Late last night European Union leaders were discussing the plan for Greece to return refugees to Turkey, which will require the government in Athens to conduct a huge amount of work in the coming days if the scheme is approved.
European Council President Donald Tusk said he was “more cautious than optimistic” that an agreement could be reached on the plan, which is based around the EU resettling one refugee directly from Turkey for every refugee that crosses the Aegean and arrives in Greece.
If approved, the deal will entail a huge amount of legal and technical work for Greek authorities in the next few days.
Firstly, the country’s asylum service will have to be overhauled immediately, starting with the recognition of Turkey as a “safe third country,” which would allow asylum seekers to be returned there from Greece.
Legislation would also have to change so that asylum applications are processed within days rather than months, as is the case now.
At the same time, Greece will have to remove all the refugees and migrants currently on its islands and take them to camps on the mainland. This has to happen before the agreement with Turkey for the return of anyone arriving on the islands can begin. This means some 8,000 people will have to be transferred.
Having done this, the Greek government will have to set up a system to register and process any new arrivals on the islands and examine their asylum applications. Each person applying for asylum will have to be interviewed as part of the process and each application examined separately. The arrivals will have the right to appeal if their asylum claim is rejected.
This would require hundreds of public servants and other personnel to be stationed on the islands. This includes judges, employees of Greece’s asylum service, translators, security staff and officials from the EU’s border agency, Frontex. Also, there will be Turkish observers on the islands to ensure the refugees sent back have traveled from Turkey in the first place.