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Gov’t seeks to tweak refugee deal as island tension, in-party criticism grow

TAGS: Migration

Pressure on the leftist-led government from the migration crisis is growing as it is faced with mounting tension at island hot spots, criticism from inside the ruling SYRIZA party, and uncertainty over calls to readjust the European Union deal with Turkey.

Under the deal signed by the EU and Ankara in March 2016, all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to Greek islands are supposed to be returned to Turkey. However, during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov earlier in December, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras requested that Turkey also accept migrant returns from the mainland in order to ease overcrowding at camps.

Sources said Merkel avoided endorsing the Greek proposal which essentially violates the core of the EU-Turkey deal. Rather, the same sources said, Merkel stressed the need to bolster the presence of EU border agency Frontex along the Greek-Bulgarian border to safeguard the so-called Balkan route.

Although officials in Athens have suggested that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acceded to the request during his recent visit to Greece, the issue has been deferred to ministerial-level deliberations. Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas visited Ankara on Thursday for talks, as Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias appeared skeptical whether Erdogan had the political will to go the extra mile.

Meanwhile, as island reception centers are bursting at the seams and pressure from SYRIZA officials is intensifying, the government has already green-lighted transfers of asylum seekers who it claims are minors or disabled.

Speaking to party officials, Tsipras vowed that asylum seekers past the first stage of their application process would be relocated to the mainland.

Government officials, on the other hand, offered reassurances over a recent proposal by European Council President Donald Tusk for the abolition of mandatory quotas on relocating refugees across the EU. The proposal is set to be discussed at an EU summit in June but administration officials say too many states are opposed to it.

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