Greece admitted on Monday that it will be difficult to implement the agreement on refugees between the European Union and Turkey, but insisted that it was the best possible deal given Europe’s fragmentation over the crisis.
“It is an uphill course because it won’t be easy to implement the deal,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said after meeting with European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos. But, he added, given the unilateral actions of several EU countries in recent months, the deal is all that Greece has.
“If we didn’t have the deal, we’d be faced with a domino effect of unilateral acts so it’s important that a European solution is at the forefront,” he said, referring to the move by several countries to shut their borders, creating a bottleneck of stranded refugees in Greece.
The deal stipulates that for every refugee returned from Greece to Turkey, a refugee from Turkey will be resettled in Europe, while Ankara agreed to stem the flow of migrants leaving its shores for Europe.
However, processing thousands of asylum claims daily will be the biggest challenge facing Greece as the infrastructure and the personnel required for the task are still not in place. Authorities grew more nervous over the weekend as refugees continued to flow into the country, bringing the total number in Greece to more than 50,000, despite the Friday deal between the EU and Turkey.
It also remained unclear what would happen to the thousands of migrants and refugees already stranded in Greece.
The government has until April 4 to fast-track the process for assessing asylum claims. The EU has promised help in the form of a 4,000-strong task force, including legal experts, interpreters, security personnel and others.
However, government officials said that the deal’s success will hinge on Turkey keeping its side of the bargain and that Athens wants the EU to exert pressure on Ankara.
Greece began the arduous process of evacuating refugees from the islands over the weekend to relocate them at reception centers around the country, but, officials said, if Turkey doesn’t do enough to contain their flows then the islands will remain overcrowded, making the effort to process asylum applications an even taller order.
Government sources said that flows from Turkey will only decrease once refugees see “the first boat returning to Turkey with refugees on board. Then they will realize it is pointless to pay traffickers money.”