Turkey accused of breaking EU migration deal

Via The News York Times – The mayor of Lesbos has accused Turkey of failing to honour its end of the €3 billion EU deal to stem the flow of migrants into Europe.

Spyros Galinos says that an increase in arrivals on the Greek island after a 16-month lull that followed the signing of the deal, shows that Turkey is reneging on its obligations to police the people-smuggling industry. More than a million people travelled from its shores to Greece in 2015 and last year.

“When Turkey wants to stop [migrants coming to Greece] it can and it does,” Mr Galinos said. “It’s clear that the Turks are are not upholding the terms of the deal. If anything has been proven throughout the course of this crisis and after the deal was struck, it is that inflows are regulated.”

Under the deal struck in March last year Turkey promised to crack down on the trade in return for €3 billion from Brussels to provide help for more than three million refugees, most of them Syrians, that the country is hosting. Last month President Erdogan claimed that only €800 million had been given but EU documents show that almost all of the promised amount has been assigned. Allocations include €20 million to the Turkish coastguard.

Ankara has taken several measures to stem the flow of people leaving illegally. Syrians must now obtain a visa to travel into Turkey, which has prevented those in countries such as Lebanon from using it as a staging post on their way to Europe. It has also sealed its 550-mile border with Syria, although scores of Syrians trying to use the smuggling routes have been killed by Turkish forces since the border regime came into effect.

A law passed in April allows the Turkish police to confiscate boats from suspected smugglers. That hits their profits, although one asylum seeker on Lesbos who travelled after the deal was struck said that “the smuggling hasn’t stopped — it’s just got more expensive”.

Mr Erdogan has threatened to renege on the deal several times. “Listen to me. If you go any further, then the frontiers will be opened, bear that in mind,” he told the EU after it froze Turkey’s membership negotiations in November.

At least 730 people have landed on the Greek islands in the past week, a doubling of the rate of arrivals earlier this year. This is increasing the pressure on the Greek camps set up on five islands, including Lesbos, to process migrants’ asylum claims. Legal advocates say that applicants’ claims are being rushed through by the Greek and EU authorities in an effort to clear the backlog, in many cases depriving them of their right to legal representation and a full consideration of their situation. Nonetheless, the number of migrants on Lesbos is continuing to rise.

Under the EU’s Dublin Agreement asylum seekers must apply in the first EU country they arrive in. That was suspended as Greece struggled under the weight of the 2015 crisis. In December Brussels ruled that conditions in the Greek camps had improved sufficiently for migrants in other countries to be returned there to file their asylum requests. The first group were returned from Germany to Athens this month.

Riots have broken out in Lesbos in the overcrowded Moria camp. The mayor said that he would not accept any returns to the island. “We are tired. We have no room and we have effectively been left alone to deal with this crisis,” Mr Galinos said. “I am already trying to cope with 5,000 migrants on the island, double the number I had agreed to and double the capacity of accommodation centres set up here. It’s a no-go for Lesbos.”

The Turkish government has not responded to Mr Galinos’s claims.

This article was originally published by The New York Times