Migrant deal at risk as Turkey deemed unsafe by Greek court

21 May 2016
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Despite the return on Friday of 51 refugees and migrants of different nationalities to Turkey under the European Union’s deal with Ankara to contain the influx of migrants to Greece, a court on Lesvos had earlier deemed Turkey an “unsafe third country,” threatening the agreement’s further implementation.

The committee of judges on Lesvos refused to reject an asylum application by a Syrian refugee and send him back to Turkey, because it ruled it unsafe and said that the case should be examined further – meaning the implementation of the deal will face even further delays as it will take more time to process thousands of applications of stranded migrants.

The decision could form a precedent and deal a devastating blow to the agreement signed in late March, as it could put on hold the return of Syrian refugees to Turkey and, essentially, render the agreement toothless.

The asylum court on Lesvos has so far examined 174 applications by Syrians, of whom 100 have been granted asylum. The remaining applicants, who were rejected, have lodged appeals requesting the re-examination of their cases.

At the same time, despite a significant drop in arrivals to the islands since the deal took effect at the beginning of April, migrants continue to trickle through. And with very few having so far returned to Turkey, their numbers continue to grow, sparking local reactions.

On Chios – now home to more than 2,500 migrants and refugees – the police chief Andreas Damiris submitted his resignation, with local reports saying it was because of the unresolved migrant crisis. There, too, the processing of asylum applications is progressing at a very slow pace – with no more than 10 applications submitted per day, one local official told Kathimerini, adding that at this rate it would take years to examine the applications of migrants on Chios alone.

But with the existing infrastructure unable to cater to the growing numbers – another 99 migrants arrived on Chios on Friday – tensions have flared while 50 migrants started a hunger strike demanding the opening of the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Meanwhile, Central Macedonia Governor Apostolos Tzitzikostas filed a lawsuit on Thursday to demand an end to the occupation by migrants of the railway tracks leading into FYROM and the “lawlessness” at the nearby sprawling border camp of Idomeni.

The government’s migration spokesman Giorgos Kyritisis agreed with the governor that blocking to the rail route into FYROM was costly and pledged – again – that migrants and refugees at the Idomeni camp would be evacuated in the next two weeks to other centers in northern Greece.

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