Athens to vote on asylum bill for return of refugees to Turkey

The Greek parliament is set to vote on a bill Friday readying its asylum system for the planned return of thousands of asylum seekers to Turkey, under a deal struck between the European Union and Ankara.

Under the agreement, any migrants who reached the Greek islands from Turkey from March 20 onwards and do not apply for asylum or fail to qualify will be returned to Turkey.

In practice, this is to apply to the vast majority of arrivals, up to a maximum of 72,000 people.

The arrangement hinges on Greece recognizing Turkey as a safe country for refugees, meaning that people should have sought asylum there rather than crossing to Greece. Turkey has been a major transit country for most of the people striving to reach Europe.

The European Commission has set Monday as the target date for these readmissions to begin.

Sources in the Greek coast guard told dpa on Thursday that the Turkish coastal towns Cesme and Dikili have been chosen to receive the first refugees returned to Turkey on Monday.

Both towns are located close to the Greek islands Chios and Lesbos, where thousands of migrants have gathered.

The plans, which have not yet been confirmed by authorities, were met with protest by residents of Dikilis, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported.

It was initially unclear how many migrants would be relocated.

Greece's migration bill is set to bring Greece in line with the EU requirement that Turkey be recognized by Athens as a safe country, according to a draft that was leaked to Greek media.

The bill was submitted to the parliament in Athens on Thursday, state broadcaster ERT reported.

Analysts have spoken of a kind of "verbal acrobatics" in the draft, which is said to meet the conditions laid out in the EU-Turkey deal by describing Turkey as a safe host country for refugees, while not explicitly granting this status, in a bid to prevent a backlash from the left.

Turkey, which has more than 2 million Syrians living in the country and is the largest host of Syrians, has come under fire recently for human rights abuses and a crackdown on media.

Greece has already been returning irregular migrants to Turkey under a bilateral deal signed with Ankara, commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said Thursday. More than 220 people were sent back since last Thursday, according to commission figures.

Once the return of unsuccessful asylum seekers gets underway, the EU has pledged to directly take in one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every person sent back from Greece.

But operational details are still being hashed out by the Greek and Turkish authorities. EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos is due to visit Ankara on Monday to finalize the arrangements, Bertaud said.

Turkey must also implement legal changes for the deal to take effect. The authorities in Ankara have confirmed their intention to do so by Monday, she added.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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