There are fears within the ranks of the government that a new intensified influx of undocumented migrants from neighboring Turkey is happening with the blessings of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan though the development is also being viewed as potential leverage with the European Union with which Ankara’s relations are being sorely tested.
Although arrivals from Turkey are still way below the heights they reached at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, they have increased in recent weeks with more than 1,000 migrants and refugees landing on the islands of the eastern Aegean last week.
Government sources believe this increase is not accidental, but is occurring as Turkish authorities turn a blind eye to human smuggling along the country’s coastline, and is expected to continue. The same sources do not connect Ankara’s stance on the refugee issue to its cultivation of tensions with Athens in the Aegean – recent weeks have seen a spike in Turkish violations of Greek air space despite the moratorium that usually applies over summer – but with the recent deterioration of relations between Ankara and Brussels.
As government sources note, by allowing the increased influx of migrants heading to Europe, Erdogan is seeking to send a warning as Turkey’s EU membership talks appear to be headed for collapse.
Meanwhile the government is bracing for the beginning of returns to Greece of migrants from Germany and other European countries.
Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas confirmed, in comments to The Guardian last week, that returns are to begin in September. Mouzalas said he was unsure where the new arrivals would be hosted but insisted that conditions at state-run reception centers have improved.
Human rights groups have consistently decried conditions at many venues, particularly on the islands of the eastern Aegean, which are currently operating at double their capacity as thousands of migrants await the outcome of asylum applications or deportation.
Tensions have been building on Lesvos, Samos and Chios, both in the centers and in the local communities where tolerance of growing migrant populations is being tested.