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Asylum seekers in Europe will be sent back to Greece starting March 2017

The European Commission on Thursday (8 December) said that EU countries could resume returning asylum seekers to Greece in March 2017, after such transfers were suspended for five years because of poor conditions there.

Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Athens had now partly improved conditions in line with 2011 court rulings that had suspended the transfers and encouraged the flow of refugees and migrants to wealthier EU countries.

Under the EU’s Dublin asylum rules, countries where refugees first land must process their asylum requests, and must also take back any asylum seekers who travel to other countries in the bloc.

“Greece has made significant progress under very pressing, very difficult conditions to put in place a fully functioning asylum system over the last months, and I want to praise Greece,” said Avramopoulos, who is Greek.

People who have already moved on from Greece cannot be returned, and the returns system will only apply to people who move to other countries after 15 March, he said.

Unaccompanied minors and vulnerable people will be excluded from the transfers, while Greece must also provide guarantees for each individual person returned that they will receive proper treatment.

A ruling by the EU’s top court in 2011 at the height of Greece’s debt crisis said conditions for asylum seekers in Greece were degrading, meaning that other countries could not send them back.

Avramopoulos said that “in practice only a very small number of people” are likely to be transferred back to Greece in the near future.

“This will only apply to people who land in Greece after March 2017 and then continue their journey illegally elsewhere in Europe,” Avramoupoulus said.  “We are not doing this from one day to the next, we are introducing it gradually.”

“The recommendation does not have retroactive force and even when it enters into force it will only to certain categories of migrants under certain conditions. “

“It seems that for the European Commission all roads for refugees lead to Greece,” said Iverna McGowan, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institution’s Office.

“It is outrageously hypocritical of the European Commission to insinuate that Greece alone is to blame for dire conditions, when the overcrowding and insecure climate on the Greek islands are for the most part caused by the EU-Turkey deal, and compounded by the lack of solidarity from other EU countries to relocate people.”

EU-Turkey deal 

The EU-Turkey deal exchanges aid and accelerated EU membership talks for an agreement from Ankara to take back anyone crossing illegally to the Greek Islands. For every Syrian returned, another Syrian in Turkey will be resettled in the EU, under the terms of the controversial deal.  2,761 refugees have been resettled.

“Asylum-seekers on the Greek islands face overcrowding, freezing temperatures, lack of hot water, violence and hate-motivated attacks. Forcing refugees to stay on the islands only so that they can be returned to Turkey, is inhumane. Pressure on Greece must be immediately alleviated, not increased,” said Amnesty’s McGowan.

Crossings have dropped to 90 a day from 1,740 before the March 20 EU-Turkey deal, the European Commission said. But tensions with Ankara have led Turkey’s President to threaten to cancel the pact.

Fonte: EurActiv 08/12/2016



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