EU countries to return migrants to Greece

Two children take part in a demonstration in central Athens against the slow pace of reunification of families in Germany. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

TMP – 19/09/2017

Several EU member states are set to start returning migrants who first sought refuge in Greece back to the country. The decision comes amid protests in Athens by migrants demanding reunification with their family members in other EU states.

Germany says it will return 392 individuals and the UK, the Netherlands, France and Norway are also seeking to send smaller numbers back to Greece under the Dublin regulations. The process only affects those who arrived in the EU after March this year.

“The paperwork has begun and we expect returns to begin over the next month,” Greek migration minister Yannis Mouzalas told the British newspaper the Guardian.

“It will start with a symbolic number as an act of friendship (towards other EU nations). Greece has already accepted so many [refugees]; it has come under such pressure, that to accept more would be absurd, a joke if it weren’t such a tragedy,” he added.

The Dublin regulations require migrants to lodge asylum requests in their point of entry to the EU. In 2015, at the height of the migrant crisis, close to a million men, women and children entered Greece as part of an onward journey plan to other parts of Europe.

In 2011, returns of migrants to Greece were suspended after the European court of human rights intervened, citing harsh conditions. Mouzalas claims conditions have improved and now meet EU standards. However, an estimated 14,100 people are still living in accommodation centres on the Greek islands. Human Rights Watch recently reported a rise in suicide attempts, self-harm, aggression, anxiety and depression among migrants in the accommodation centres.

Another 62,000 migrants are dispersed across Greece. Nearly 20,000 live in rented apartments outside of Athens, while others are housed in former factories and army barracks. NGOs say they struggle to access basic supplies including healthcare.

The number of migrants arriving in Greece has slowed considerably since the EU deal with Turkey last year, but Mazoulas remains concerned, stating that the crisis in his country is far from over.