Greece passes law allowing migrants’ return to Turkey

Xinhua — Greek parliament approved on Friday a bill clearing the way for the readmissions of thousands of migrants to Turkey starting from April 4 under the recent European Union (EU)-Turkey deal aimed to curb the massive flows into Europe.

The voting came as refugees at overcrowded camps as well as the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and Greek humanitarian groups expressed concern over the return procedure and the future of the deported.

The bill that incorporates EU law on asylum seekers to allow the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement was ratified with 169 votes in favor, 107 against. A total of 276 legislators participated in the roll call vote.

The bill foresees the upgrade of Greece’s asylum services to speed up the registration process and assessment of asylum bids within two weeks, while it also outlines the criteria for the returns to Turkey.

The Left-led government assured that all measures will be taken by EU partners to ensure that refugees will fully receive international protection they deserve under international conventions.

However, Greek opposition parties and NGOs as well as UNHCR have called for further safeguards for asylum seekers before the readmissions begin.

UNHCR spokesperson in Geneva Melissa Fleming spoke about “serious gaps” voicing in parallel concern over the tragic conditions refugees are facing in Greece over the past two months with inadequate assistance by the overwhelmed state mechanism.

The imminent readmissions have fuelled tensions in refugee camps across Greece. On Friday about 500 people broke out of a hotspot on Chios island, according to Greek national news agency AMNA. They returned after a protest chanting slogans such as “Do not send us back to Turkey.”

Under the EU-Turkey agreement migrants and refugees arriving in Greece after March 20 are to be held in hotspots on the Aegean Sea islands and sent back if their asylum requests are not accepted.

Most refugees, who risked their lives to cross the Aegean paying thousands of euros to smugglers and dreaming of continuing their journey to Europe, were not convinced that they will reach their destinations under the scheme.

About 12,000 of the approximately 52,000 migrants currently stranded in Greece since February when Balkan states shut their borders opt to stay in the muddy unofficial tent city of Idomeni at the border with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Another 5,500 are living at Piraeus port.

Clashes among the refugees over food portions or other reasons have escalated this week, resulting in a dozen minor injuries.

Greek cabinet officials said on Friday that the government’s goal is to move all refugees into organized hospitality centers over the next two weeks. The authorities have stepped up efforts this week to convince the people to move voluntarily into organized shelters.