Two years since Turkey and the European Union signed a deal aimed at curbing human trafficking across the Aegean, Greece has come under fire for essentially undermining the agreement by transferring large numbers of migrants from the Aegean islands to the mainland and returning a relatively small number to Turkey.
A report in German newspaper Die Welt on Monday claimed that the large number of transfers to the Greek mainland could be giving out the message that the road to Greece, and Europe, is open, encouraging more migrants and their smugglers. The stance of the leftist-led government could be undermining the agreement, according to Die Welt, which claimed that Turkey is honoring the deal.
The fact that a European refugee relocation program has ended means that migrants can now only apply for asylum in Greece.
The slow rate at which asylum applications are processed is another problem that has been highlighted by Greece’s critics.
It has resulted in thousands of migrants remaining cooped up in overcrowded reception centers on the islands. Camps remain crowded – despite the transfer of more than 23,000 people to facilities on the mainland between June 2016 and the end of 2017 – as new migrants continue to reach the islands from neighboring Turkey.
The rate at which migrants arrive is nowhere near the peak of the crisis in early 2016, when thousands were landing on the islands daily. But it has increased in recent weeks and there are fears that the numbers will rise further as the weather improves.
On Monday rescue teams continued the search for three migrants who remain unaccounted for following the sinking of a smuggling boat off the island Agathonisi on Saturday. Sixteen people, including seven children, drowned in the incident, the highest death toll in the Aegean for several months.
On Monday, New Democracy’s shadow migration minister Miltiades Varvitsiotis submitted a question in Parliament to the government about the risk of the EU-Turkey deal collapsing and what action the administration plans to take.