobrindt of the Christian Social Union said he believed German plans to return asylum seekers to European Union countries of first entry would not necessarily be met by cooperation."

See: Berlin eyes deal for migrant returns with Greece by end July (ekathimerini, link)

Transfers to Greece under the provisions of the EU's Dublin Regulation were previously halted due to judgments from the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Court of Human Rights on the unacceptable reception conditions for asylum seekers in Greece and the country's flawed asylum procedures.

However, the European Commission attempted to overturn the effects of these rulings with a series of recommendations issued throughout 2016, that urged Member States to restart transfers to Greece.

A German-Greek bilateral deal - alongside an alleged deal with Spain, which Angela Merkel announced following the European Council meeting at the end of March - would be "temporary" and designed "to stem secondary migration until EU-wide policies take effect." See: Chancellor Merkel confirms bilateral migrant agreements with Spain and Greece (Deutsche Welle, link)

The recently-revealed "masterplan" drafted by the German Minister of Interior includes as one of its objectives: "Improvement of accommodation conditions in Greece: activation of EU aid to Greece to improve accommodation facilities on the islands and to prevent transfers to the mainland."

The EU has already provided (press release, link) "over €1.5 billion of support for Greece to help manage the humanitarian situation, migration and the external borders," through standing funds and emergency support mechanisms.

The situation regarding Dublin returns to Greece has been documented in a report by the Greek Council for Refugees included on the Asylum Information Database (link). The text is copied below.

The situation of Dublin returnees

Transfers of asylum seekers from another Member State to Greece under the Dublin Regulation had been suspended since 2011, following the M.S.S. v. Belgium & Greece ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Joined Cases C-411/10 and C-493/10 N.S. v. Secretary of State for the Home Department ruling of the CJEU.

Following three Recommendations issued to Greece in the course of 2016, on 8 December 2016, European Commission issued a Fourth Recommendation in favour of the resumption of Dublin returns to Greece, starting from 15 March 2017, without retroactive effect and only regarding asylum applicants who have entered Greece from 15 March 2017 onwards or for whom Greece is responsible from 15 March 2017 onwards under other Dublin criteria. Persons belonging to vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied children are to be excluded from Dublin transfers for the moment, according to the Recommendation.

The Recommendation has been sharply criticised by numerous civil society organisations, including Doctors of the World, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. In a letter addressed by ECRE and Greek civil society organisations GCR, Aitima and SolidarityNow, to the President of the European Commission and the Greek Minister of Migration Policy on 15 December 2016, the organisations stressed:

“The envisaged resumption of transfers of asylum seekers under the Dublin III Regulation to Greece is in our view premature in light of the persistent deficiencies in the Greek asylum system, that are unlikely to be resolved by the envisaged date of 15 March 2017. Moreover, it disregards of the pending procedure before the Council of European Committee of Ministers on the execution of the M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece judgment of the European Court of Human Rights and is at odds with ongoing efforts to increase relocation from Greece.”

The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) in a Statement of 19 December 2016, has expressed its “grave concern” with regard to the Commission Recommendation and noted that

“[I]t should be recalled that all refugee reception and protection mechanisms in Greece are undergoing tremendous pressure... the GNCHR reiterates its established positions, insisting that the only possible and effective solution is the immediate modification of the EU migration policy and in particular of the Dublin system, which was proven to be inconsistent with the current needs and incompatible with the effective protection of human rights as well as the principles of solidarity and burden-sharing among the EU Member-States.”

However, during 2017, the Greek Dublin Unit received 1,998 incoming requests under the Dublin Regulation, coming mainly from Germany.

Of those, 71 requests were accepted, of which 20 concerning Armenians, 15 Syrians and 5 Iranians. A total of 1,489 incoming requests were refused, of which 497 concerning Turks, 358 Syrians, 217 Armenians and 132 Afghans.

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