Two men hug one another as a group of 40 refugees and migrants is transferred to the camp of Oreokastro, at a makeshift camp of the northern Greek border point of Idomeni, on Wednesday.
Concerns rose on Wednesday regarding the fate of a deal between the European Union and Turkey that has radically reduced the influx of migrants toward the bloc via Greece as a dispute over Ankara’s refusal to adopt EU anti-terrorism laws escalated.
The migrant deal is facing “a very dangerous moment,” Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir said at a news conference with European Parliament President Martin Schulz in Strasbourg.
Bozkir said Turkey had basically fulfilled the terms of the deal, even though Brussels is insisting that Turkey overhaul its anti-terrorist legislation before Turkish nationals can enjoy visa-free travel to Europe.
Schulz expressed his conviction that the agreement between Turkey and the EU would hold.
However, an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Burhan Kuzu, expressed Ankara’s impatience on his Twitter account, indicating that Turkish authorities would “send the refugees back” to Europe if Turkish citizens are not granted visa-free travel.
In Athens, officials are concerned that a flow of migrants across the Aegean that has slowed in recent weeks may intensify again in view of the growing tensions between the EU and Turkey.
The government also faces some internal dissent as regards the migration crisis as some cadres, particularly in leftist SYRIZA’s radical Group of 53 faction, are not happy about migrants being returned to Turkey from Greece as part of the Turkey-EU deal.
More than 50,000 migrants are currently living in reception centers across the country, with around 10,000 at a makeshift camp near the village of Idomeni close to Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
With tensions often sparking brawls in the camp, local residents have started losing patience with the situation.
On Wednesday, six local residents, including the leader of the local community, Xanthoula Soupli, brought a legal suit against Citizens’ Protection Minister Nikos Toskas, referring to “a complete absence of state control” at the camp and claiming that camp residents often vandalize homes in the broader community.
Also on Wednesday, Europe’s top human rights watchdog called for urgent action to address overcrowding and poor living conditions in refugee and migrant camps in Greece and called for the closure of the Idomeni camp.
In its report, which was compiled following a visit by inspectors in March, the Council of Europe said some camps in Greece were “substandard” and provided only the most basic needs, such as food and blankets.
It said migrants were detained, in violation of international human rights standards, and lacked access to legal advice.
Separately on Wednesday, the Greek ambassador to Austria, Chryssoula Aliferi, returned to Vienna three months after being recalled to Athens following Austria’s decision to tighten its borders along with other countries on the so-called Balkan trail eyed by migrants seeing a better future in Western Europe.