Just 16 percent of asylum seekers who undertook the journey to Greece can be returned to Turkey under Greek law and European directives, Maria Stavropoulou, the former head of the Greek asylum service, has told Kathimerini.
“Given what we know about Turkey, those who can be shipped back are mostly Syrians, who enjoy a high level of protection,” said Stavropoulou, adding that the agency has ruled that 2,200 Syrians can be returned from Greece to Turkey on safe third country grounds.
“However, due to appeals and cancellation requests the process can take a very long time,” she said.
Stavropoulou, whose second term in office expired a few days ago, said authorities have recorded a drop in the number of arrivals in categories that are not eligible to return to Turkey or to their countries of origin.
“Most people who land on the islands come from countries with high recognition rates such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”
According to a March 2016 deal signed by the EU and Turkey to stem the flow of migrants in the Aegean, Turkey would receive up to 6 billion euros in aid, visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens and renewed EU accession talks in return for agreeing to take back those who cross over to Greece.
The slow pace of returns is often blamed on the huge backlog, which Stavropoulou puts at 9,000 cases.
“If [migrant] flows toward the islands came down to zero, I believe that the process could be completed in up to two-and-a-half months,” she said.
In the same interview, Stavropoulou noted an increase in the number of asylum requests from Turkish nationals.
A total of 1,800 Turkish nationals applied for asylum in Greece in 2017.