As European leaders gathered on Thursday in Brussels for a two-day summit with the divisive issue of immigration topping the agenda, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is reportedly poised to sign a deal with Germany for the return of migrants and refugees to Greece.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Tsipras said he was open to a special agreement with Chancellor Angela Merkel to stem the flow of the so-called secondary movement of refugees from countries of first arrival to Germany.
“We don’t care about the fact that maybe we’ll have some returns from Germany if this will help, in order to give the signal to smugglers [that Europe is tackling illegal migration flows],” he told the FT. He also described the Dublin regulation as being “out of life.”
Aides to Tsipras said Athens is seeking a deal which will allow Germany to send asylum seekers back to countries of first arrival, at a time when Merkel is coming under increasing political pressure at home over the migration issue.
“We have to find a way, in the framework of the international law, to share the burden and to not have this unfair position for the frontline countries but also for Germany. Because it’s not fair all these people to go to Germany, if we believe that this is a European problem,” he told the FT.
In exchange for the deal, Tsipras’s aides say Athens wants financial assistance in the effort to provide shelter for refugees and for the issue of split families to be addressed. Tsipras told the FT that there are currently some 2,500 families that are split between Greece and Northern Europe.
For his part, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis was critical of Tsipras, saying that the discussion should be about how migrants will leave Greece and not how will they will return. He added that the burdens of the crisis must be equally shared.
According to sources from the Migration Ministry, a deal had been signed in March 2017 stipulating that Germany would return refugees and migrants to Greece. Based on this deal, Berlin had submitted applications for the return of 2,002 people in 2017 and 1,448 in 2018. Greece had accepted just 123 of the applications.
Overall, since 2013, Athens has received applications from EU countries for the return to Greece of 10,068 migrants and refugees.
With no migration deal in sight at the Brussel summit, the FT cited a German official who said Berlin would seek to sign bilateral deals with countries of first arrival in order to return refugees.