EU states begin returning refugees to Greece as German reunions slow

An Afghan migrant carries a child at a state-run camp for refugees and migrants in Schisto, near Athens, | REUTERS

The Guardian — European countries are poised to begin the process of returning refugees to Greece, as migrants seeking reunification with their family members – mostly in Germany – step up protests in Athens.

In a move decried by human rights groups, EU states will send back asylum seekers who first sought refuge in Greece, despite the nation being enmeshed in its worst economic crisis in modern times.

Germany has made nearly 400 resettlement requests, according to officials in Berlin and sources in Athens. The UK, France, the Netherlands and Norway have also asked that asylum seekers be returned to Greece.

Greece’s migration minister told the Guardian the first returns were expected imminently.

“The paperwork has begun and we expect returns to begin over the next month,” said Yannis Mouzalas. “It will start with a symbolic number as an act of friendship [towards other EU nations]. Greece has already accepted so many [refugees], it has come under such pressure, that to accept more would be absurd, a joke if it weren’t such a tragedy.”

Mouzalas said he had no idea where the returnees would be placed or whether they would ever leave Greece. “I don’t know where they will go. It could be Athens, it could be Thebes … they are accommodated in an apartment scheme,” he said. “Whatever [happens], conditions will be good, they have improved greatly and will meet EU criteria.”

Officials say privately that acceptance of the transfers has been non-negotiable given Greece’s EU membership and receipt of funds from Brussels. Resettlement will not affect asylum seekers who arrived in the EU before March this year.