Greece to speed up migrant transfer after Turkey deal

Refugees on a Greek island [Oxfam]

Greece will speed up the relocation of thousands of migrants from its overcrowded islands to the mainland before the onset of winter after reaching a deal with Turkey, a key ally in helping to tackle Europe’s migration crisis, government sources said yesterday (11 December).

Athens persuaded Ankara last week to accept migrant returns, including Syrian refugees, from the mainland and not just from the Aegean islands as previously agreed under a 2016 EU-Turkey pact, a government source told AFP.

The new agreement — reached during a strained two-day visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — aims to reduce the more than 15,000 people packed into refugee camps on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, another source said.

Concerns grow over the security of EU personnel at Greek hotspots

Belgium has repatriated its  hotspots personnel in the Greek islands, out of security concerns. The European Commission said that the security at hotspots is the responsibility of the Greek government.

The camps are filled to triple their capacity, forcing many migrants to sleep in tents and creating tensions with locals.

Arrivals surge on Greek islands despite EU-Turkey deal

With Turkey being one of the items on the agenda of the EU summit starting on Thursday (19 October), AFP is reporting that migrants are still coming to Greek islands despite the EU-Turkey deal to stem the arrival of refugees from Turkish territory.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras Monday evening presided a meeting “on the migration crisis and refugees” with his ministers for migration policy and justice as well as deputy foreign, defence and interior ministers, his office said.

Over a million people, mainly fleeing the civil war in Syria, crossed to Greece from Turkey in 2015 with the onset of the bloc’s worst migration crisis since World War II.

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The refugee-hosting crisis in the Greek islands is spiralling out of control, a regional governor said after violent clashes that took place yesterday (19 September).

Last March, Ankara had pledged to take back illegal migrants landing on Greek islands in exchange for sweeteners including financial aid and eased EU visa rules for Turkish citizens.

The deal, criticised by rights groups, sharply reduced the number of migrants trying to cross the Aegean Sea.

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The head of the UN refugee agency said yesterday (21 March) he will be scrutinizing for possible breaches of international law the rollout of a controversial EU-Turkey deal to stem migrant flows into Europe through Greece.

Matter of life and death

However, the pace of migrant returns to Turkey fell dramatically after a state crackdown on civil servants that followed an attempted coup against Erdoğan last year.

Alarm over effectiveness of EU-Turkey refugee deal grows in Brussels

Some seven months after the European Union and Turkey struck an agreement to turn back the tide of Syrians fleeing west, very few refugees have been sent back from Greece, and Brussels is losing its patience as overcrowded camps grow violent.

Until now, Greece has only been relocating populations deemed “vulnerable” — non-accompanied minors, single parents and victims of torture — to the mainland, exempt under the EU-Turkey pact.

Refugees in Greece demand transfer to Germany, start hunger strike

A group of mainly Syrian women and children who have been stranded in Greece pitched tents opposite parliament in Athens on Wednesday (1 November) in a protest against delays in reuniting with relatives in Germany.

The other illegal migrants are being kept on the islands until their deportation to Turkey, for fears that too many will try to travel north to wealthier EU nations.

Athens hopes that its deal with Ankara will help speed up the transfer of these people to Turkey via the mainland.

Meanwhile, Greece has already intensified its relocation of vulnerable persons to the mainland, transferring more than 1,000 in recent days.

In total over 3,500 people were moved between October and November, the migration ministry said.

According to Oxfam, 5,000 people are to be transferred from the islands in December, before temperatures drop.

Aid groups have repeatedly warned that transferring refugees to heated accommodation before winter is a matter of life and death.

Three refugees died last year in their tents on Lesbos from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning caused by makeshift stoves.

“This is a very positive step that will save lives,” said Nicola Bay, the head of Oxfam in Greece. “Winter is just around the corner and thousands of refugees and migrants are still sharing unheated tents exposed to the bitter cold.”