Germany’s interior minister wants to start sending refugees back to Greece next year, but Athens has already given the plan short shrift. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.
When Greek Migration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas visited Thomas de Maizière in Berlin at the beginning of July, the two men were all smiles for the onlooking TV cameras. But that good mood is gone now, after de Maizière indicated last weekend that Germany could start sending refugees back to Greece under the Dublin Principles.
Mouzalas labelled de Maizière’s plan as “unacceptable”.
Greece’s migration chief should not have been surprised by de Maizière’s proposal, given their meeting was about the Dublin Regulation and that the interior minister told Welt am Sonntag that Germany would need to be able to send refugees “back to Greece according to the Dublin regulations”, so long as conditions in Greece have improved.
In principle, the Dublin Regulation gives Germany the option to return refugees to the country where they first entered the EU. Germany has only sparingly exercised its right to send back individuals this year.
According to the Interior Ministry, 521 refugees were returned to Italy, 311 to Poland and 165 to Hungary during the first six months of 2016. However, Germany has not sent anyone back to Greece since 2011, since the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that there are serious shortcomings in the Greek asylum system.
But de Maizière has now said that returns will be possible once again starting in January 2017, a stance that he first shared with his EU colleagues at a meeting in Slovakia in July.
The German authorities have claimed that the number of asylum cases for which Greece should be responsible has increased dramatically this year: in 2015, the number was 5,436, while in the first half of this year alone it was 18,897. This sharp increase is most likely down to the now-closed Balkan route, which thousands of refugees used until recently to reach Central Europe.
Mouzalas reminded the EU that the bloc had agreed to redistribute 33,000 refugees this year, but that, so far, only 3,000 have been taken in by other member states. The Greek migration minister also criticised de Maizière’s resorting to the Dublin Regulation as “not reflecting today’s reality and the needs of Europe”.
The Dublin Regulation had arguably become outdated and not fit for purpose last year in the southern Mediterranean, before Chancellor Angela Merkel first started her much-maligned open doors policy. In the meantime, the European Commission proposed a reform to the Dublin Regulation, under which migrants would be redistributed if a country is a failing to cope with numbers. The proposal was met with resistance by the Eastern European member states.
Whether Germany will indeed be able to send refugees back to Greece will still depend on the Commission and its appraisal of the Greek asylum system. In June, Brussels officials reported that improvements had been made by Athens to its procedures.