Germany and other European countries are to begin the process of returning refugees to Greece next month, Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has told a British newspaper, at a time when arrivals of undocumented migrants on Greek islands from neighboring Turkey are increasing.
“The paperwork has begun and we expect returns to begin over the next month,” Mouzalas told The Guardian in a piece published on Friday.
Noting that the returns will start “with a symbolic number as an act of friendship,” Mouzalas said that Greece is already hosting too many migrants. “Greece has already accepted so many, it has come under such pressure, that to accept more would be absurd, a joke if it weren’t such a tragedy,” he told the British newspaper.
The minister said he did not know where the returning migrants would be hosted. “I don’t know where they will go. It could be Athens, it could be Thebes… they are accommodated in an apartment scheme,” he said. He pointed to an improvement, however, in conditions at state reception facilities, which human rights groups have condemned in recent months. “Conditions will be good, they have improved greatly and will meet EU criteria,” he said.
Returns of migrants were suspended in 2011 following the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights, which pulled Greece up for the ill-treatment of migrants and refugees.
According to sources in Berlin and Athens cited by The Guardian, Germany has made nearly 400 resettlement requests.
Commenting to the British newspaper, Salinia Stroux, who heads the NGO Refugee Support Aegean, expressed incredulity at Germany’s stance. “It is incredible that a country like Germany, which now has so many camps standing empty because of the decreasing number of arrivals [since the Turkey-EU agreement], is demanding that people be sent back to Greece,” she said.
“It is not an argument to say they have too many or that they are not ready to accept any more when there are places ready and waiting to host people whose rent has been already covered and paid for by the German state,” she added.