European Commission: Encouraging reduction of refugee flows to the islands

European Commission: Encouraging reduction of refugee flows to the islands

Athens, March 30, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Spiros Sideris

Fewer than 1,000 are now the daily refugee and migrant arrivals at Greek islands, while in the past they exceeded 2,000 reported the European Commission’s representative, responsible for immigration issues, Natasha Burton. “This sharp decline is encouraging”, she noted, expressing the satisfaction of the European Commission.

As regards the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement on migrants’ return to Turkey, she said there have already been immigrant returns under the Greece-Turkey readmission agreement, noting that on March 24 were transferred to Turkey 76 immigrants and on March 25, 71.

Moreover, she said that the returns to Turkey, of those asylum seekers whose applications are not accepted, will be launched simultaneously with the refugee resettlement sheme from Turkey (under the formula “one to one”) on April 4.

The same representative recalled that the European Commission is awaiting the necessary legislation in Greece and Turkey, in order to put into effect the agreement.

As regards Greece, she said that these regulations involve the recognition of Turkey as a safe third country, and added that the draft law is ready and is expected to go through the Greek parliament “in the coming days, if not tomorrow” .

She also added that any changes are “fully compatible with European and international Law”.

Turkey, on the other, she said, is asked to proceed with legislation changes that concern the protection of refugees as defined by the Geneva Convention. According to Natasha Burton, Commission officials are in contact with Ankara for this purpose, while the coordinator for the implementation of the agreement, Martin Fervey, will travel to the Turkish capital to continue talks.

Asked about whether it is consistent with European law the detention of people seeking international protection, she said that in some cases it is provided, “as a last resort”.

Asked to comment on the withdrawal of international humanitarian organizations from the hot spots, as well as questioning the legitimacy of the EU-Turkey agreement, Burton reiterated that the agreement is fully compatible with European and nternational law, respects the principle of non-readmission and the obligation for individual examination of asylum applications.

He also added that the cooperation with humanitarian organizations, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Doctors Without Borders, “is expected to continue in a constructive manner”.

The same spokesman said that after the call of the European EASO and FRONTEX services to Member States for sending asylum experts and other skilled personnel in Greece, many countries have introduced offerings and the sending of people in Greece, will start soon. Specifically, she said that Frontex received offers from 19 Member States (47 staff who will assist the readmission of persons in Turkey and 492 police officers) while EASO received bids from 16 countries (396 asylum experts and 22 interpreters). Of these, 170 people have already been proposed and will start their mission in Greece.

The European Commission announced that Greece received on Tuesday additional material assistance under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Specifically, two trucks arrived yesterday in Greece with 150 electric heaters, 100 beds, 50 tents, 150 fire alarms, 32 fire extinguishers and 500 blankets provided by Sweden, and 100 beds and 1,000 pillows from Germany.

The European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management issues, Christos Stylianidis, welcomed the offer noting: “Since last December, when Greece activated the Civil Protection Mechanism to support the refugees, 17 countries have provided material assistance, contributing to the delivery more than 87,000 items. I thank all countries that have been involved for their help so far and especially the national civil protection authorities. Even more offers are needed, as there is no doubt that the humanitarian needs of refugees in Greece remain high”.