Send refugees back to Turkey, Merkel urges Greece

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has urged Greece to send back refugees back to Turkey as per the European Union migration accord that was agreed on in 2016.

Merkel, who met Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras on Thursday in Athens during her two-day visit to Greece, raised the point of Turkey still not taking enough refugees and saying the number of those sent back is not enough.

She promised to be in a “more constructive cooperation” in order to implement the EU-Turkey deal.

According to the agreement, Turkey accepted all irregular migrants not in need of international protection from the country into Greek islands as of 20 March 2016 to be returned back, getting 3 billion euro in exchange for the Facility for Refugees and concrete projects.

The EU, on the other hand, promised Ankara to advance its visa liberalisation for Turkish nationals and to open another chapter in Turkey’s EU accession talks.

The combined efforts seem to be failing as the number of refugees making their way into the European Union’s east gate country. The number of detections of illegal crossings at the northern land border with Turkey last year tripled, according to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex).

A considerable number of Turkish nationals who fled the political crackdown in Turkey along with Syrians and Afghans in search of a better life have increased pressurised Greece, where more than 67,100 refugees and migrants already live.

The registration of Turkish nationals had jumped from 6, 500 to 18, 700 in a year, according to Frontex.

A total of 47,929 undocumented migrants travelled to Greece in 2018 and 6,558 left the country during the same period, the Greek Migration Minister, Dimitris Vitsas said.

Greece, hit by a decade-long economic crisis, has come under fire regarding the amenities given to migrants. EU officials have criticised Greek ministers, including nationalist-right wing Defence Minister Panos Kammenos over being unable to coordinate or spend EU funds.

Kammenos has been criticised by Brussels and some local human rights organisations of failing to prioritise the humanitarian needs of refugees.

The EU has allocated €1.6bn to the country since 2015, but at least €554m has not been spent by Greek authorities, according to EU officials.

The United Nations Human Rights Agency (UNHRC) called on Greece in November to take “urgent steps” to improve refugees’ conditions, especially the 11 000 people who live in dirty, overpopulated and unsafe camps on the islands of Samos and Lesbos.

German leader Merkel also issued a call to improve the conditions in refugee camps during her visit to Athens.

Some Syrian refugees asked Merkel, before she leaves office in 2021, to open doors of her country so that they can reunite with their families who live in Germany.

Many Syrians, including women and children, gathered in front of the Asylum Office in Athens and chanted: “Mama Merkel, open the door.”

Merkel, on her second day, also met Greek President Propokis Pavlopoulos and said: “We share the position of Greece on the refugee crisis as it concerns everyone,” Kathimerini reported.

Merkel expressed confidence that Greece will make an economic turn-around after its exit from a multi-billion Euro bailout schedule last year.

She paid tribute to Greece saying the country was entering “a new era” and recommended it must go ahead with reforms.  

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